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Elgin asks property owners to join ETJ – what it means, what it doesn’t

By David Parvo | Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 1:16 pm

Greg Vick

Interim City Manager Greg Vick

For several weeks the city of Elgin has been sending letters to folks, offering them the opportunity to voluntarily add their property to Elgin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

That effort has caused some confusion as to why this is happening and what, exactly, does it mean. To give an example most close to home, my better half and I live just south-ish of Elgin’s existing ETJ, an area generally accepted as “country.”

We should be receiving a letter soon. When informed of this, her reaction was comparable to some of those who have already received it: “I am not going to agree to being told what I can do with my land! Oh no. They’re not going to tell me I can’t have my goats and ducks and chickens! There’s no way we’re signing that thing!”

“No, no, those kinds of fears are normal, understandable reactions, but in this instance they are unwarranted,” said Elgin Interim City Manager Greg Vick. “All the cities around us have been doing this for some time, and we’re actually a little behind the curve. Our efforts are only about giving people who live somewhere between Elgin and, say, Bastrop or Pflugerville, a chance to officially identify themselves with Elgin. Those who end up volunteering their property to our ETJ, we have no intent of telling them what they can do, nor will it increase their taxes or anything like that.”

By joining now, how would people be affected?

“Wherever you live, you’re going to need services that cities and/or counties provide; you must follow those respective codes. ETJ efforts don’t have much if anything to do with land use. If you become part of our ETJ, and your interest is maintaining your property as rural, essentially the only thing that’ll be affected is your use of signage. I wouldn’t think people who live out in the country care about that too much.”

Why do you think there’s so much confusion?

“They’re probably thinking we’re trying to outright annex them when that’s very much not the case. The difference between annexation and ETJ is like somebody who just got his single-engine pilots license versus somebody flying supersonic jets for the military,” Vick replied. “Annexation law comes with all the regulations and requires the provision of certain services, like wastewater, police and fire. From my City Manager’s perspective, this means that we’d have additional obligations that require money in the budget to provide those services. The City of Elgin does not want those obligations. (It wouldn’t be cost-efficient.)”

So what’s the point of expanding the ETJ?

“We’re identifying where economic development will be occurring in our region and, as a community, we have a good grasp of where, how and why Elgin should grow within the region. Expanding our ETJ preserves our ability to (implement our vision and deal with whatever happens) in the future. When (the economy) starts changing, we want to be prepared to serve our residents’ best interests, so we can be positioned to capitalize as well as reduce the chance of unregulated development occurring and adversely affecting our community. If we weren’t making this effort, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

Why?

“Because right now there’s a lot of attention being paid to our area, which indicates to me that development will start happening very soon. By volunteering into an ETJ, you’re declaring (which municipality’s vision) you want to align with, giving you more control over your future. Ensuring that decision and thus, all the decisions that follow, are not made for you by somebody else.”

How can that happen?

“There are two ways you can get into somebody’s ETJ, either by voluntarily signing an inclusion letter or automatically, by virtue of being a certain distance from a city’s limits,” Vick said. “Look at what happened to New Sweden, the residents who, up to recently, probably might have identified themselves with either Taylor or Elgin.

But now they find themselves part of Pflugerville. It seems to me that decision was made for them and now they may feel like they’ve lost their identity. That’s a very emotional issue.”

So, with the ETJ effort, Elgin’s hoping to officially embrace those who already define themselves as Elginites?

“Definitely,” Mayor Marc Holm replied. “New Sweden’s a great example. It’s traditionally been rooted within the greater Elgin community and now all of a sudden it’s part of Pflugerville? It shocked all of us around here. There are people who have farms out there but live in Elgin, who’ve gone to school and had businesses and grew up here. And that hurts me on a personal level because Elgin views them as family. What if you live just south of Elgin and one day you woke up one morning and learned you’re now considered part of Austin? How would you feel?”

Weird.

“See? Elgin’s identity isn’t defined by its existing ETJ, and that’s why I feel we have an obligation to do this. Aggressive isn’t how our efforts should be construed. We truly care about what Coupland’s experiencing right now.”

What can people expect if they join Elgin’s ETJ?

“They will be identifying with a community trying to be mindful about the potential negative impacts of our region’s inevitable growth. They will officially become part of a community that respects farmland and watersheds, and values open space preservation. We view those things as assets, and we very much recognize that whatever happens today will affect future generations. As an elected official, I think that’s a mandate, and that’s what distinguishes Elgin from its neighboring municipalities. Another thing distinguishing us is I think we’ve actually been fortunate in that, unlike other places, we haven’t experienced quick mindless over-development, and so we haven’t been saddled with all the bad things that are associated with that. Right now we essentially have a blank slate to work on, and we can maximize what those who identify themselves as part of the Elgin community think is best.”