Belton City Hall

Belton City Hall

BELTON — The Texas Legislature essentially stripped cities’ annexation powers this year.

That is causing Belton to rethink how it manages growth in its strategic plan — a document outlining the city’s goals for the next five years.

“Involuntary annexation is very, very challenging. We lost it basically,” City Manager Sam Listi said.

The Texas Legislature approved a measure, House Bill 347, this year that prohibits cities from using involuntary annexation to bring property into city limits. Cities can still annex, but property owners would vote on whether they want to come into city limits.

The measure, authored by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, was effective immediately after Gov. Greg Abbott signed it in late May.

City leaders from across the state and the Texas Municipal League, a nonprofit organization that advocates for 1,161 cities, opposed the bill during the legislative session, Community Impact Newspaper reported.

HB 347 follows up on a law approved in 2017. That law — Senate Bill 6 — restricted cities’ annexation powers in counties of more than 500,000 people. Counties below that threshold could have opted into the limitations. HB 347 extends the restrictions to all cities.

In early 2018, Bell County residents attempted to opt into the law through a petition. Their effort fell short of the at least 18,663 signatures — or 10 percent of registered voters in Bell County — required to force an election on the optional annexation restrictions. The group gathered between 5,000 and 6,000 signatures.

“Although we expect to fall short of the goal of 20,000 signatures, we encourage continued engagement with city-, county- and state-elected officials to protect individual property rights,” the group’s leader, Bell County resident Amy Cook, said last May.

The group formed after the Belton City Council in late 2017 sought to annex up to 1,358 acres near Interstate 14 and 35 in its southern areas. The Council ultimately annexed 120 acres.

HB 347, Listi said, has “huge implications” on Belton’s infrastructure plans.

A recent focus for the city has been South Belton, where a new sewer extension was built. The sewer — which is the first of several phases — stretches from Holland Road, follows Loop 121 and ends around Capitol Way and Grove Road.

“A key focus of many Council members has to deal with internal development and infrastructure — really taking care of the internal aspects of their city as opposed to development at the edge of the city,” the city manager said. “That ties closely in with our growth plan and the kinds of investments we make going forward.”

Listi said the strategic plan will include what he calls a “strong towns approach” to growth. That would mean focusing on Belton in its current form through development in the city and shifting its infrastructure focus.

The city manager will present a draft of the updated 2020-24 strategic plan to the City Council in August.