Residents of a sixth Texas county have completed a petition allowing local voters to decide on ending forced annexation.
Citizens, organized as Ellis County Annexation Reform, submitted a municipal annexation reform petition to county election officials on Thursday. The petition calls for a countywide vote to stop cities in Ellis County from annexing unincorporated property without landowners’ consent.
Louis Ponder, who headed the group’s petition drive, said if the vote is successful, “that will then protect the property rights of everyone living outside the city limits, so they won’t have the city overreach taking them over when they don’t want to be taken over.”
“I don’t think people should have their property rights stolen from them by the cities, by the county, or anywhere in the state,” Ponder added.
The petition process is part of Texas’ limited municipal annexation reform law enacted in last year’s special legislative session. Senate Bill 6 was written to restrict forced annexation only in counties with 500,000 or more residents — what the law calls “Tier 2” counties.
Unincorporated property owners in all other Texas counties — designated “Tier 1” — can still be freely annexed by cities without their consent, unless residents vote to change their county from unprotected Tier 1 status and “opt in” to protected Tier 2 status.
Under SB 6, if 10 percent of a county’s registered voters sign a petition, the issue is put to a countywide vote.
Ponder revealed the group’s final signature count just before submitting the petition to county election officials: 13,347. The group internally validated 11,578 signatures — well above the 9,484 needed to trigger a Tier 2 opt-in election.
The elections office now has 30 days to verify the signatures. The validated petition will then go to Ellis County Commissioners Court, which will approve putting the opt-in measure on the May 2019 ballot. Then it will be up to local voters to decide.
Four counties are already set to vote on Tier 2 opt-in measures in the November 6 general election: Parker, Wise, Freestone, and Johnson. Commissioners in a fifth county, Palo Pinto, will take up local citizens’ petition at their Monday meeting and vote on setting a November opt-in election.
Organizers in all five counties are working together in a non-partisan effort to educate voters about the November ballot language, what Tier 1 and Tier 2 status mean, and how their vote for or against the measure will impact the property rights of residents facing annexation. They’ve set up an educational website at Vote4Tier2.com.
Ellis County activists will have more time to educate local voters. As their website stopinvoluntaryannexation.org says, “This is about way more than property taxes and code violations. It’s about fundamental property owner rights.”