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Effort in Richland Hills eyes consolidation with North Richland Hills

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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A tale of two cities

Richland Hills' population is 7,801 and North Richland Hills' is 63,343, according to the 2010 Census.

Richland Hills has outstanding bond principal and interest payments of $10.3 million, according to Texas Bond Review Board data from August. That includes bonds for water and sewer and other tax notes. The city's assessed value in 2010 was $432.6 million. Its per capita debt tax debt is $1,022.

North Richland Hills has $119.4 million in debt and interest payments, according to the board. The city's assessed value in 2010 was $3.6 billion. Its tax debt per capita is $1,471.

Richland Hills incorporated in October 1951, according to a 1978 report in the Mid-Cities Daily News, said Joanne Mitchell, assistant director of the Richland Hills Public Library.

North Richland Hills was formed in 1953, according to the city. Members of the North Richland Hills Civic League tried to get Richland Hills to annex a 268-acre development known as Jones Farm; when the effort failed, they voted to become a city with a population of 500.

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Gerrit Spieker wants Richland Hills to disappear.

Exasperated by what he calls "a government that has totally lost respect for the law," Spieker is spearheading a drive to consolidate the city with North Richland Hills.

The Richland Hills City Council will vote tonight to put Proposition 1 -- "Shall the cities of Richland Hills and North Richland Hills be consolidated?" -- on the May 12 ballot. If approved, it would then go to North Richland Hills voters. If they approve as well, the measure would effectively dissolve Richland Hills.

Richland Hills Mayor David Ragan said the council met last week to discuss the possible effects of consolidation.

"My impression is that it would be a negative for Richland Hills to vote to dissolve itself and ask North Richland Hills to accept us," Ragan said. "We'd lose some valuable benefits like the senior [property tax] exemption, service from the T, and response time from our fire and police."

Ragan said consolidation would destroy the city's two-decade partnership with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, a relationship that residents have frequently supported.

Richland Hills voters approved a half-cent sales tax to join the T in 1992. Proponents argue that bus service is important for many residents, as is the Trinity Railway Express station, which opened in 2001 on Handley-Ederville Road off Texas 121.

Residents voted overwhelmingly in 2010 to stay in the T, which collected about $800,000 in Richland Hills from sales taxes that year.

Spieker, who is on the city's public transportation advisory board, said the consolidation issue is not about transportation.

"This is about our citizens coming into the 21st century," he said. "... Fixing the current government was beyond our reach, so we want to change the governance by consolidating with a city that knows how to be a city."

Councilman Bob DeSoto said he will campaign against Proposition 1.

"If it did happen, this whole city and everything we've worked to have will be gone," he said.

If Richland Hills voters approve Proposition 1, North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino said, residents of his city would have to file a petition to get the issue on the November ballot. He added that the North Richland Hills council would owe it to voters in both cities to "do our due diligence on looking at the costs. It will be interesting to see what their voters say."

Ragan is confident that the majority of Richland Hills residents will vote against dissolving the city.

"Why would we want to go to North Richland Hills, anyway?" he asked. "They have 60,000 people and we have 8,000. We'd probably never have anyone sitting on the council."

Staff writer Darren Barbee contributed to this report.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

Twitter: @NETarrantNews

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