When City Council considered the annexation of the low-income Camelot II and The Glen subdivisions, and other unincorporated areas along I-10 East in 2016, the projected 20-year cost of providing urban services to the 40,000 people living there exceeded anticipated tax revenues by $140 million.
The majority on City Council quickly agreed with staff and rejected annexation. At the same time, more prosperous commercial and residential areas along I-10 West and U.S. 281 North, both north of Loop 1604, were approved for annexation.
Now a proposed Inter-Local Agreement (ILA) between the cities of San Antonio and Converse projects an $8.6 million surplus over 20 years if the small suburban city of 22,000 annexes the same area once rejected by San Antonio’s City Council.
Such a move would make Converse the second largest municipality in Bexar County with a population exceeding 60,000 people. Converse would triple its geographic size from 7 sq. miles to 22.65 sq. miles. By comparison, the fast-growing city of Schertz has less than 35,000 people.
The I-10 East area, bounded by the cities of San Antonio, Windcrest, Converse, and Kirby, was bypassed in the 1980s when San Antonio actively annexed areas along the I-10 East corridor. Much of the bypassed area has fared poorly in the ensuing decades.
“The City’s annexation plans in the ’80s are to blame for the isolated islands that are out there now,” said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni, who has overseen San Antonio’s current annexation studies and planning. “It created a donut hole or island. That was a setup for failure.”
The ILA, the product of talks and negotiations over the last year between the two city governments, came about after San Antonio agreed to lift its extraterritorial jurisdiction hold, which prevented Converse and other municipalities from annexing the unincorporated areas, and used its boundary adjustment authority to cede some territories currently inside San Antonio’s city limits.
If the city councils of San Antonio and Converse both approve the proposed 17-year ILA, the much-debated area will become part of Converse and bring significant growth and change to the town founded by German cotton farmers before the Civil War. The ILA is expected to receive strong support Thursday when San Antonio’s City Council considers the matter. Converse Mayor Al Suarez and City Manager Lanny Lambert are expected to attend the meeting in support of the deal.
The Converse City Council is expected to vote on March 21, but there is opposition to its passage.
“Over time, the costs for running a city go up and that leaves us with two choices: Raise taxes or grow,” said Converse City Manager Lanny Lambert. “We’ve been surrounded and landlocked for 25 years without the ability to grow, but with this ILA the city of San Antonio has withdrawn its extraterritorial jurisdiction and moved its city limits.
“There is opposition here to the deal. A lot of locals do not want to expand and take on The Glen and Camelot II,” Lambert added Monday. “When these areas make the news they are already described as part of Converse. I believe with careful investment and controlled growth we can make these areas part of our prosperous community.”
Councilwoman Deborah James is considered the strongest voice of opposition. She declined to discuss her opposition and invited the Rivard Report to attend Converse City Council meetings to get a better sense of community sentiment.
“There has been no agreement at all yet,” James said. “People think it’s a done deal, but it is not. No decision has been made. Some things have been published otherwise, but that’s fake news.”
If the ILA is approved, Converse will get a lot more than the blighted subdivisions that have come to characterize the larger area. There is substantial undeveloped acreage slated for new residential subdivisions. The existing Northampton neighborhood, which includes several hundred well-tended homes, and is now inside San Antonio’s city limits, will join Converse, which many residents already consider their city.
Most importantly, perhaps, San Antonio will cede 3.6 sq. miles of commercial corridor, providing Converse with significant new tax revenues to offset the costs of delivering services to a resident population double the city’s current size.
Why can Converse make the numbers work for annexation when San Antonio projected a $140 million deficit?
“Here is why Converse can do this and we can’t: One, the revenue coming in from the commercial corridor is already spent for us, but it’s new revenue for Converse,” Zanoni said. “Two, the most expensive element in annexation is public safety. The first-year cost for a police officer in San Antonio is more than $100,000. In Converse that same police officer costs $50,000.”
Converse Police Chief Fidel Villegas is a 20-year veteran of the San Antonio Police (SAPD) department, and Zanoni said the department is capable of delivering public safety equal to that provided by SAPD.
The Converse Fire Department, he said, already has sufficient people and equipment to serve its expanded population while San Antonio would have to add a fire station.
If Converse passes the ILA, actual annexation will begin in June and unfold over a period of time in six stages with 10 municipal boundary adjustments made between San Antonio and Converse.