Just beyond San Antonio, there’s a place with a very catchy motto: The “freest little city in Texas.” It’s what the small, rural community of Von Ormy wanted to become when fears of annexation by an expanding San Antonio persuaded folks to decide to incorporate as a town in 2006.
Leading the effort to make Von Ormy into a property tax-free utopia was Libertarian Art Martinez de Vara – then an ambitious local law student who later became the town mayor.
James McCandless, who wrote the Texas Observer story “The Rise and Fall of the ‘Freest Little City in Texas,'” says it wasn’t long before Martinez de Vara’s plan to attract businesses to the “rugged, very individualistic” town through a promise of low taxes went south.
The perfect “liberty city” was envisioned by Martinez de Vara to be self-sufficient, providing police, fire department and other public services without imposing a tax burden on citizens, McCandless says. Residents would initially pay property taxes, but over time, taxes would “zero out” as businesses like Walmart moved in to provide sales tax revenue to fund services.
But businesses didn’t move in, and in 2015 Martinez de Vara stepped down as mayor. And then “things started to fall apart,” McCandless says. The police department shut down last summer and city hall currently operates out of a mobile home with one full-time staff member. Residents have been left frustrated, McCandless says, with half of the town wishing they hadn’t tried the experiment and the other half wanting to give the “liberty city” way of life more time to work.
Written by Louise Rodriguez.