Over the past legislative session, state lawmakers took action on a myriad of topics including some that have an impact on the local level. Among the more than 3,000 bills that passed through the legislature were some that impacted the very way that local cities and municipalities handle tasks.
The Sherman City Council received an update Wednesday morning on several items and new laws that were passed by the legislature over the past session. These included a number of bills that limited the authority of local cities and their ability to govern themselves.
“We have a major political issue that everyone must be aware of. We have leadership now at the state level that has publicly stated on numerous occasions that they do not trust local elected officials to make decisions regulating growth and development,” said Allen Taylor, representing the firm of Taylor, Olsen, Adkins, Srala and Elam.
“They have made it very clear that they want to remove the ability of local governments to make local-based decisions. They want Austin to sit down and develop the rules and for the local government to carry out the decisions.”
With the recent legislation, Taylor said he has spoken to leaders with various cities that were unaware of how these changes might impact their community. Taylor encouraged the council to stay aware of state legislative action and how it could affect different aspects of the city.
“We did not show up, we did not continue to lobby, we did not go to our legislator’s desks and pound,” Taylor said.
Among the issues that was discussed was House Bill 2 — a tax reform bill which put a cap on the amount of revenue cities can raise through property taxes. Previously, cities were able to earn up to 8 percent additional revenue from existing properties over the previous year without the need to take the tax rate to voters. Under the reforms, this was lowered to just 3.5 percent.
In cities in major growth corridors, including Sherman and much of Texoma, local leaders have expressed that the new law will stymie the local government in times when communities need this funding to support said growth.
City Manager Robby Hefton said that the city took steps to voice its concerns over the bill, but they appeared to fall on deaf ears at the state level.
“The ship had already left dock,” he said. “The speaker of the house, the lieutenant governor, they went through the public hearings, but it was clear there was no amount of lobbying, there was to amount of public hearings, there was no amount of us reading out to our local representatives, which we did on numerous occasions.”
Another issue that Taylor discussed was HB 2439, which initially went under the radar of representatives with the Texas Municipal League. However, after looking to it, TML determined that it would have significant impacts to cities and their abilities to regulate new construction.
Under the law, which was signed by Governor Greg Abbot in June prohibits cities from enforcing rules that restrict the use of building materials or practices that are approved for use by a national model code published within the last three code cycles.
Council member Pam Howeth said this has already become an issue after a home builder started construction on a building using hardboard, a siding material, in a predominantly brick neighborhood.
The new law has other implications, as it would remove restrictions on other construction elements, including roof pitches, Taylor said.
Taylor recommended that the council stay with its current regulations and not amend them, noting that there is a chance that this law could be challenged. He said that there is an argument that the law could be considered over regulation as the governing bodies are not local, and the cities have no connection and no influence over the entities that make decisions on building materials.
One topic that may be coming up for cities soon is short-term rentals, including Airbnb and other rental services. Some municipalities have taken action to restrict these services, with more focus on non-owner-occupied rentals.
Taylor said there has been rulings against these types of regulations as the limit a property owner’s ability to use their property and that cities already have regulations to cover concerns ranging from noise to traffic.
Taylor spoke as a part of the city council’s annual training. However, the council did not have any new incoming members, so city staff asked Taylor to speak on other topics, including the recent legislation.