Those in attendance at the crowded April 6 public hearing regarding annexation of properties to the city of Blanco heard a number of residents express confusion over what annexation really means. As Mayor Pro Tem Bobby McClung stated at the beginning, a public hearing is designed to get public comments and is not a public debate or a “free-for-all.” However, there was a great deal of spirited debate and give-and-take during the 1-½ hour session.
McClung began with an explanation of the process by which properties contiguous to the city limits missed in the last annexation and already receive city services such as water or sewer would be the next candidates for annexation. He further explained that these property owners received notice as early as 2007 and again in 2008 that their properties could be annexed. He explained that the drop in water rates for properties taken into the city usually offsets the increase in property taxes of .258 per $100 of property value, or $250 per year for a $100K home. He also explained, in response to concerns of those whose properties currently receive an agricultural exemption, that they would not lose that exemption. As well, owners who voluntarily choose annexation can designate the zoning status for their properties, whether agricultural, multifamily, industrial, etc.
Chris Curbow, a resident of 1104 Fulcher Street, near the water plant, cited an old agreement with the city that if his property, the “old Byler property,” were to be annexed, the owner could take over the street. Council member Jim Rodrigue asked that the city be provided with that document, which Curbow said he was working to obtain.
Shyrle Grisham Allen, owner of 23.89 acres at 1520 Mesquite, pointed out that she is not using any city services, does not plan to develop her property, and does not see why the city wants it. Not for the first time in the proceedings, McClung responded that the goal of annexation, as set forth in the UDC, is not just to increase the tax base but to prevent unwanted development. He used the example of the Ingram Ready-Mix Concrete plant, which he said residents have complained about because it is the first thing visitors see as they approach Blanco from the south. “Had the city moved more quickly,” he continued,” we could have controlled where it was put.”
Rancher Mike Ethridge, whose mother Lonie owns 120 acres on Highway 165, complained that, if the family property becomes part of the city, no one will be able to hunt, shoot, or burn on it. “If you have a varmint after your chickens,” he said, “you have to call the police to come and kill the varmint.” He also questioned whether sewer lines would run that far out of town. In response, council member Rodrigue explained that the city could provide either water or sewer, not necessarily both. McClung explained that the latest trash-burning ordinance exempted vegetative burning in order for agricultural properties to burn debris. Ethridge also pointed out that commercial properties provide more tax revenue, to which McClung responded that the commercial development on corridors approaching town—Highways 281 and 165—needs to be controlled. In response to Ethridge’s complaint about a big sign outside Blanco advertising a business that is not in Blanco, McClung said, “That’s what we’re trying to fix.” Council member Danny Ray added that the city is trying to prevent subdivisions, which use city water and sewer services, being built right up to the city limits,
Resident Mary Ann Millard asked, “Why are we annexing more properties, when we can’t even fill our own potholes? I’m curious about why we are adding more when we can’t take care of what we have.” McClung responded that there is no plan to add more roads, and Ray clarified, “That is part of the reason to increase the tax base, so we can have some help.” He added that growth will occur, and that “We need to bring in more money to help with future growth.” McClung added that the 2007 annexation was the first one in 20 years.
McClung appeared caught off guard by the comments of resident Gail McClellan that, in her words, “Government is taking away individual values. I disagree with taking water from the farmer and bringing it to the city. It’s un-American to put the tax burden on people who don’t receive the services. You have the responsibility to protect our American values.” McClung responded, “We have been charged by the community with protecting the feel of Blanco. I know there is a lot of anti-government sentiment, but this is a small town and we are not out to take over Blanco.”
Kelly Dowdy, resident of 294 Dowdy Lane, said that he bought property in 1964 to farm and that he has no need of city services, maintained his own road for years, and that the property will be a trust for his sons and will not be developed. “My wife and I are on a fixed income,” he concluded, “and we request dearly not to be annexed.”
Entrepreneur Ralph de Leon expressed a sentiment repeated by resident Bonnie Holmes that communication is essential to keep residents informed of what annexation means. Planning and Zoning Commission chair Martha Herden also stressed that it is important for residents to know as much as possible about what is going on in order to avoid the problems other areas such as San Antonio have faced with unbridled, uncontrolled growth
Resident Dorothy Dillon voiced the same concern as others that the part of her property being considered for annexation lies in a flood plain and could never be developed.
While acknowledging that the timing of the publication of the Blanco County News does not always match the dates of important meetings such as the next public hearing on April 13, McClung reasserted that this annexation has been discussed for the past three years, and that this hearing is simply “a refresher course.”
He concluded, “We are not here to take anyone’s property. I think we want to protect what we love about Blanco.” Resident Fred Carlgren added, “I want to thank the board for these efforts to keep this under control. I’ve lived in San Antonio (and) this is going to protect our property. The taxes are insignificant compared to what will happen with uncontrolled growth.”