Stopping annexation discussed, fee set for dispatch service
Almost 10,000 Johnson County residents delivered a strong message Monday to county commissioners about forced annexation while the court itself finally established a fee for providing dispatch services to selected cities.
Commissioners approved a report by Election Administrator Patty Bourgeois that indicated a citizen group called Stop Forced Annexation in Johnson County gathered sufficient qualified signatures to call for a county-wide election in November when voters will decide if cities in the county can annex unincorporated property without landowners’ consent.
Accepting the petition begins the process to classify Johnson County as a “Tier 2” county as it relates to municipal annexation per Senate Bill 6 as written by the 85th Texas Legislature.
The SFAJC needed 8,904 signatures, which is 10 percent of the county’s registered voters. It turned in 11,913 signatures, of which 9,855 were qualified, Bourgeois said.
Election officials verified the signatures before turning over the petition to commissioners.
The petition process is part of Texas’ limited municipal annexation reform law enacted in last year’s special legislative session. Senate Bill 6 was written to restrict forced annexation only in counties with 500,000 or more residents — what the law calls “Tier 2” counties.
Unincorporated property owners in all other Texas counties — designated “Tier 1” — can still be annexed by cities without their consent, unless residents vote to change their county from unprotected Tier 1 status and “opt in” to protected Tier 2 status.
County residents Paul and Peggie Jones started the petition drive last year, after Joshua moved to annex their property against their wishes.
“Along with our great group of volunteers, we had the support of over 150 businesses in Johnson County hosting our petition binders,” Peggy Jones said. The property-rights petition also drew support from political groups and Realtors, as well as State Rep. DeWayne Burns (R–Cleburne) and State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury), she said.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rick Bailey made the motion to accept the petition. It was seconded by Precinct 2 Commissioner Kenny Howell and supported unanimously.
Commissioners will vote to approve a separate agenda item Aug. 13 to set the vote for the Nov. 6 general election.
Johnson is the fourth county in the state to place the “Tier 2 opt-in” issue on the ballot, Precinct 4 Commissioner Larry Woolley said. The others are Parker, Wise and Freestone counties, he said.
Fee for dispatch services
After weeks of discussion, deliberation and debate, commissioners decided to charge for providing emergency first responder dispatch services to Alvarado, Godley, Grandview, Joshua, Keene, Rio Vista and Venus. Burleson and Cleburne have their own dispatch centers.
The issue of charging for dispatch, previously provided by the county for many years at no cost, was interpreted by some observers as being tied to a possible salary adjustment for Johnson County Sheriff’s Office personnel. The perception being that there would not be a salary adjustment unless cities began paying a fee for dispatch.
Commissioners were quick to point out that one had nothing to do with the other.
Mayors Tom Durrington of Alvarado and James Chapline of Keene were present for the discussion, as were Joshua City Manager Josh Jones, Keene City Manager Brian LaBorde, Alvarado Police Chief Brad Anderson and Keene Police Chief Emmitt Jackson and many other elected officials.
The issue surfaced last month when Keene closed its dispatch center and asked the sheriff’s office to take on that responsibility, with Chapline saying Keene will pay for the service what the other cities pay.
After facing the reality the other cities are not paying for the service, Sheriff Adam King decided that all cities receiving the dispatch service need to pay their fair share for it.
The challenge was to determine a criteria to base the fee: 911 calls received, total calls for service received, city population, calls responded to, or some other factor.
“I didn’t know dispatch was free,” Chapline said. “I was surprised to learn no one was paying.”
Keene agreed to pay the sheriff’s office for two dispatchers through October.
Beyond that, cities have not budgeted for a dispatch fee and will be challenged to do so.
“For us, it (the dispatch fee) means (not hiring) two police officers,” Jones said. “We lose two officers a year because of higher pay (someplace else). Where are we going to get the money? (It will come from) Increased tax rate. It’s hard not to see this charge as a way to pay for the sheriff’s office salary adjustment.”
Bailey and Harmon were quick to challenge that premise.
“Counties have statutory duties,” Harmon said, repeating a position he has said many times. “Our responsibilities are to provide a jail and people to prosecute crimes, but nowhere does the statute say we must provide dispatch for cities.”
King introduced a formula used by Denton County that is based on calls for service.
“I think this is fair and I recommend the basis be calls for service,” King said.
The cost of providing dispatch for calls for service to all Johnson County cities except Burleson and Cleburne is about $312,000 per year, King said.
Commissioners agreed with the mayors that charging the full portion of a city’s share places a financial burden on the cities, especially with already tight budgets.
Commissioners decidecd the fee be phased in over a four-year period, with cities paying 25 percent the first year, 50 percent the second year and so on until each pays 100 percent the fourth year. The fee will be based only on calls for service.
Commissioners approved the formula by 4-1 vote, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Jerry Stringer voting no because he said the county should continue to pick up the tab.
County Attorney Bill Moore will prepare contracts to be signed by each city.
Support for salary adjustment
In the public participation portion of the agenda, six employees of the sheriff’s office encouraged commissioners to adopt a salary adjustment for sheriff’s office personnel.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Association is asking for a 25 percent salary adjustment effective Oct. 1.
Those who addressed the court said they are having financial trouble paying bills, must work second jobs, cannot spend time with their children, and want to remain in the county but will be forced to seek employment elsewhere.
In the announcements and presentations portion of the agenda, retirement plaques were presented to Jason K. Wells of the juvenile probation department and Patrick J. Preston of Precinct 4.
Readers can watch court proceedings online at www.johnsoncountytx.org. Navigate on the tool bar to Commissioners Court and scroll down to “Meeting Video.” Click on “Commissioners Court.”
The next scheduled meeting of the Johnson County Commissioners Court is 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 13 in Room 201 of the Johnson County Courthouse in Cleburne.