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Voters in five Texas counties will decide this year whether to stop forced annexation, after citizen-led initiatives triggered countywide elections to protect local property rights.

On Monday, Palo Pinto County Commissioners approved putting a “Tier 2 opt-in” measure on the November general election ballot. If it passes, cities in the county will no longer be able to annex unincorporated property without landowners’ consent.

“Now it is up to each of us to make certain that voters know to vote ‘Yes’ and make Palo Pinto County a Tier 2 county,” said Stop Forced Annexation in Palo Pinto County, the citizen group that organized the petition drive. “This will end forced annexation and will let those affected vote on being annexed.”

The group of local residents submitted a municipal annexation reform petition to county election officials last month calling for a vote on the issue.

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 into 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.

Volunteers in Palo Pinto collected over 2,700 petition signatures in just three weeks – about a thousand more than needed to get the measure on the ballot.

Four other counties – Parker, Wise, Freestone, and Johnson – are also set to hold Tier 2 opt-in elections in November, triggered by local residents’ successful petition drives. Ellis County citizens submitted an annexation reform petition last week and expect the county will approve putting their opt-in measure on the May 2019 ballot.

Petition organizers in the five counties holding November 6 opt-in elections are working together in a non-partisan effort to educate voters about the ballot language, 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. They’ve set up an educational website at www.Vote4Tier2.com.

“This is real grassroots control,” Palo Pinto petition organizer Leanne Wells told Texas Scorecard last month. “People stepping up to take control of their lives.”

In Palo Pinto and other counties where residents stepped up and took the initiative, local voters will now decide who controls their property rights — local governments or property owners themselves.