NEWS HEADLINES

City of Bridgeport considers annexation

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, October 14, 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 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’m 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.

Should the city annex, it could expect to see between $400,000 to $500,000 in additional tax revenue after the process is complete, though those figures are subject to change pending changes in population, taxes and taxable values. Landowners in the ETJ see the annexation as taxation without representation and without benefits.

“Help me understand the benefits of being forced to live in your city limits,” Judy Morrow said. “My water will remain the same, my electricity will remain the same. My road is already paved better than many roads in your town.

“It is very clear to me what each of you sitting up here want – a big, fat tax bill.”

McEachern said that faster police response time is a benefit of annexation. The areas in Bridgeport’s ETJ are currently served by the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

“Right now the police department drives past them,” McEachern said. “The Sheriff’s Office does a great job, but they’re covering the whole county, whereas we have three officers on call for an eight or nine mile radius. We’re closer in proximity.”

McEachern also mentioned that the city is considering moving to a paid fire department in the future, which would mean faster fire response for everyone in Bridgeport’s fire district.

Another 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.”

The council will vote on the annexation at its Monday, Nov. 13 meeting.

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The Messenger asked Bridgeport council members to comment on the proposed annexation. Here is what they had to say Friday:

“I’m for it. I don’t know about all of it, but there are people on city water and sewer who aren’t in the city, so we’ve got to clean up our boundaries. Now, whether we go all the way out or not is another question.” – Jimmy Meyers

“It’s the same thing I’ve been saying since day one – it needs to be thrown off the table. [Governor] Greg Abbott said it all – it’s piracy. I never have been for that. I think it should come to a vote; make it a level playing field.” – Bobby Brazier

“I think most of us think that any time you can reduce the tax burden for citizens within the city, then you have to look at those options for those people. The people that expressed their concerns that are outside the city limits have valid concerns. We also want to take their concerns into consideration as we’re making decisions, because they soon will be our constituents, too. There are some other people that are involved here – Devon and all that. What we don’t know are all the variables there. The variables with some of the businesses that talked about leaving the city or leaving this area, losing those jobs, those are also factors to consider. It’s a difficult decision for us all. I think that we will make the decision that we think is in the best interest of our citizens… I think the right thing to do is take all the information, to consider it all and make a decision.” – David Correll

“As a city leader it is my responsibility to always consider the citizens’ best interests – that includes reducing the tax burden and creating opportunity for our citizens. Annexation is a tool that can help with those goals. However, I understand the concerns of those being annexed having lived out in the country my childhood up until adulthood. For some folks it’s about annexation, for some folks it’s not, it’s more than that – it’s just the idea of being annexed into a city without having a say in it. I understand those concerns, and while considering my vote I’ll be thinking about those who are being annexed. Those who we are annexing, I hope we can come to a mutual agreement that’s beneficial to all parties while considering the needs of the city of Bridgeport and its citizens, because if annexation occurs the people that are being annexed will become citizens. I have to consider their concerns as well.” – Kevin Lopez

Councilman Billy Fred Walker had not responded to a request for comment by press time Friday.

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