Easing city growing pains can be challenging

Texas is big in terms of available land. It’s also growing in terms of population. By various counts, the number of people moving into the state rises at a rate of around 1,000 to 1,400 per day. Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that seven of the 15 fastest growing cities in the nation are in the Lone Star State. That means towns and cities of all sizes face varying degrees of pressure to meet rising demand for city amenities.

One of the many things that sets Texas apart from other states is that cities here don’t get help from Austin through general state funds or revenue-sharing schemes. One of the key authorities cities enjoy to foster sustainability is the power to annex unincorporated areas. Not only does this allow expansion of city limits, it also increases the tax base to provide revenue to support essential services.

This past year, state lawmakers changed some of the annexation rules that have been in place for more than 100 years. As a result, in the most populous counties, proposed annexation efforts are now subject to voter approval. Prior to this, annexation could occur over landowner objections if the property met certain requirements spelled out by the Texas Local Government Code.

Clearly, the new law presents challenges to communities that need to manage public health and safety services in the face of growing populations and ensure that costs are shared by those served. But it is important to understand that there have always been legal protections for rural landowners facing annexation and the new law has limits as well.

For example, it only applies to counties with populations of 500,000 or more. The vast majority of counties don’t fit that criteria. That means the traditional annexation processes still apply in most cases.

What all of this means is that the new rules on annexation don’t have to mean the death of this tool. Rather, they call for finding unique strategies that ensure compliance in cost-effective ways. In other words, finding legal solutions that overcome the obstacles.