While the Texas Legislature considers whether to finally eliminate forced annexation statewide, voters in two North Texas counties are set to decide if their local property owners should be protected from the unfair practice.
Both Ellis County, just south of Dallas, and Montague County, northwest of Tarrant, have propositions on their May 4 ballots that would impose countywide bans on involuntary annexation of unincorporated land by neighboring cities.
Texas is one of just a handful of states that allows involuntary or forced annexation by city governments. Under reforms enacted in 2017, cities in counties designated Tier 2 (counties with 500,000 or more residents) must ask permission before annexing unincorporated property.
In smaller counties, designated Tier 1, cites can annex property without owners’ consent—unless local residents vote for protected Tier 2 status. The law allows residents to petition for a vote on the issue by gathering signatures from at least 10 percent of their counties’ registered voters.
Ellis and Montague residents successfully petitioned for a vote, and their May ballots will contain propositions to change the counties from “Tier 1” to “Tier 2” status for purposes of municipal annexation. A vote for Tier 2 is a vote to protect property rights and end forced annexation.
“I don’t think people should have their property rights stolen from them by the cities, by the county, or anywhere in the state,” said Louis Ponder, who headed the petition drive in Ellis County.
Six counties overwhelmingly approved the state’s first Tier 2 ballot propositions last November. But in the vast majority of Texas counties, forced annexation is still allowed.
That may change this legislative session.
A bill to end forced annexation statewide is scheduled to be debated in the Texas House on Monday. State Rep. Phil King (R–Weatherford) filed House Bill 347 to extend the limited reforms enacted last session to all 254 Texas counties, eliminating the unequal two-tier system.
“If today it’s wrong to forcibly annex property in 16 counties, it ought to be wrong in all the other 238 counties in Texas,” King told members of the House Committee on Land & Resource Management at a hearing last month on his bill. “Don’t make those citizens, just because they’re in smaller counties, spend thousands of hours gathering signatures and then go have an election.”
Ponder and petition-drive leaders from counties that already voted to become Tier 2 were among over a dozen Texans who testified at the hearing in favor of HB 347. Just three people testified against the bill, including a representative of the Texas Municipal League, a taxpayer-funded lobbyist group that fought the property rights protection last session and opposes pro-taxpayer measures like property tax reform.
King’s bill to end forced annexation may or may not become law, but Texans in Ellis and Montague counties aren’t waiting for the legislature to act.
Early voting in the May 4 election begins April 22.