Town hall meeting brings out supporters on Liberty Hill ETJ annexation

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By SHELLY WILKISON

City Council members heard from dozens of property owners Monday during the second of two town hall meetings on voluntary annexation into Liberty Hill’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

In recent weeks, the City of Liberty Hill has mailed thousands of letters to property owners in the Liberty Hill ISD asking them to voluntarily join the Liberty Hill ETJ. City officials say the move to add properties into the ETJ is in response to action taken by the City of Leander to end a boundary agreement with Liberty Hill effective in May. Officials say the City of Leander is encroaching into areas considered to be part of the Liberty Hill community.

On Monday, more than 50 people attended a town hall meeting on the issue and asked questions of city leaders about how voluntary annexation into Liberty Hill’s ETJ will impact them.

City staff told property owners that if they join the ETJ, they will not be taxed by the City of Liberty Hill. Before the City could do a full purpose annexation of properties inside its ETJ, it must have a three-year plan to provide all city services. Because of its current population, it is also limited in the amount of land it can involuntarily annex every year.

With a larger population, Leander has the ability and resources to involuntarily annex more land annually into its city limits.

A few property owners said they had been notified in recent days by the City of Leander that they are on a list of properties set for full-purpose annexation into the Leander city limits. They believed they were inside the Liberty Hill ETJ as shown on maps, and asked what the City could do to protect them.

City Manager Greg Boatright said the city’s legal counsel is working on that issue.

“We are seeing on some maps that they are overlapping our jurisdiction. We have our legal team engaging them. We will fight to protect that,” he said.

Leander has scheduled hearings in March on proposed full purpose annexation of some properties.

Boatright encouraged property owners in the room Monday to attend, adding that he would be there.

“Wherever they full purpose annex out to, their ETJ automatically goes out two miles from there,” Boatright said. “A city like Leander has a lot more resources than a city like Liberty Hill, so with that they can full purpose annex.”

Boatright said the construction of a water line along Bagdad Road bringing water to Liberty Hill has given Leander the ability to expand out into subdivisions along Bagdad.

“We’re doing everything we can to figure out where we can fill in the blanks to help solidify our front,” he said.

During the discussion, one property owner on CR 279 said he was dismayed to learn that although he had petitioned the City and been accepted into its ETJ in 2006, his property was traded back to Leander that year as part of a boundary agreement between the two cities. He said he was never notified.

Mayor Connie Fuller, who was on the Council at that time, said Leander “threatened” Liberty Hill with a legal fight if Liberty Hill didn’t agree to release some properties.

“If we didn’t agree, they were going to take us to court, and we didn’t have the money,” Fuller said. “We are a little town and they were trying to bully us.”

She said cities can trade property back and forth, especially along the proposed boundary lines.

However, once a property is inside a certain jurisdiction it stays there unless a city council votes to release it, McFeron said.

Some asked how they could be sure that their property wouldn’t be “negotiated away” this time.

“We are in a much different position now with staff and resources,” said Boatright. “What Liberty Hill has to offer from the standpoint of less rules and regulations, and more of a community feel. If you’re inside our jurisdiction, we want to keep you.”

“What’s to keep you guys from being bullied this time?” another resident asked.

“It was all open for discussion then,” Boatright continued, adding that much of the land 10 years ago was not in any city’s ETJ making it an easy target.

City staff said the benefits to being inside Liberty Hill’s ETJ include codes that are less restrictive when it comes to property development.

If at some point a property is annexed into the city limits of Leander, the ad valorem tax rate would be higher than Liberty Hill. Current tax rate for Leander is $0.63 per $100 valuation compared to Liberty Hill’s $0.53 per $100 value.

Most of those who addressed the Council and staff Monday appeared to prefer to join Liberty Hill’s ETJ. Some even brought the paperwork required and had it notarized at the meeting by city staff.

Since the letters were mailed, Senior Planner Sally McFeron said more than 60 petitions have been received asking for ETJ annexation.

A resident of Sundance Ranch said some owners in the neighborhood off CR 200 had received letters and some had not. City officials responded that letters had been mailed to all, but many were returned as undeliverable.

“We got some back and it may be because property owners have changed or we found in a lot of cases that the postal service is just so slow,” Boatright explained.

“I don’t see how they (Leander or Georgetown) could get us,” the resident said.

“There are areas where for 10 years you might not hear anything from anybody. You’re correct,” Boatright said. “But we wanted everybody to know what’s going on in the community. There’s actually three choices — Leander, Liberty Hill or none of the above. So it makes sense, I understand exactly what you’re saying.”

“But you just don’t know,” Mayor Fuller added.

While some have asked to be annexed, McFeron explained that a property must share a contiguous boundary with the city limits or properties already in the ETJ before the Council can accept them.

McFeron said she is taking the properties in and building the map to make all contiguous boundaries.

The staff said the ETJ map will be updated regularly as petitions are received. The map is posted on the Liberty Hill website at www.lhtexas.com.

In other business Monday, the Council unanimously approved an agreement between the City and MUDs 12, 19A and 19B for the conveyance of lift stations and force mains. The City is currently operating the wastewater collection systems.

The initial cost will be funded by a $1.4 million payment from the Morningstar development, which is buying 1,000 LUEs in MUD 12 lift station. Ownership of the facilities will enable the City to expand its retail service area.

Also this week, the Council:

– Approved the employment of Kevin Roberts of Liberty Hill as the City’s Code Enforcement Officer/Building Inspector.

– Adopted an ordinance updating the City Fee Schedule, including the costs to fulfill Open Records requests — $15/hour.

– Approved a Final Plat for Morningstar, Sections 1 and Section 2. The Morningstar subdivision is located off State Highway 29 and Ronald Reagan Blvd.

– Adopted a Joint Election Agreement and Contract for Election Services between the City and Williamson County Elections for administration of the May 7 city election.

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