Citizens turn out in force

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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Full House

FULL HOUSE – A large crowd against involuntary annexation attended the city of Bridgeport’s public hearing Monday, wearing red to show their opposition. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

As the city of Bridgeport moves to annex more than 1,300 acres in November, landowners are attempting to convince council members to vote against expanding the city limits.

At the city’s first public hearing on the annexations Monday night, around 70 people showed up in red shirts – members of a group of landowners banding together to protest involuntary annexation. Twenty people spoke to the council, asking them to not to bring the land into the city, and more said they planned to speak at the next public hearing on Wednesday.

“We’re all here tonight because we are mad at being used,” Randall Holley said. “You’re annexing our property as a stepping stone to the money.”

Holley was referring to the EnLink Midstream property on U.S. 380 southwest of town, which is included in the planned annexation area.

City Manager Jesica McEachern laid out the reasons why the city planned to annex in a presentation at the meeting – cleaning up and expanding the city’s boundaries, eliminating islands of unannexed land within city limits, public safety and zoning management. McEachern told the Messenger Tuesday that the city council has been considering annexation for more than a year, and they looked at their options for expanding the city limits in all directions – north, south, east and west.

McEachern said the placement of the airport, which is a slice of Bridgeport land about four miles away from the rest of the city limits, was a major factor in the decision to expand to the southwest.

“Those properties are in our ETJ, so they’re already subject to some regulations, and the police already have to go out there to the airport to patrol,” McEachern said. “It was looking at, ‘How do we expand and clean up these boundaries and get these areas closer police protection and not just drive past them?'”

In the U.S. 380 annexation area, the city is planning to annex 19 agricultural use properties, three voluntarily annexed properties, 21 involuntarily annexed properties and two right-of-ways. In the annexation area along Texas 101 the city plans to annex 10 properties voluntarily, 23 involuntarily and three right-of-ways.

Some of the properties along Texas 101 already receive city services, and McEachern explained the properties served by West West Special Utility District will continue to receive the same water services. Electrical services will also fall to the current provider. Sewage service will be provided to some of the properties on Texas 101, but not to the properties on U.S. 380 until the area sees greater growth. Trash services will be provided to all properties.

Of the 1,300 acres scheduled for annexation, only 327 are non-agricultural. The other 975 are ag exempt, and the city offered them non-annexation development agreements which stipulate that the land will continue to be in the ETJ for at least five years, not paying city taxes, unless the landowners develop their property for other uses.

For some of those agricultural landowners, those agreements weren’t enough, and they said as much Monday to the council.

“Farms and lands that have been in these families for generations will soon be tested with another blow,” said James Money, who owns a family farm in the area to be annexed. “This is yet another attempt to bail out wasted expenses of tax dollars.”

Wasteful spending in the city was the subject of many landowners’ speeches to the council – they criticized the mishandling of the hospital, the condition of the roads, the wasted jail space at the police department and the lack of businesses downtown. Some acknowledged that the current council members were not on council when some of the city’s issues began, but they felt they had a responsibility to take care of those issues now.

“Putting more burden on us isn’t going to solve your problems,” Clay Burcham said. “You’re alienating people who support the community.”

Former mayor Corey Lane, who pushed for Bridgeport to become a home rule city during his time in office, was the only audience member to speak in favor of annexation. When the landowners complained they hadn’t gotten to vote for home rule, which allows cities to involuntarily annex land in their ETJ, Lane protested.

“You voted for the people who made the law that allowed home rule,” he said. “This is taxation with representation. If you don’t like it, join the city, run for council and vote yourself an exemption.

“If the community doesn’t grow it’s going to die.”

Jim Pell, whose land is close to Bridgeport’s current ETJ, stood up to disagree with Lane.

“We’re all part of this community,” he said. “We shop here, we bank here. These people are our neighbors, and they’re going to be our neighbors after this is over.”

Bridgeport will hold another public hearing on annexation 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 900 Thompson Street.

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