Annexation reform petition gains traction in Ellis County

ELLIS COUNTY — Ellis County residents demand a say in whether to be annexed (absorbed) by local cities. That is why they are stepping up efforts to gather some 15,000 voters' signatures on a petition to reclassify Ellis as a "Tier 2" county. They want to give voters a choice.

Petitioners acknowledge that some residents enjoy the benefits of being part of a city. They point out, however, that annexation can bring with it higher taxes, more regulations, ordinances and permitting requirements, plus sewer and utility limitations or expensive infrastructure hookups, which property owners have to pay for out of pocket.

What's more, they say property owners in newly annexed areas may start paying higher costs many months before those services are operational. Still, cities acknowledge that they have no obligation to provide any new services to annexed areas.

Many proponents of the reclassification say they value the freedom they enjoy in rural Texas. They have invested a lot of money and time, sometimes generations, building their lives in the country.

"We're also fierce advocates for every voter's right to choose," county resident Stuart Nelson said. "If the majority choose to be part of a city, we'll respect that decision."

The first step toward returning power to the voters is the petition.

"It's a three-step process," stated business owner Louis Ponder, who has already faced the consequences of forced annexation of his rural property by the city of Midlothian.

"First, we get the required number of signatures: ten percent of all voters, or about 15,000 for Ellis County. Second, we vote for the reclassification measure as soon as it's on the ballot. And third, once we're a Tier 2 county, we get to vote any time a city wants to annex us."

Currently, only 11 of the largest counties in Texas are classified as Tier 2 under the new Municipal Annexation Reform law signed by Governor Abbott in 2017.

All the remaining 243 counties are Tier 1, and are vulnerable to annexation without voters' inputs. If all of those counties required 15,000 signatures, Texas residents would have to gather more than 3.6 million signatures just to obtain the right to vote on annexation in every county across the state.

Advocates hope that future legislation will amend this law to automatically give voters a say in all Texas counties, without massive petitioning efforts like this.

They also know that lobbyists for cities, businesses, and other interests apply considerable pressure on Austin lawmakers to make it easy for cities to expand at will.

For now, petitioning is the voters' only option. The clock is ticking.

That is why the effort to stop involuntary annexation in Ellis County is pulling out all the stops to collect another 13,000 signatures from registered voters before the end of June in order to get the measure on the November ballot.

If they come up short, they will continue the push for the May 2019 elections.

The team urges all registered voters in Ellis County (including those already inside city limits) to visit the stopinvoluntaryannexation.org website, find a petition location or a block walker in their neighborhoods and sign the petition.

The team especially needs more volunteers to help reach as many voters as possible before the deadline.

For more information, contact the petition team at StopAnnexEllis@gmail.com or visit www.stopinvoluntaryannexation.org.