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Bridgeport holds contentious second public hearing on annexation

By Racey Burden | Published Thursday, October 12, 2017
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Thirty people addressed Bridgeport City Council Wednesday night, asking councilmen to vote “no” on the city’s proposed annexation of 1,300 acres of land along southwest U.S. 380 and north Texas 101.

It was the second public hearing on the annexation, and emotions were running high. Some speakers raised their voices, some cried and some threatened to move away if Bridgeport follows through on expanding its city limits.

“I’ve been here my whole life, and I never thought I’d have my land taken away from me,” Harold Watson said. “I’m on a fixed income, and they keep adding taxes and taxes.”

Many addressed comments former mayor Corey Lane made at the first public hearing Monday. When Lane was in office, he supported home rule, the law that allows municipalities like Bridgeport to involuntarily annex land. On Monday Lane said that the landowners outside of the city voted for legislators who approved home rule, and they needed to become part of the city if they wanted a say in what happens in Bridgeport.

“We pay sales taxes, and if we do use fire protection we pay county taxes,” Randall Holley said Wednesday, in a rebuttal of Lane’s comments. “We are taxpayers. We are ¬†not beggars. And I don’t see where rural property should be supporting a city.”

David Knight, a manager at EnLink Midstream, which has property in the annexation area on U.S. 380, accused the city of not letting the company know about the annexation.

“I’ve very disappointed the city didn’t even give us the courtesy of a phone call about this,” Knight said. “It’s very obvious the city is trying to annex our property for their tax benefit.”

City Manager Jesica McEachern said the city is required to send notice of annexation to the owner of record, and Devon Energy is still listed as the owner of the EnLink property, so notice was sent to them.

McEachern also responded to several allegations made by landowners that the city is broke and is annexing land for extra tax revenue.

“I don’t believe the city is broke,” McEachern said. “Broke is when you don’t have money in the bank and you’re not able to pay your bills. The city has a good fund balance, and we pay our bills.”

McEachern said the city has been reducing expenditures to combat loss of revenue from the oil and gas downturn. She said that the city’s workforce has been reduced by around 50 percent since she began working for Bridgeport in 2009.

Business owners in the annexation areas spoke at the meeting to say they’ve suffered due to the loss of oil and gas revenue, too.

“Our business is down over 50 percent, but our taxes are up, operating expenses are up,” said Brian Bernardo, owner of Bridgeport Guns and Ammo.

A common theme throughout the night was the speakers asking council members to hold off on the annexations until after Dec. 1, when Senate Bill 6 goes into effect. SB 6 ends involuntary annexation for counties with populations of 500,000 or greater, but it also contains an amendment that could allow Wise County citizens to petition to hold an election to decide whether they want to fall under the law as well.

“Give me a chance to vote, give me a voice,” Jim Mercer said. “If you give me a choice and it goes against the way I voted, because of the democracy I live in I’ll accept that and pay the city taxes.”

McEachern said the city started considering annexation long before they knew SB 6 would pass.

“Council and staff had no idea Senate Bill 6 was going to happen,” McEachern said. “Even when it goes into effect, the petition still has to happen and the election has to happen.”

For more on the public hearing, see the weekend Messenger.

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