Just two days before Thanksgiving, and ten days before a new law restricting the practice takes effect, officials in a North Texas city pushed through one last batch of forced annexations – leaving property owners impacted by the land grab feeling less than thankful.
On November 21, Celina’s city council voted unanimously to annex over 200 properties into city limits and onto city tax rolls, with or without landowners’ consent.
Residents have been protesting Celina’s plan to forcibly annex unincorporated land in its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) ever since landowners were first notified of the city’s intentions just two months ago.
ETJ resident Jack McGovern estimated that the city will increase his taxes by over $3,000, while in return, he says, “There is nothing that the city will provide us. We will gain nothing out of this.”
Other ETJ residents – many of them elderly, on fixed incomes, or with sick or special-needs family members – told council members that the extra city taxes would force them to lose their land.
Yet it’s about more than money, residents say – it’s about preserving their families’ way of life. ETJ landowner Shelli Conger asked council members to “look beyond dollars and cents and be respectful of our right to choose how and where we want to live.”
City officials ignored concerns expressed by both targeted ETJ property owners and city residents, though, and instead spent about 45 minutes last Tuesday night finalizing annexations of land in Collin and Denton counties.
In all, Celina City Council approved about 70 annexation ordinances that resulted in immediate involuntary annexation. They also ratified nearly 150 development agreements, signed by landowners under threat of immediate annexation in exchange for 10- or 15-year annexation deferments.
The city was determined to lay claim to as much land as possible before December 1.
That’s when Senate Bill 6, the state’s new municipal annexation reform, goes into effect. SB 6 will require Celina, and other cities in counties with over 500,000 residents, to get landowners’ consent before annexing them – making this Celina’s last land grab.
Texas citizens and legislators alike have said that the last-minute land grabs by Celina and other cities across the state violate the spirit of the new law.
State Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Little Elm), a former Frisco city council member and co-author of SB 6, said in an October 25 letter to Celina Mayor Sean Terry:
“Fundamentally, I believe that forced annexation, without a vote, infringes upon the liberties of our citizens. The government doesn’t have rights, people have rights, and it’s always best to give those people a say in determining their own future.”
Celina officials disagreed, choosing to put their own plans for the city’s growth and development ahead of the rights of individual Texans. The city’s actions have created ill will in the community – but also created new city voters, who now have a say in determining the future of Celina’s elected leadership. Leaders who ignore citizens’ concerns and infringe on their liberties are unlikely to win voters’ support.