“Because the voters did approve a bond and because bond funds have been issued, then those properties that have been disannexed will still be assessed their pro rata portion of that debt service.”
Municipal attorney Alan Bojorquez said this to a room full of Saladoans April 4 in response to the first question asked during a town hall meeting on the subject of disannexation.
“The Village is required to, number one, figure out what that portion of the pro rata share is; number two, notify those owners, in case they want to prepay that amount, and number three, enter into a an inter-local agreement with the tax appraisal district to still collect those funds.”
“Because they were a part of the Village when the bonds were approved, when voters approved it, when attorney general’s office approved it, when the bonds were issued, basically there is an encumbrance, the Supreme Court has described it as almost as a lien on those properties until the debt is paid off.”
Bojorquez answered questions about whether residents would be required to pay the sewer debt even if they never received the ‘direct benefit’ of it.
“That language (direct benefit) is only in regards to the tax refund. It is not applicable to the part I mentioned earlier to the properties’ pro rata share of debt service, whether or not the property is hooked up to the sewer.”
“The Village is not required to show that a parcel is getting sewer in order to collect the pro rata share of the debt service,” Bojorquez said.
“The case law that exists, which is a U.S. Supreme Court Case, they said the property values in the municipality when the debt is issued continues to be obligated to service that debt even if, for whatever reason, they are no longer in the municipality,” Bojorquez said.
“The bond lawyer is 100 percent sure of this,” he added.
Bojorquez addressed issues of municipal boundaries, Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), annexation and municipal services.
He quickly told a questioner that even though much of the property in the disannexation part was part of the original part of the Village of Salado they could still disannex from the Village through the petition and election process.
“As a home rule city, it (Belton) has a larger ETJ than we were allowed as a general law city,” he said. He recalled how many properties voluntarily requested to be added to the Village of Salado ETJ when the City of Killeen expanded its ETJ from three miles to five miles (because its population then exceeded 100,000).
Bojorquez reviewed how home rules cities can annex within their own ETJ. The only limitations are the ETJ, being contiguous to the city limits and meeting a municipal services plan.
However, he added that municipal service plans do not have to include offering sewer to all properties that are to be annexed.
He addressed a question about whether Belton could annex property that is not contiguous and whether it could annex without offering services.
“Contiguous is defined as adjacent or next to,” Bojorquez said. Where it gets interesting and one reason I love this part of the law is that city limits are not always in one chunk.”
He reviewed examples of when city limits were not in single chunks and could result into “island annexation, you establish an island and then annex off of it.”
“The city can buy it, annex it and then annex off of it,” he said.
“Strip annexation is not illegal,” he added. “If you are going to annex against someone’s will, you have to annex at least 1,000 feet wide, If you are going to annex voluntarily, you can annex a foot wide or 10 feet wide…. It happens all the time.”
“When a city annexes a portion, it must have a municipal services plan,” he said. “When it is voluntary, the property owner and city can agree when and if the municipality will ever provide services.”
“Full municipal services does not mean that every piece of property in the city limits is going to receive the exact same level of service as every other piece,” he said. “It is going to vary based upon what part of town you are in, the topography and geography.”
“The courts have determined septic systems are sewer and that cities are not required to add sewer to neighborhoods where they have septic systems,” he said.
Cities do not have to provide municipal utilities to an area that already has the utility or another entity has a CCN (Certificate of Convenience and Necessity) in that area, such as the Salado WSC CCN.
He also discussed what has been termed by proponents of disannexation as a “wall of green” protecting Salado from possible annexation by Belton.
“I don’t think it will take long for Belton to come south if they want to come south.”
He said that the green wall term was “a fantastic description of a barrier. I don’t know what it would actually stop.
“If a piece of property currently has tax status as an agricultural property or wildlife management property, a city can’t just annex it,” he said.
“If the property takes that deal, there is not annexation at that time,” he said, adding that “I do not see those property agreements happening” without an agreement in which the property owner gives a strip of property.
He described that strip of property as an umbilical cord to reach other properties for annexation.
In addition, “The contract becomes an annexation agreement if the property is ever developed or subdivided in the future.”
“All the city has to do is offer the development agreement,” he said. “If the property owner refuses, then annexation can proceed.”
“This notion of a green wall is not the impediment that some people are making it to be,” he said. “If people are thinking this green wall is going to buffer and protect, I would argue that this argument is flawed.
Bojorquez recalled when Killeen, Temple and Belton began to expand ETJ around Salado that it caused a flood of ETJ annexation requests from property owners. “Temple and Belton were growing south,” he said, and “Killeen wanted frontage on I-35.”
Bojorquez told the audience that he has advised the Village on approaching properties that are in the ETJ of Salado and bordering the ETJ of other area cities to convince them to come in voluntarily.
These properties are blocking the growth of these larger cities that can annex at will.
“Corporations, business, restaurants want sewer,” he said. “Cities that have sewer to offer have the largest economic development tool that a city can offer.”
The Village of Salado can “threaten to release them to another city that is bigger and worse and more expensive than Salado or you give them an incentive such as sewer or you do both.”
Bojorquez also addressed issues with the metes and bounds description in the petition.
“The metes and bounds don’t close. They don’t connect at all points,” he said. “There are gaps. Some gaps are small, some gaps are considerable. Is a broken metes and bounds a metes and bounds at all?”
“Annexations have been voided after the fact if the property doesn’t close,” he added.
“When you look at the map circulated with the petition and compare it to the map with the metes and bounds description,” he said, “there are entire rooftops that are not in the metes and bound.”
He continued that this raises legal questions, such as “Did the petitioners themselves know what was in and what was out when they signed it and will the voters know what is in and what is out when they are asked to vote on it.”
Bojorquez told the audience that property owners who might be disannexed by the election, could voluntarily annex back into the city limits, however their property tax exemptions or freezes would not be grandfathered
“I think the answer is no. I think whatever the current tax rate is for maintenance and operation and debt service would come into play.”
I spoke with Bojorquez after the meeting to clarify if a property is disannexed from Salado and then annexed by another muncipality would it then be liable for the sewer debt as well as the new city property tax. His answer was “yes.”
If that property is annexed by another municipality, the property would then be assessed at the market value at the time of annexation. The homeowner could then apply for any exemptions at the time that it is brought into the municipality. The property would be taxed at the current tax rate at which time the taxes could be frozen for those 65 and over or disabled veterans (if those tax freezes are offered by the municipality. The property would also be liable for the assessment for the sewer debt of Salado until that debt is paid in full.
Mayor Skip Blancett announced that Bojorquez will also attend the April 8 meeting sponsored by the Mill Creek Community Association to answer any questions directly asked of him.