City of Huntsville files lawsuit against ESD No. 3

Nov. 6—HUNTSVILLE — The city of Huntsville is taking legal action against an emergency service district that it says has unlawfully annexed an area within its jurisdiction.

On Wednesday, the city filed a temporary restraining order and request for an injunction against Walker County ESD No. 3 in the 278th Judicial District under Judge Hal Ridley. The move comes a day after 60% of voters within a northwestern portion of the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction voted to join the ESD.

According to state law, emergency service districts are able to impose up to a 10-cent per $100 valuation property tax and a 1.5-cent sales tax within their area. Walker County ESD No. 3 was established in 2019 and uses the Crabbs Prairie Fire Department for fire protection services.

State law requires an ESD to receive written permission from the city council before it's created within a city's limits or ETJ. However, the law is unclear if the same rules apply to an already-established ESD that is annexing neighboring territory.

According to Huntsville City Manager Aron Kulhavy, the Huntsville City Council never gave permission to ESD No. 3 to expand within its ETJ. However, the city claims that ESD No. 3 representatives falsely claimed to voters on a petition that they had received permission from the city.

ESD No. 3 currently contains rural land in the northwest corner of Walker County.

"It appears that the individuals behind the creation of ESD No. 3 always intended to include, within the district's ultimate boundaries, territory that is within Huntsville's ETJ, but sought to evade the statutory requirement of obtaining the city's consent," said John Hightower of Olson and Olson LLP — a law firm representing the city. "ESD No. 3 now claims to have succeeded in its efforts to deprive the city of its approval rights by simply omitting the subject ETJ territory when creating the district and then, almost immediately, seeking to annex the omitted ETJ territory."

Much of the land in question became part of the city's ETJ in 2019 when Huntsville involuntarily annexed over 12-square miles of land that surrounded the city.

"The city has already entered into a number of development agreements with property owners, in the area of its ETJ that ESD No. 3 is attempting to annex, that provide for the future annexation of their property. For those reasons, the city will suffer irreparable harm if ESD No. 3 is not prevented from enforcing the purported annexation," Hightower added.

A restraining order and injunction would void the recent annexation election.