The City of Aransas Pass (AP) is attempting to annex large areas in the southern part of Aransas County, located inside its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Property owners in the targeted areas filled the District courtroom at the Aransas County courthouse Thursday, July 25 for a special meeting of the Commissioners Court.
The agenda item almost everyone in attendance was interested in was the “discussion and update regarding the progress and status of appointed negotiators regarding the progress of negotiations with AP and potential future litigation.”
As a discussion item, commissioners could not take action.
However, the court heard the pleas from property owners, and David L. Earl, attorney for Rockport Terminals (the owner of the former Degussa property on Business Highway 35 S.) before meeting for about an hour in executive session to discuss what action the county might take to help property owners targeted for annexation.
When commissioners returned to open session, Aransas County District Attorney Kristen Barnebey announced, “I will be looking into this and look at any remedies or actions I can take.”
Discussion prior to convening in executive session
Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills gave those in the room the opportunity to talk, but due to the large crowd, said, “We can’t let everyone talk.”
John Moore, a City by the Sea resident representing Citizen’s for Responsible Annexation, said he represents 500 (mostly canal subdivision) property owners along Business Highway 35 S.
“We support the Commissioners’ Court moving forward with quo warranto (a prerogative writ requiring the person to whom it is directed to show what authority they have for exercising some right, power, or franchise they claim to hold).
He said AP is attempting a “broad brush” annexation.
“We trust you will do the right thing today,” said Moore.
(Note: Other than Moore and Earl, the names of other speakers are not known.)
One woman said Harvey hurt everyone two years ago, and AP’s planned annexations instill fear in property owners once again, thinking they could again lose their homes.
“I pray that God is with you when you make your decision,” she said.
One man said, “They (AP) steal from you and harass you. I don’t want to be a part of that city. If Rockport was coming (after us) that would be different.”
Another affected property owner said AP wants to bring in the land and tax without representation.
“People taken in years ago still don’t have services,” he said. “We’re little people and we’re asking you to help us.
“I don’t think they have a plan to provide us sewer and water … they don’t have a good track record.”
Another woman, who lives on Jacoby Lane, said she has attended all the AP annexation meetings and AP changes the plans all the time.
In regard to the high tax burden property owners will endure if annexed, the woman said, “It’s hard when you have to hold a neighbor’s hand as they cry because they know they will have to choose between paying taxes or paying for their medicine.”
Earl, who represents the Association Against Annexation Abuse, in addition to Rockport Terminals, said, “I ask you (commissioners) to ask Barnebey to carry out her duty and challenge (and oversee) the unlawful actions by AP.”
He said AP has not provided a service plan backed up by engineering.
During negotiations with AP (negotiators, including Earl, were appointed by Aransas County commissioners at their May 31 special meeting), Earl said the negotiators went to AP with “point by point” changes and provided a counter-offer to the city.
“They denied our offer and gave us a counter offer,” said Earl. “We rejected AP’s counteroffer and sought arbitration.
Earl said AP said no because it didn’t recognize Aransas County (in the process).
“It’s a steamroller operation,” said Earl.
He noted when AP realized they had made some mistakes; it made changes and then held two public hearings, both of them on one Monday.
“The AP city attorney advised them (AP council) not to negotiate,” said Earl. “I even got a letter from AP saying they would go to the State bar about me.
“We’re asking you to authorize Barnebey to bring a quo warranto against AP,” said Earl.
He said doing so will protect property owners’ legal rights by forcing AP to comply with all applicable laws.
Commissioner Charles Smith asked, “They’re taking the position the laws (regarding annexation) don’t apply to them?”
Earl responded, “They’re basically maneuvering.”
Commissioner Jack Chaney noted AP came up with some wrong calculations.
“Yes, there are glaring errors,” said Earl. “They say it will cost $14 million to service the area and they have no plan on how to pay for it.”
He said the debt needed to service this annexation, along with the interest charged, will significantly increase AP’s already high tax rate.
“They’re setting themselves up for financial ruin,” said Earl.
One woman said she bought land in San Patricio County 20-plus years ago, was annexed by AP, and still doesn’t get the services for which she is being taxed.
Another man said he bought some property for $15,000, was being taxed $1,500 per year, and received no services.
“I just sold it,” he said.
Before ending the comment period, Mills, saying he probably already knew the answer, asked if there was anyone in the courtroom who wanted to be annexed.
The crowd laughed in unison.