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Merger helps bills along

Profile image for By John D. Harden / Staff Writer
By John D. Harden / Staff Writer

Shuffle allows three local bills on special districts become law

During the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, area lawmakers managed to shuffle and merge three bills to help guarantee their passage despite the opposition local officials express toward special districts.

The House bills — 3707 and 3916 — were authored by Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, who did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

On May 21, House Bill 3914, which was authored by Scott Sanford, R-McKinney of Collin County, was amended to include both of Fallon’s bills. Sanford’s bill moved quickly through the legislative committees, and by the time it was amended with Fallon’s bills, it was already set for a final Senate vote before heading to the governor.

The bill made it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk and goes into effect Sept. 1.

Fallon’s original bill, HB 3707, sought to establish the Venable Ranch Municipal Utility District, and HB 3916 established the Comanche Municipal Management District.

Special districts are governmental entities established by the state or county at the request of a landowner or developer. Districts have their own boundaries, tax rates and board members. Developers use the districts to create the infrastructure needed to support master-planned communities.

The bills sought to create both districts in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Aubrey.

The city of Aubrey and Denton County officials threw their support behind the districts and HB 3916 managed to gain some support and was approved by the House.

HB 3707, however, had a more difficult time moving forward and never made it past a House committee vote.

Sanford said the idea to merge the bills was introduced by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who was also the bill’s sponsor.

“I believe he did it because the bills were closely related, and it’s just easier to do things when you group similar bills together,” Sanford said.

Sanford said he had no problem carrying a bill that included creating special districts in a county he did not represent.

However, he said he would be reluctant to support a special district in his own county because of their ability to set higher-than-average tax rates.

Estes, who is participating in the current special session in Austin, could not be reached for comment.

But officials in his office say it’s common for lawmakers to look for ways to create safety nets for important legislation to advance through the legislative process.

In Denton County, the growth of utility districts and their potential effects on nearby communities has resulted in several local leaders publicly voicing concerns.

County Commissioner Hugh Coleman traveled to Austin to oppose Fallon’s original bills. He said he originally thought the bills died in committee until he learned that they merged a bill in a different county.

Some leaders from Krugerville, Cross Roads and Pilot Point worried about the effects special districts would have on their cities and contacted Coleman to join him in opposition.

Those officials said they’re afraid the master-planned communities will lure more residents than local school districts and infrastructure can handle.

However, Aubrey officials said they’ve worked for months with the developers of the special districts to ensure that each party’s needs were met and that future issues are addressed.

City planning experts said it’s best to negotiate with developers because the chances of state lawmakers voting against the creation of special districts are slim, even when there’s opposition.

The passage of the HB 3914 occurred the same day a bill authored by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, also passed.

House Bill 738 will give county officials the authority to review any plans or petitions for a pending district before it is sent to the state or TCEQ.

According to the bill’s analysis, counties are unfairly left out of most district negotiations even though they are affected by the district’s creation.

Crownover’s bill goes into effect Sept. 1.

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.