Local control is best. That’s the mantra of city governments everywhere, regardless of location or the political leanings of its governing body.
So it is, then, that Farmersville – a growing Collin County community – is beginning to wrestle with the best way to achieve complete local control. Its City Council wants to enact a home rule charter, moving the city away from the “general law” rules mandated by Texas statute.
The council came within a whisker the other evening of asking city residents to vote on a home rule charter in a municipal election. Then the council balked. It heard some concerns from at least one council member and a resident about the veracity of the formula that a city home rule charter committee had used to calculate the estimated population of Farmersville.
State law declares that a city must achieve a population of at least 5,000 residents to become eligible to seek home rule status. The city’s home rule committee has estimated the city population to be 5,060. How did it derive that figure? According to City Councilman Mike Hurst, a member of the committee, the panel estimated that the average city habitation contains 3.2 residents.
Among the residents attending a City Council meeting, Jim Foy – a former councilman and former Planning & Zoning commissioner – questioned the 3.2-resident-per-dwelling formula. Foy said the U.S. Census Bureau places the national average at 2.63 residents per dwelling, which he noted is “way below 3.2.” He said using the Census Bureau formula, Farmersville’s population would stand at 4,218 residents.
“State law says that the council is to make a good faith determination of the population, using facts like people per household. So, what is a valid number for Farmersville?” he said.
Foy told the council, “Cities vary widely in their demographics. Booming cities have more young families, and may have close to three people per household. Other cities have an older population with more retirees than young families and may average closer to two people per household.” He said Farmersville’s population is older than the average and, thus, might not have as many people per dwelling as the charter committee has estimated.
He cited the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which he said estimates Farmersville’s population in 2019 to be 3,340 residents.
Foy urged the council to table the resolution calling for an election in May. “The national census is being conducted in nine weeks, on April 1,” Foy said, urging the city to “table this resolution until we get an actual count from the Census Bureau, at which time you will have a factual basis for declaring if we exceed 5,000 residents.”
Farmersville has a municipal neighbor just a few miles to its west, Princeton, that has been living through a home rule nightmare for several years. Princeton has sought voter approval for a home rule charter four times; it has failed each time. Princeton residents have fought against what they believe is the city’s attempt to annex property and to raise taxes too readily.
I reside in Princeton and my own wish is for my city to enact a home rule form of government. It should free itself of the restrictions placed on it by the general law mandates required by Texas statute.
I am unaware at this moment of any plans to try for another run at establishing a city charter. I do know, based on what I heard in Farmersville, that the folks down the highway have paid attention to Princeton’s clumsy effort to establish local control.
The Farmersville City Council has dedicated itself to getting it right when they do ask the voters for permission to enact a home rule charter.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.