Arbitrator says service plan legal for annexation
An arbitrator ruled this week in an annexation dispute between the city and residents on Denton’s east side, deciding that the city’s service plan for the area was legal.
James J. Juneau issued the decision late Tuesday after considering evidence from both the city and the eastside landowners, including evidence presented during hearings Oct. 17-18.
State law requires a city to prepare a 10-year plan for delivering “full municipal services” to areas it plans to annex and follow prescribed steps to assure that the property owners are being treated fairly.
In April 2010, Denton began the steps necessary to annex about 1,154 acres on the city’s east side.
The land is along the northwest side of Lewisville Lake, generally north of FM426, east of Mayhill Road and west of Lakeview Boulevard.
Those city services that are tax-funded — police, fire and emergency medical services, access to parks and other city facilities — were not in dispute, nor was a plan to transfer from private trash collection to city solid waste service in two years.
It was the city’s other enterprise services that the sides couldn’t settle upon. Negotiations hung up on a plan for water service to the area, documents showed. Many landowners in the area have established homesteads with water and wastewater systems.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune, who negotiated with the landowners on the city’s behalf, said there was a lot of give-and-take in the talks but some of the discussions involved educating the residents, too. The city had to look for equity, not only for the eastside landowners but also for the city’s current water customers.
Taxes don’t fund water service, and current water customers aren’t asked to bear the cost of extending service to new customers, he said.
Representatives for the eastside landowners could not be reached for comment.
Both the city of Denton and the DH-12 Committee submitted statements to the arbitrator as part of their testimony to help decide the case.
In their statement, eastside landowners said that they offered early on to forgo wastewater services, which would have been expensive to build. But, because they expected under the law to have water and wastewater plans as part of “full municipal services,” they asked that water lines come in along five paved roads, including Mills, Blagg, Cunningham, Geesling and Trinity roads.
In its statement, the city argued that any concessions made before arbitration in its final offer, which was extended to eastside landowners in October, were off the table. Instead, the city outlined a legal argument for a service plan prepared in August. In it, the city makes no provisions to extend water or wastewater services beyond responding to a request for services in accordance with policies and procedures that are current at the time of the request.
The documents also hinted at the depth of the impasse. Although they characterized the negotiations with the city staff as professional and respectful, the landowners said in a position statement that they were offended that the city had labeled some of them as “disgruntled,”“adamantly opposed to annexation,” and using arbitration to harass the city and discourage the annexation.
The law requires the city to bear the costs of arbitration. That bill came to $16,397.
The arbitrator’s decision was a pivotal step in getting beyond the impasse between the city and eastside landowners, but it wasn’t the end of the matter.
The city still must hold two hearings on the annexation, the first of which Fortune expects to be held in 2013.
At the same time the city proposed annexing the unincorporated eastside “doughnut hole,” the city also proposed two smaller parcels — one about 143 acres north and east of Teasley Lane and another about 298 acres north of Pockrus Page Road. City service plans already have been accepted by landowners in those areas, Fortune said.
Because of the number of homeowners involved, city officials have said they expect the entire annexation process to take three years.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .