BEXAR COUNTY, Texas – Bexar County Emergency Services District 5 is fighting part of an almost 2,200-acre annexation by the City of San Antonio that it says was “illegal and improper” and could affect its ability to provide fire and emergency medical services.
The ESD’s attorney also warns of “backdoor tactics” he thinks could be in the city’s future playbook for annexations in the wake of a state law restricting those powers.
The San Antonio City Council approved the annexation of 2,194.3 acres of land on the far South Side at its last session of the year on Dec. 12. More than 1,760 acres of that came out of ESD 5′s taxing area when the annexation became effective on Dec. 31, and the district has filed a lawsuit to try to undo it.
The ESD, which provides fire and EMS services to the small municipalities and unincorporated section of the county, can raise money with sales and property taxes. Though online Bexar County Appraisal District records show the annexed properties brought ESD 5 only an estimated $631 in tax dollars, development could change that.
“That’s why they’re annexing. Because there’s going to be development in that area,” said Woody Wilson, ESD 5′s attorney. “Once you have development, it increases the value, which increases the amount of ad valorem revenue that’s going to come in.”
With the properties’ annexation into the City of San Antonio, that’s money that won’t go to the ESD, which it argued in its lawsuit “will result in the loss of life and real and personal property due to compromised resources and response times.”
“It’s a dangerous job. It’s a dangerous position,” Wilson said. “And to be able to protect them, it takes money and providing the equipment and the means necessary to provide their service.”
A state law passed in 2017 restricted cities like San Antonio’s annexation powers, generally requiring a petition signed by landowners or an election among the voters living there. However, the city took a different approach in this annexation.
The city said the 11 property owners of the land had previously signed agreements between 2013 and 2016 that had allowed them to avoid annexation in exchange for only using their land for agriculture, timber or wildlife management.
The city claims that the agreements have since been violated through “no longer having an appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes by BCAD, subdividing and selling portions of the property, submitting building permits with Bexar County, and/or allowing fireworks sales on the property.”
Among his other arguments against the move, Wilson believes those agreements are void and can’t be used to enforce annexation.
“The City’s backdoor tactics need to be halted,” the lawsuit reads.
“Since they’re prevented from annexing, because they can’t get voters to approve it, they have to look at another way to do it,” Wilson said. “And I think this is the future of where they’re going to go in trying to get annex areas outside the city of San Antonio.”
A spokeswoman for the City of San Antonio says it conducted “all proceedings in accordance with state law.”
The case has been scheduled for trial on Feb. 24, and both sides have been sent to mediation in the meantime.