Dozens of people filled the Mesquite City Council chamber Monday night to explain why they oppose the city’s rush to forcibly annex county property owners into the city limits, and into city taxes and regulations.
Mesquite is trying to rush through hundreds of forced annexations in Kaufman County before a new state law takes effect December 1 that will ban many Texas cities, including Mesquite, from annexing property without the owners’ consent.
“It’s not Kaufman County against Mesquite,” Forney Mayor Rick Wilson, one of the last to speak, told council members. But many of the others making public comments during the meeting said it feels like Mesquite against Kaufman County landowners and their property rights.
Council rules allowed only ten people to speak on the issue.
Ken Hill, who lives in the targeted area of Mesquite’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) – unincorporated land adjacent to city boundaries that the city can annex – said he spoke for a lot of the people in the room.
“We don’t want you, Mesquite, we don’t need you, there’s not a single thing you can do for us that we don’t already have,” Hill told the council. “We have no reason to trust you,” he added, given the city’s lack of action in providing municipal services following annexations in 2006.
“Let’s be blunt with one another,” Hill said. “This is nothing but a thinly veiled land grab to beat the law that goes into place December 1. You know that, we know that.”
Hill then asked why the city doesn’t call for an election in the areas they’re proposing to annex. Maybe, he said, it’s “because you know that nobody in their right mind, based on your past track record, would voluntarily vote to come into the city of Mesquite.”
Others who would be impacted by the city’s land grab shared similar concerns.
Marcus Morehead, a retired Dallas firefighter who’s lived in unincorporated Kaufman County for 15 years, said he had never seen a fire truck or ambulance come through and doesn’t think those services are in the city’s plans.
“I’m speaking for a lot of these people in here tonight,” Morehead said. “We just want to say ‘No.’ Mesquite needs to stay in Mesquite.”
Former Mesquite resident Denise Tramel is also concerned about the added tax burden that will be forced on her. She told council members that if they annexed her, it would cost her an extra $1,589 a year in city taxes.
“I can’t afford that, y’all,” Tramel said. “I don’t want to be in the city of Mesquite… We made that choice 13 years ago when we moved out to Kaufman County that we wanted to be in the county, not in city limits.”
Pat Kelly, a third-generation farmer outside of Forney, told the council, “It galls me pretty bad that y’all want to jump the county line, come over and tax me off my property after I’ve been there all these years… I feel like y’all would like to drive me off my land and sell it to a developer.”
Mayor Wilson urged the city to reconsider pursuing the involuntary annexations. “It’s not just about property,” Wilson said. “It’s about us keeping our cultures and keeping a life that we love to live.”
Forney tried to negotiate a deal with Mesquite to move some of the land targeted for annexation into Forney’s ETJ, but Mesquite’s city council rejected Forney’s proposal.
Council didn’t take any action on the issue at the meeting, but at its earlier pre-meeting, members received a briefing on options for annexation and discussed scaling back their plan by annexing fewer properties.
Though the city sent out Notices of Intent to Annex to over 500 property owners back on September 13, Mesquite Mayor Stan Pickett said during Monday’s briefing that council members hadn’t even talked about the specifics of the plan yet.
“We haven’t had any conversations about the land or any of it,” Pickett said. “Everyone in the ETJ was sent a notice that we were going to begin a conversation. This is our first opportunity to look at the maps and to have a discussion.”
The city acknowledges that some of the 11 areas it targeted for forced annexation “pose practical difficulties for providing full municipal services,” an issue many county landowners are concerned about. Council said its goal is to narrow down the options to those with “the greatest long-term value for the City.” Long-term value for the annexed property owners wasn’t mentioned.
Public hearings on Mesquite’s forced annexation plans are scheduled for October 16 and 23, and November 6. The mayor encouraged citizens to participate in the hearings and to contact city council members with comments and concerns.