Freestone County residents will vote on a measure to end forced annexation within their county, thanks to a group of citizens who successfully petitioned to add the issue to the November ballot.

County commissioners today accepted a petition circulated by the group Stop Forced Annexation Freestone County and formally ordered an election for voters to decide whether cities in Freestone County can annex unincorporated property without landowners’ consent.

“Our only decision here is whether to put it on the ballot to allow our voters to make the decision,” said County Judge Linda Grant at today’s meeting.

Commissioners unanimously approved placing the municipal annexation reform “opt-in” measure on all countywide ballots in the November 6, 2018 election.

“This by far is the most rewarding and very positive experience for me and the team,” SFAFC President Mark Berend told commissioners.

The opt-in petition process is part of Texas’ limited municipal annexation reform law enacted in last year’s special legislative session. The law restricts forced annexation only in counties with 500,000 or more residents — what it calls “Tier 2” counties. Unincorporated property owners in all other Texas counties, including Freestone, can still be annexed by cities without their consent, unless residents vote to change their county from “Tier 1” to protected Tier 2 status.

Volunteers began collecting signatures on the Tier 2 opt-in petition in March. SFAFC submitted their petition to county officials in June with over 1,700 signatures — well above the 10 percent of registered voters’ signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot.

The next step is crafting specific ballot language for the opt-in measure. Then it’s up to the voters to decide.

Berend told Texas Scorecard he and his team are “very optimistic” about prevailing in the November election. “But we do have campaign work to do,” he added.

Freestone is the third Texas county to set a November opt-in election. Commissioners in Parker County and Wise County have already approved November elections in response to successful petitions submitted by local citizens earlier this year. Johnson County citizens’ petition has been verified; commissioners are scheduled to approve an opt-in election at their July 23 meeting.

Volunteers in Palo Pinto County are working to collect 2,000 petition signatures by next week in order to get a November vote.

“It’s about choice,” says SFAFC Vice President Ed O’Neill. “We chose to live in the county for whatever reason. We didn’t elect the people who are doing this [forced annexation], or vote for the taxes they’re levying on us or their ordinances.”

Thanks to O’Neill, Berend, and their team of volunteers, Freestone County voters will have a choice and a vote on ending forced annexation.

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.