— By JUDY SHERIDAN
RENO — A petition calling for the de-annexation of the western part of the City of Reno has been declared invalid by the city attorney and will not go before voters in May elections, according to action taken by the Reno City Council Monday night.
The council voted unanimously to accept attorney Walter Leonard’s report and recommendation.
The petition, brought forward by Truman Circle resident Art Johnson and presented to the council in January, contains 104 signatures, none of which are legal, according to Leonard, who negated them for not including birth date, voter registration number, city or county.
Chapter 277 of the Election Code specifies a petition signature must contain the signer’s date of birth or voter registration number to be valid.
Leonard also said the petition fails to comply with Local Government Code 43.143 because the property proposed for de-annexation is not wholly described by metes and bounds, sometimes referring to road beds and intersections instead of specific surveying points.
The code mandates that the area to be de-annexed be described by metes and bounds.
The Texas Municipal League and the Office of the Secretary of State supported his findings, Leonard said.
The attorney also told the packed council chambers that the petition contained misinformation, overstating the $1.2 million city budget by including the water budget and not explaining the $41,000 street budget was low because city officials had previously purchased equipment and material.
He said the information was not grounds for refusing the petition.
Johnson, who has been working on the de-annexation proposal since December of 2012, said he receives few services for his city tax dollars, defining them as police and some road maintenance in a letter accompanying the failed petition.
“How do properties that are just outside city limits make do without Reno services?” he asked in his petition letter. “If the services of Reno are so necessary, good and such a great value, then why are the owners of these properties not demanding to be annexed into Reno?”
The attorney pointed out taxes would continue at the same levels for the de-annexed residents until the current city debts — about $2.5 million, according to Mayor Lynda Stokes — are cleared, per Local Government Code 43.143, but services would stop.
Leonard described eliminating the city police force — and relying instead on the Parker County Sheriff’s Office — in threatening terms.
“Does anyone remember what the sheriff’s service used to be like here?” he asked. “It was characterized by long waits. Joe can tell you some horror stories about people who called the sheriff’s department with an intruder in their living room and were told, after a considerable wait, ‘Just tell them to leave.’ I’m not kidding. There are many times when they can’t come, and they don’t have people to respond.”
The attorney used several examples — including pig farms, junk yards and “nudie bars” — when explaining the protective zoning cities offer; one was especially bizarre.
“We had a request three or four months ago from someone who has an interest in this cemetery down here. They wanted to put in a tissue bank, where basically they disassemble people and do things with the materials.”
A final case was made that the de-annexed areas could then fall into the extraterritorial jurisdictions of other cities, which could annex them and impose taxes in addition to the ones they would already be paying to clear Reno’s debt.
When Leonard was finished, there was little support expressed for splitting the city, though several complained of poorly maintained roads.
Condie Prioleau, who collected 45 of the required 50 signatures for a second petition proposing to de-annex a portion of Reno’s east side, told the Democrat her petition has been put on hold since the council meeting.
Johnson said he would raise funds to pay a surveyor and an attorney if residents decide on a second attempt.
“We did the best we could with very little money, but we’ve sure learned a lot,” he said, adding that the Parker County Elections Office did not inform him of all the petition requirements.
“They’ve won the first battle, but I don’t really think there’s going to be a war. I think most don’t want to pursue it, but I’m going to leave it up to them.”
Johnson said, two other petitions he presented to the city — one to increase the homestead exemption for those over 65 and those who are disabled and one to freeze taxes for those over 65 and those who are disabled — appear likely to produce results.
“They indicated they will pass the freeze and exemption,” he said, noting the council voted to have staff do a financial analysis on an ordinance to increase the exemption and prepare paperwork on a freeze.
“It was a pretty good night.”