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Trail of Tiers: the New Texas Annexation Rules

From 1836 to 1850, the U. S. Government’s policy was to force the various American Indian Civilized Tribes to relocate, on foot, to lands west of the Mississippi River. Most ended up in Indian Territory now known as Oklahoma. The journey was so arduous that over 10,000 Indians died on the way. The trek became known as the Trail of Tears. History now repeats itself after a fashion as the 85th Texas Legislature has forced cities “onto the reservation” by ending annexation as we know it.

Historically, home rule cities could annex property within their extra-territorial jurisdiction (with few exceptions) unilaterally without the permission of the land owners. This power is now gone. Home rule cities can now only annex under three main categories:

  1. On the request of an owner.
  2. For areas under 200 in population by petition.
  3. For areas over 200 in population by election.

The argument in the legislature was one of liberty. Liberty is defined as a state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views. In this case, liberty to do what? Not to pay city taxes, of course. But it begs the following questions: does a noncitizen ever drive on city streets; eat at restaurants within the city limits inspected for safety by the city; go to work at business attracted to the area by a vibrant and dynamic city economy; or go to sports or music venues paid for by city taxes? Much like mistletoe is a biological parasite on the outside of trees, those who don’t want to pay for the very services they consume are economic parasites on the municipal economic tree.

Cities are now designated as Tier 1 based on if the population of the county where they are located is under 500,000, unless the county residents have voted to be treated as a Tier 2 county or if the city is annexing in a Tier 2 county. Otherwise the city is a Tier 2 city. Tier 1 cities annexation laws remain relatively unchanged so long as their status remains as a Tier 1.

Tier 2 municipalities, however, got put on the reservation. No longer can a home-rule city in a Tier 2 county or annexing in a Tier 2 county annex without consent, with one exception. Generally, as of December 1, a Tier 2 city seeking to annex will have to secure the consent of the owner of the land; or if the area is under 200 in population, go through a labyrinth of a petition drive; or if the area is over 200 in population, then go through a Serbonian bog of an election.

However, there is one teensy-tiny exception. If the area to be annexed has a municipal utility district (MUD) covering it and the MUD has contracted with the annexing city under a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which provides for a limited purpose annexation and the SPA provides for a full conversion annexation date, then “the land included within the boundaries of the district shall be deemed to be within the full-purpose boundary limits of the municipality without the need for further action by the governing body of the municipality.” In other words, at the end of the MUD/SPA’s life, the area is automatically annexed. The city can terminate early, but must then proceed under the Tier 1 procedures. This is a very complicated area of law that will be a subject of a formal white paper on our website.

The lesson of this story is annex PDQ!

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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