BY ADAM RUSSELL, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bullard resident Marvin Hollingsworth has seen the town change. His property near the junction of U.S. Highway 69 and County Road 3801 was surrounded by nothing but farmland when he moved there 31 years ago.
Over the past two years around 100 homes popped up in a subdivision across the highway from him. His home is being surrounded by businesses.
Hollingsworth, a retired U.S. Army veteran, lives off his retirement, disability and Social Security. He’s paid Cherokee County and Bullard ISD taxes throughout the decades but now faces the possibility of paying more — to the city.
He’s one of more than a dozen property owners who own around 82 acres the city is seeking to annex.
Hollingsworth said he is not happy that he could be on the city property tax rolls and pay 58.81 cents per $100 valuation on his home and property, around $370 based on the 2014 valuation. He would also be required to join the city’s water and trash service as well, he said. He has the option of switching from his septic system to city sewer.
“You can’t stop (the town’s growth), but I’m just opposed to someone telling me I have to do this,” he said.
This past week, the Bullard City Council approved annexing one 33.5-acre tract among five tracts of land that were on the agenda. The council postponed action on the other four tracts, including Hollingsworth’s, because the legality of the annexations had been questioned, Bullard Mayor Pam Frederick said at the meeting.
The tracts total more than $2.6 million in taxable value, which equals almost $15,500 in tax revenue for Bullard.
Council member Jason Hendrix was the lone vote against the annexation.
“The landowners don’t want to be annexed,” he said. “They have various reasons why, but I haven’t heard from anyone who wanted to be taken in.”
Bullard City Manager Larry Morgan said change isn’t always welcomed but that the city has worked with landowners throughout the process. He said the city was within its rights to annex the land and that landowner efforts, such as hiring attorneys to fight the annexation, would only have slowed the process.
“That would have been a waste of time and energy on everyone’s part,” Morgan said.
He said the city started addressing the “donut holes,” properties completely surrounded by Bullard’s limits, over the past five years. Most of the properties annexed in the past were agricultural, Morgan said, and have been accepted on a voluntary basis. But the recent annexations have included homes and businesses and required involuntary annexations.
Former Bullard Mayor Connie Vaughan owns the tract annexed at the meeting. He didn’t fight the process, because he didn’t want the stress, he said, but he believes the city has mishandled the process.
Vaughan said the city took in properties voluntarily during his tenure but that he was opposed to the involuntary process. He said developers see value in being inside the city and having water and sewer extended to platted land.
But, established properties don’t reap anything from being taken in, he said. They just pay more, he said.
Advice-seeking landowners have approached Vaughan, he said.
“‘Get a lawyer’ is what I told them if they want to fight it,” he said. “I know a little, enough to believe the annexations are illegal, but I didn’t want to stir up trouble.”
Tyler attorney Ron Stutes, who specializes in a wide range municipality-related law, including land use, said there is no recourse for residents if and when municipalities follow state law regarding involuntary annexations. However, municipalities that exceed their authority can be subject to resident challenges, he added.
“The law is there for cities to take action, but it can be convoluted sometimes,” he said.
Texas Local Government Code allows general-law municipalities such as Bullard to annex land without resident consent when the area is entirely surrounded by the municipality.
Water and sewer also must be available to the area, and fire and police protection must be provided within 10 days after the annexation takes effect, according to the law.
The annexation map provided by the city of Bullard and crosschecked with Cherokee County Appraisal District maps show the properties being considered for annexation, including Hollingsworth’s, are not surrounded by existing Bullard city limits.
The city postponed annexation of the other properties to make sure the process was handled correctly, Morgan said.
“Things were done in years past that we’ve had to correct,” Morgan said. “We want to do it right to make sure it can’t be challenged.”
Morgan said the property owners would receive city services, including fire protection and sewer. But the value of those services doesn’t equal the price, Hollingsworth and other landowners said.
Hollingsworth said he can’t afford to fight the annexation. He said he might reach out to more landowners to see if a group might want to hire an attorney. But he plans to sell his land eventually anyway, which has much more commercial value than as a homestead, and move further outside the city.
“They haven’t given any timeline but they’ve made it clear that it’s not a matter of if it will happen but when it will happen,” he said.
Bullard’s 2014 tax-levy was $1,101,893, according to the Smith County Tax Assessor Collector, which collects for Smith and Cherokee county taxing jurisdictions.