Annexation campaign a success for Liberty Hill
By Christine Bolaños
The City of Liberty Hill has voluntarily annexed 101 parcels or about 2,418 acres of contiguous land as part of a campaign that took place over the last several months. The campaign included a series of town hall meetings and thousands of letters sent to property owners in the Liberty Hill school district asking them to voluntarily join the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
The effort to add properties into the ETJ was in direct response to action taken by the City of Leander to end a boundary agreement in May with Liberty Hill. Officials previously told The Independent the City of Leander was encroaching into areas considered to be part of the Liberty Hill community.
“I would say the annexation was very successful in the sense of along the border,” said senior planner Sally McFeron. “We brought in properties to create a boundary so (Leander) cannot jump over and annex properties beyond that boundary.”
Officials describe that new boundary as a “shield” or “line of demarcation.”
The majority of properties are located along State Highway 29 to the east of Ronald Reagan Blvd.
McFeron said city staff received more than 200 petitions from property owners citing their favorability in being annexed into the Liberty Hill ETJ. However, McFeron explained, 98 of those properties are not contiguous, and thus, couldn’t be brought into the ETJ.
She explained that every time Leander annexes properties, its ETJ expands two miles because it is a home-rule city. In contrast, Liberty Hill’s ETJ only expands by a half mile because it is a general law city.
City Administrator Greg Boatright said the campaign did not cost taxpayers anything monetarily.
“What was spent as far as taxpayer dollars was staff time and time we took to respond to letters and walk-ins,” Boatright said. “It wasn’t an issue that we were looking to try to address to push our agenda forward. It was something forced on us by a neighboring city.”
He, McFeron and Mayor Connie Fuller, all agreed any city would respond the way Liberty Hill did.
“I don’t think any city out there wants to be surrounded by neighboring cities,” Boatright said. “We did our best to try to put together a contiguous plan that would try to alleviate the possibility of being completely surrounded by the City of Leander.”
From Leander’s perspective, they said, it was natural for city officials to want to expand west since they were limited south because of Cedar Park’s boundary and to the east by Georgetown’s boundary.
“The natural area for them to push forward is to the west,” McFeron said. She said she believes the city “captured” virtually every parcel it could in the area in play on SH 29 and Reagan.
“Now our attention turns to the west as we move forward with the process,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ve done a good enough job of explaining our positions to property owners that in the future they’ll say, ‘Let’s go and talk to the City of Liberty Hill.’”
Boatright said part of the appeal in coming to the Liberty Hill ETJ for property owners is that they maintain the rights to do as they wish with their property.
“We want to be a partnership with property owners,” Boatright said. “We don’t want the people (who) choose to come into our jurisdiction — we don’t want to make them feel like they’re choosing the lesser of two evils.”
One common misconception is that property owners would be subject to city taxes if they entered the ETJ. Officials said these property owners will not be taxed by the city.
Before the City of Liberty Hill can do a full-purpose annexation of properties inside its ETJ, it needs to have a three-year plan to provide all city services. Because of its current population, the city is also limited in the amount of land it can involuntarily annex each year.
Leander has a larger population and has the ability and resources to involuntarily annex more land into its city limits every year.
Boatright said part of city staff’s responsibility is to let the council know of the city’s ability to increase its border and its tax base. Despite the dissolved agreement, the city administrator said the working relationship between Leander and Liberty Hill continues to be positive and productive in nature. This includes a regional wastewater agreement.
“When it comes to boundaries, it’s literally a defined area, that I think all cities are very protective of,” he said. “I don’t think that this council expected the disagreement would be terminated in the near future. It had only been in effect for six or seven years. But I think that was an education for us in that as we draft future agreements, something this important, and that has that major of an impact on both cities, needs to have a much more difficult ability to get out of.”
He said in the future, city leadership will look at termination clauses more closely.
Officials said the newly-annexed properties fit into the city’s long-term goals in that it gives the city more mixed-use and multi-family options, so it’s not so heavy on single-family residences. It also allows the city to plan for utility services.
“The success of cities that I’ve seen is that you have multiple uses that fit together and are complimentary to whatever the use is next door,” Boatright said. “We don’t want to have industrial, if we can avoid it, right up against our residential. That kind of thing.”
During Monday’s council meeting, Fuller thanked McFeron, Boatright, other city staff and volunteers who helped make the annexation campaign a success.