Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling discussed annexation legislation at the conclusion of a legislative luncheon hosted by McAllen Chamber of Commerce. The event was held at the McAllen Country Club on July 13, 2017.

MCALLEN, RGV – The proposed changes in the annexation process by state leadership could increase colonias in the Rio Grande Valley, said two local mayors.

The Rio Grande Guardian interviewed McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez at the conclusion of a legislative luncheon hosted by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce at the McAllen Country Club on Thursday.

Asked if weakening the ability of a city to annex unincorporated land could lead to more colonias in the Valley, both mayors said: “Yes.”

There’s been a growing concern about Senate Bill 715, which would change annexation law that allows cities to annex land in their jurisdiction. The proposed bill would require a petition or election by affected property owners to decide on the annexation.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling speaks at a McAllen Chamber legislative luncheon.

Mayor Darling said this would fundamentally change the ability of home rule chartered cities to self-govern and make changes locally. Home rule chartered cities are those with over 5,000 people that adopted a measure to have full power of local self-government and to unilaterally annex property, according to the Home Rule Amendment in the Texas Constitution.

“We’re home rule cities, and if our individual citizens don’t like what we’re doing, you know, it doesn’t take a change, an election for instance, to change a tax rate or whatever,” Mayor Darling said. “Make a change in home rule charter. That’s the whole concept of the home rule cities is we operate in a home rule charter and people have different restrictions out in their city government. We don’t need the authority and that’s where people in the home rule charter give the authority or take it away, and I think that’s important.”

Texas has the largest number of colonias in the US-Mexico border, surpassing other border states like California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Texas has 2,294 colonias, located mostly along the Texas-Mexico border, with the median household income in colonias at $28,928, according to a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Mayor Darling says weakening of annexation laws could lead to more colonias, possibly following similar patterns northeastern cities faced with the growth of inner cities.

“Yeah you know annexation is a problem, I mean, you gotta grow.” Mayor Darling said. “I mean everybody, if you understand the basic principles you have to grow to do that, and if you take a look at Texas compared to cities in the northeast that don’t have strong annexation laws and their populations decrease and their inner cities grow and grow. I mean you need to have strong annexation laws on the side of being able to annex property to protect cities.”

Darling said the City of McAllen contributes greatly to the State of Texas and should not be regulated so heavily by the state Legislature. Rather, he said he would like the State of Texas and his city to partner on projects together.

“I think it’s important that the Legislature recognize that we’re not the enemies of Texas. We work hard in McAllen. You know we’re the largest sales tax collector per capita in the state of Texas and six and a quarter percent of that money goes to Texas, goes to the state, not to the city of McAllen. So we’re partners with them, you know like in sales tax, and yet we feel like, to a certain extent, we’re not partners and that’s what we want to be, partners with the state.”

Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez said his city’s ability to annex land helps colonias by providing common city resources like a water and sewage system and much more, something most colonias lack.

“When you annex an area, your responsibility to the city is to bring it up to code,” Mayor Rodriguez said. “Plus, you’re supposed to provide police, fire, sewer and water, and if you don’t do that within three to five years you can be de-annexed. But you bring those areas up to code and raise the values and life standard of everyone there. The vector control as far as mosquitos, poor sewage, all of that is improved so yeah it does there’s an advantage to it.”

Mayor Rodriguez gave an example of the city of Rockport, near Corpus Christi, Texas, which recently annexed a colonia to bring it up to city standards.

“I’ll give you an example, in Rockport, they just annexed an area that’s a colonia, and they are incurring that taking on the debt to bring that up to standards,” Rodriguez said. “The mayor there told me that he had problems with crime, substandard buildings, brush and garbage pick up, vector control, the mosquitos, they’re taking it upon themselves at a substantial amount of money to bring all that up. So yes it does, I have already seen it in my area where they’ve taught us, and other mayors have told me that.”

In early summer, Governor Greg Abbott called for a special legislative session. It begins next Tuesday, July 18. During the session, legislators could look at annexation issues. Mayor Rodriguez hopes the state leadership will change their position on the matter.

“It’s gonna come up in this special session, we’re hoping that they will see the light,” Rodriguez said. “The city’s power to annex, they’re not using it to raise taxes as people in the legislature, as some people say. We use it to regulate control so we don’t have colonias, we don’t have those substandard things so they won’t call us ‘third world’ areas anymore.”