Another citizen-led initiative to stop forced annexation locally will be on the ballot in November.

Johnson County Commissioners Court today accepted a petition calling for a countywide election in which voters will decide if cities in the county can annex unincorporated property without landowners’ consent.

The citizen group Stop Forced Annexation in Johnson County circulated the petition and submitted it to the county last month for verification.

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 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.

Johnson County volunteers collected nearly 12,000 petition signatures — well over the 8,905 needed to get a Tier 2 opt-in measure on the November ballot. Election officials verified the signatures before turning over the petition to commissioners.

County residents Paul and Peggie Jones started the petition drive last year, when the City of Joshua moved to annex their property against their wishes. Some Tier 1 cities, like Weatherford and Mineral Wells, temporarily backed off annexation plans pending the outcome of citizens’ opt-in efforts. But just one day before the Joneses submitted their petition to the county, Joshua City Council unanimously voted to annex county property — including theirs.

Peggie Jones told commissioners today their petition drive succeeded due to tremendous support from county residents.

“Along with our great group of volunteers, we had the support of over 150 businesses in Johnson County hosting our petition binders,” Jones said. She said the property-rights petition also drew support from local newspapers, political groups, and realtors, as well as State Rep. DeWayne Burns (R–Cleburne) and State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury).

“Over 11,500 Johnson County residents believe property owners that live in rural residences should have the right to vote concerning the future of their land,” she added.

County resident Joe Palmer agreed. “I think it’s reasonable to allow a property owner to have a say in what happens to his or her own property,” Palmer told commissioners.

The court voted unanimously to “accept the verified petition submitted by Johnson County residents requesting an election … to classify Johnson County as a Tier 2 county as it relates to municipal annexation as described in SB 6.”

County Elections Administrator Patty Bourgeois said commissioners would approve a separate agenda item at their next meeting to set the vote for the November 6 general election date. Then it will be up to local voters to decide.

Johnson is one of five Texas counties set to vote on Tier 2 opt-in measures in November. Parker County, Wise County, and Freestone County citizens have secured November votes on Tier 2 opt-in measures. Palo Pinto County citizens submitted their petition last week and expect county commissioners to approve a November opt-in election at their August 13 meeting.

Preliminary ballot language reviewed by the Texas Secretary of State’s office reads:

“Changing [_____] County from Tier 1 county status to Tier 2 county status for purposes of municipal annexation as described by Chapter 43 of the Texas Local Government Code.”

All five counties will likely use the same ballot language, and all the petitioners recognize they now face a public awareness campaign ahead of the November election. They have three months to educate voters about municipal annexation, what Tier 1 and Tier 2 status mean, and how their vote for or against the measure will impact property rights of residents facing annexation.

Whatever the outcome of the Tier 2 opt-in elections, local property rights activists say they’ll be taking the fight back to Austin next year for a legislative fix that protects all Texans from forced annexation.

Though he expects Johnson County voters to approve the ballot measure, Paul Jones said he and others “will be fighting to get this law changed for the entire state so other counties don’t have to go through this arduous petition process.”

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.