Monday, December 17, 2007

Conroe School District 2008 Bond Proposal - timing is everything

Heads up! A new bond is planned for CISD to buy land for expansions in the northeastern side of Conroe. This is due to the large explosion of planned communities over the next five years north of Conroe. The Woodlands will have expansion projects built into the bond, according to the Chronicle article published today (see links below). If growth does not pay for the bonds, then of course our tax rates would have to be increased. So is housing going to continue to boom? We need to research this bond to check the impact on us, considering the state of our economy and foreclosed loans.

The good news are the reduction of rates by $.035 for 2007-2008, or about -22% from 2006-2007. Tax assessment base is predicted to increase at a more modest 6.0% annually over the next two years, slowing down these reductions. Added debt in a bond will likely partially offset that effect. Projected student base increase is anticipated to be the same over the next two years as the last ten years (5% per year), requiring additional campuses. There are no more funds available for this. The 2004 bond is about to be depleted by current projects. See the financial presentation on the CISD website, listed below.

Possible direct benefits for us: added classrooms at Deretchin and Tough elementary schools, major classroom additions and core space additions at College Park High School. Note the capacity issues at both elementary schools (see TWHS Feeder System link below)

We will be asked to vote for this in the May 2008 election when we choose our five at-large elected Township board members.

Pertinent Links:

2008 Conroe ISD Bond Proposal per The Houston Chronicle
CISD Financial Presentation for 2008-2009
2008 Bond presentation at meeting 12-13-07
TWHS Feeder System capacity stats

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Woodlands Township Board - 11th member replacement

Today, as I contemplated the situation for replacing Les Tarrance, I had to ask myself the question. What is the first thing for the board to consider? It is of course the actual need to replace Mr. Tarrance. What work needs to be done that cannot be done now? What representation is missing in the voting process? What experience is lacking to make quality decisions? What personality is needed to get the board from point A to point B?

So far, the need is not apparent in my eyes. Looking at the current board, I would say they have an array of representatives from every needed angle to govern the community, villages and town center alike. The five members to elect in May can fill any additional gaps of knowledge, skills and representation of the villages.

Suppose we have a board of 10. Would that be so bad? Perhaps we say, the vote could end in a tie. Sure it could! That can occur anytime there is a quorum of less than the total number of members. This can easily be solved by the chairman not voting when there are an even number of attending board members and using the chairman's vote as a swing vote when needed.

We face a critical time because replacing the position after the May election may be perceived as a move to offset some imbalance in power. The politics of the situation requires careful thought. Residents would be more apt to accept a non-political visionary decision in this process rather than an appointment based on the "need" to have an 11 member board that may be largely political in nature.

If it means amending the rules of order, so be it. So what am I missing here? Why the sudden push for an action to replace Mr Tarrance? Wouldn't it be comforting to know that there is enough self-confidence, especially by those seeking to be elected in May, just to let the position go vacant?

Related links:
Replacement of Tarrance on The Township Board
Chronicle article 11/12/07

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Woodlands Association Elections

There will be a transition period to consider when electing officials for The Woodlands Association. The elections will be held in February. Nomination packets are now available on the association website for those wishing to be directly involved in this exciting time of government change. See Resources below. We need to keep expertise in the associations to enable this transition to have as little impact on our community as possible. Please give special consideration to those who have enabled our community to be self governed and have the indepth knowledge of our community assets and processes.

As the transition to the new consolidated township brings us closer to a governing body, there will continue to be a need to fill gaps in the association positions. There is a need to bring new blood into the thinking process as well to fill vacated positions when some key association members move on to positions in the township. In this transition, more of us need to participate! Diversity within our population with a team consciousness, is required to gather the details for this transition. We need residents to step forward and run for positions. The association elections are coming. This is the time to sign up and put yourself on the ballot. You only need to be a resident to run for an association position. Each village has representatives also and that is an important position so that we get grass roots input into the process and decisions.

Knowledge is important for the transition so we will need to have some key positions filled by experienced people. However, it is important to have as many residents involved as possible, preferably those who are willing to continue to work over time for this community. We have much detail to work out and those contributing their ideas and experience over the next three years will be crucial to our future.

Unlike government positions, any resident can vote and have a position in any of the associations, including WCA and TWA in this election. Application forms are available to complete in late December, and the election will occur in February.

Additional resources:
1. The Conroe Courier - "WCA, TWA directors mull upcoming township election"
2. Woodlands Association 2008 Election forms and information

Friday, November 9, 2007

Residents' Value System

Moved to: government blog.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Congratulations to The Woodlands

The Woodlands Township is now a reality. We have passed a very important milestone. No longer are we on the radar of the city of Houston and no longer do we face the threat of being just another one of their suburbs. We can put behind our fears of suffering an end like Kingwood and turn to our aspirations where we are in control of our own destiny and welfare. Our next goal is to ensure that our values are well protected, whether they be the beauty around us, the quality of life we live, the financial health of our community, or financial constraints we wish to see. I will be looking into the future from here. I hope all residents will join me over the next few months and years seeking not only to guard our values but also to seek improvements through change to make our lives better. Congratulations to my fellow neighbors in this great community for this magnificant achievement!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tuesday - the big Election Day

Please make your vote count on election Tuesday at one of your local voting locations identified via this link. You must be a registered voter in order to cast a ballot.

This blog represents my view of the options available to voters and reasons why there are people voting for and why there are people voting against the proposals. I also provide the following information to you in this blog. Just click on the links to read what each says or skip that and just read the reasons for or against. 

  1. Why I voted yes for all three propositions. Includes a risk analysis.
  2. The road to governance - a concise history and future outlook.
  3. TCID Board of directors - the people begin charged to get us started. 
  4. Governance in a nutshell - lists the basic issues and information. 
  5. Links -  where to go for additional information. You can find key links at the bottom of the blog, within the preamble and within the "My Decision ..." section.  

Why you might want to vote "YES" for the three propositions 

1. You want to ensure that we do not get annexed by Houston, Conroe or any other local municipality. You are OK with leveraging an existing local tax district to accomplish our goal of being free to choose our own form of government. We could be a city or a township starting in 2014 (just 7 years from now) if we take pertinent steps now. You likely believe that the regional agreements with Houston and Conroe are reasonable for us and a win/win for all stakeholders involved. You do not want to take big risks in our governance and prefer to go with an existing and successful governing body, not waiting for others to propose a plan that does not yet exist. You are probably aware that there is one legislative session (2009) remaining before Houston can initiate the planning phase of annexation in 2011. You see the  urgency of doing this now while we have a workable agreement in place with Houston and legislation enabling this to occur. You are OK with the 2% sales and use tax that would be levied throughout The Woodlands to decrease our association dues by 9% in 2008 and 31% or more thereafter. You probably like the idea that tourists and others outside of our community will help us pay our association fees with the sales taxes that they pay here in The Woodlands.       

2. You are willing to have the existing board of 10 or 11 (Les Tarrance apparently just resigned) to prepare the way for the election in May which will replace 5 or 6 of the existing TCID board, depending on what is decided for replacing Les Tarrance.  Because of state laws requiring that the incumbents not removed from their positions until their terms expire, you understand that there will be a transition period where some board members will remain until 2010. You further understand that after the May election, the board will consist of a majority of elected representatives who have served The Woodlands residents. All board members will be required to be USA citizens with residences in The Woodlands. 

3. You would like your association fees to be further reduced and the effect of the added burden of sales taxes, that you will pay here, to be minimized or removed all together. You really do not want to pay higher taxes, but even if it came to that, freedom from annexation would be worth it. You want to be able to claim your association dues on your income tax return. You also want the added reduction of association dues that will result from converting the association fee dollar for dollar to an ad-valorem tax, making all properties equal and uniform under state law for taxation purposes. You want the checks and balances that are required by state law to be applied in order to protect us from misdirected use of our taxes. 

Further Explanations:

We must be good regional partners with our neighbors. Since George Mitchell's vision was for Houston to be the primary stakeholder for regional projects, it only made sense to make Houston the project manager for these regional projects. The Woodlands would be a benefactor of these projects as well as other communities to the north of Houston. Therefore a small portion of the tax structure is put into an escrow for the projects. The Township would have the standard 2% sales tax throughout The Woodlands, no different than Houston. The majority of the taxes collected would be utilized to fund local projects and operational costs. As a Township, all the sales taxes could be used for operations, unlike a municipality where one percent must be used for capital projects.

Should proposition 1,2,3, pass: 5 or 6 new board members would be elected in May, 2008, of the 11 member board. The other 5 would stay until 2010 when the board would drop to 7 members. The reason for this is that the incumbents must be allowed to remain by state law. Elections for board members will be conducted every two years. There will  no longer be representation by local communities after May 2008. All 11 board members would be residents and all would have been elected to positions by residents before they were appointed to the board. Some were elected in the Town Center and represent residents now. There is a divided opinion on this matter and it gets a little complicated. You will see an argument that one board member was appointed to the board by WCA and appointed to the TCID. However that resident was elected to represent the WCA in The Woodlands Associations. He is a prominent contributor to the welfare of The Woodlands. The opponents to the propositions claim foul and that there is "taxation without representation" where in reality, there will be a majority of elected candidates on the board after the May election. The bottom line is that the people on this board are quite capable of governing the villages, as well as facilitate the town center improvement district during the necessary transition period to 2010 when we will have seven at-large elected residents as the entire board. Proposition 3 will be dollar for dollar offset against the very high association dues here. 

Why you might want to vote "NO" for the three propositions 

1. You likely believe that we should only seek incorporation, that the idea of a tax district does not accomplish what we must have. You believe we have plenty of time to file for incorporation and our legislators are wrong and doing us a disservice, and probably in cahoots with the Woodlands Development company. You believe we can negotiate a better deal with Houston  who is willing to work with us a second time to achieve a regional agreement similar to what has been achieved by our legislators. You may believe that annexation is not imminent and Houston does not really want to annex us anyway. You could even have the view that annexation is not so bad, so come on Houston and annex us! After all, Houston has an elected government and laws that we can accept.

2. You believe you have to elect every government official to make them a "representative" of your taxation. Therefore,  you believe that by voting yes for the second proposition, you get taxation without representation. Also, you might not trust any member of the board and probably you do not trust the voting process when the votes are cast at-large for a candidate. Therefore, you may have the opinion that you are not represented in an at-large election, even though this is the way Conroe and Tomball administer their city council elections. 

3. You are probably not very concerned about the third proposal, because it is negated by the failure of proposition 1 and 2 to pass. But if you want to counter this proposal only, you probably do so for the same reasons above. You either do not trust the TCID board nor any future representation among them, or you simply do not want any new taxes. You might have put a sign out in front of your yard saying "No More Taxation". 


Consequences of voting yes or no

Should proposition 1 & 2 pass,  we would have sales and use taxes to pay Houston and Conroe. With the excess sales and use taxes, we will pay for part of our association dues. We would reduce our dues by as much as 31%. We gain freedom from the ETJ of Houston and Conroe. We gain the right to establish our own government, whether it is a township or a full fledged municipality in the future. We would not have ordinance capability at first, but may gain that right through legislation in the 2009 session. We would not be able to have our own police force, but would continue to use contracted police (i.e., Sheriff or Constable). We would not have zoning. We would continue to use the master plan for the final build-out of undeveloped properties and land use constraints on each tract as filed for the master plan. We would get the opportunity for additional input to what our short term and long term government is to be.

Should proposition 1,2 pass but proposition 3 fail: the residents simply lose their ability to legally deduct the association dues and do not necessarily get uniform and equal taxing of properties, losing the benefits of taxes in lieu of association dues and retaining the burden of association fees which are also computed from property values.

Should proposition 1 and 2 fail: The agreement with Houston is forfeited unless The Woodlands can come up with the payments within one year. The laws enabling the TCID to expand would expire immediately. There would be no enabling legislation possible until the next session in 2009 and then we would have to start the process all over again. Therefore, Conroe would have to annex mud #39, because they would not want their Extra Territorial Jurisdiction to expire. They have already started their annexation plans and time would run out before the next legislative session. Houston would start thinking about annexation, because they can initiate their planning in 2011 for a 2014 annexation. To do this, they would need to build a fire station close by during the planning stage. Legislation in 1999 was passed to make it more difficult for big cities to annex surrounding areas but not impossible.

Proposition 1 and 2 must pass together or everything is off. 

Political side of the equation - my personal opinion

There are a few who have developed a disdain and distrust of the developer over the years. It all began when George Mitchell sold his assets in order to remain financially solvent. The buying developer was not trusted from the beginning. Residents felt they had been sold out. That sentiment has spilled over to the modern day fight against the proposals. Any connection to the builder is reason to distrust a member of the TCID board or for any elected office. There is a negative and persistent whining about the developer. Certainly some trees were felled that should not have been. Certainly there is disagreement whether a multi-story complex should be built in a certain location. Certainly there has been contention on other projects, such as a gasoline station in a location very visible to several residential homes. None of the developer-related issues should be part of the decision for or against self governance, yet it is. This all boils down to trust. Opponents do not trust individuals or organizations with current or past ties to the developer in a master planned community that the developer has and continues to build. 

On the other hand, proponents see the opportunity and know that they must act now. They are led into action by those who cringed at what happened to Kingwood to our east and have been working since 1999 to obtain self governance, following a logical process to achieve that goal via legislation and support from the community.

That said, many residents are excited about all of this and feel they are part of a new era where they have a true say on empowering themselves with a local government. This has been evident from early voting enthusiasm. I have talked to many people about their choice and those with whom I discussed this, were in favor of all three propositions. A few were voting no on proposition 3 and a few were voting against the first two propositions. 

Each voter can influence the outcome. The Woodlands has made history before, and we hope it will do it again with a yes vote for the propositions. We hope to be the first community under the ETJ of a city in Texas to avoid being annexed. A heavy turnout at the polls on Tuesday is probable. Usually only those residents planning to stay here for 2 or more years would be interested in determining the future of the community, but this year our residents are taking a much larger role than the past in our government.  We have a number of residents who cannot even vote in this election due to their citizenship status. Also, we have a few residents who did not register and they also will not be able to vote. 

Please vote on Tuesday if you are a registered voter!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

November Election Preamble and News

Updated November 01, 2007 to link to the full text of the regional agreement

Election external links: - please vote for all three propositions

  • Endorsement by Conroe Courier: Woodlands voters should choose destiny Summary of the propositions
  • Sample ballot. There is much more than just the three propositions.
  • Montgomery county election information
  • Updates to the FAQ section of The Woodlands Association continues to clarify a number of questions. I encourage residents to read this information.

    Comments and Qualifications of the TCID Board - Most TCID board members now have their comments posted at this site. The reason for posting this material is for the public to see who is working to establish a self governing body for us. These folks have put in many hours to this end, as well as The Woodlands Association and residents. Voting YES to the proposition is equivalent to voting for each member, but especially voting for those staying until 2010. I asked each one to provide their information and will continue to publish what I receive as I receive it. All but one member has agreed to provide this information, and I believe that person may not have received my request. Your comments in that post will be welcome.

    A common resident's decision. I have published my voting views and intend to add some others view with their permission of course. Premature decision making is not a good idea. I prefer to commit about one to two weeks before the election. Since I am a Project Manager by trade and have had to make significant financial decisions ( at times, recommendations for decisions) all my career, my approach has been carefully thought out with risk and investment strategies. The agreement with Houston has been signed. This is a landmark agreement to do what no community has done in Texas history - avoid annexation by a megacity and make a gentleman's agreement between a city having the ETJ rights with a small evolving town. We will call ourselves a "township". This is exciting and surely the reader can feel it in the air, right with the cool fall winds! Related Links: 1.Chronicle's story on the regional agreement Within this article, The Chronicle outlines the agreement and also announces Les Tarrance of the board has resigned. His term was to end in 2010. The board will determine what they can legally do to replace him, preferably include his position in the May election. 2.The full text of the regional agreement made available by TCID with appendix

    Links to the governance series in this blog: 1. The Road to Governance - short description of the process 2. Governance in a Nutshell - list of issues and thoughts about those issues 3. Governance September Forum - my take on the public forum in September 4. Meet the TCID Board - provided by each member of the TCID board for us to meet 5. Panel Discussion- Discussion of the issues 6. The Decision 7. Next Steps 8. Look back

    I am working on other articles as well. Keep tuned and informed. The articles published in this blog are available and encouraged for comment. The blog is moderated, so please do not post nore than once. All posted comments should be visible within 24 hours. I would like to encourage dialogue. If you wish to communicate directly with me privately, please email me at indianspringsguy@sbcglobal.net.

  • Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    My Decision and what I considered in reaching it

    Modified October 30th for financial news from JR Moore.

    After considering and discussing different views on this subject, I have reached my decision. A number of people have asked me to take a look at this election, knowing full well I was not married to any of these propositions. Therefore, I looked into it the best I could with my limited time, just like most other voters, and concluded the debate in my own mind. I present my voting position, with an explanation of how I reached it. I am endorsing the plan for TCID to govern The Woodlands, and I will tell you exactly why.

    I am voting YES on all three propositions.

    Just a few months ago, I was not inclined to vote for being governed by the TCID, because that governing entity was not elected to govern the villages of The Woodlands. However, after a number of discussions, enquiries and research, I came to respect those who have been appointed and elected for improving the Town Center. They are capable and willing to govern (click) our villages, as well as the Town Center. The TCID directors who will be in place after May, 2008, will be elected representatives of the villages and Town Center. Each was elected into a position of some entity within The Woodlands and have been placed on the board as elected representatives, whether appointed to that specific position or elected directly into that position. Although the boards constituency has representation from nearby communities such as Shenandoah, those appointments were appropriate at the time and will go away with the May election. My endorsement does not mean that I cast my vote without risk. Everything we decide has risk. However, I am confident in my decision. For the current situation, time, and goal, it is the correct and only choice to make. Associated risks are not as high as I had first thought. I even tried to inflate some risks to make sure I was not taking the easy way out. In fact, I now see the opposite to that which I first saw. The threat of annexation by Houston is real, and it would not be in our interest to let them annex us. The Regional Participation Agreement has been approved by the Houston City Council and holds up to the original agreement quite well. I have now included it as part of my analysis. We all need to vote YES on the first two propositions. The third, though optional, is a necessity to me also, out of pure financial consideration. It would help TCID plan ahead, give me a tax write-off, and give TCID an additional tool to help us go forward, so I am endorsing that as well. Unfortunately, it cannot take effect until 2010 at the earliest.

    My decision is analytically derived, but I depend on intuitive reasoning as well. I am not biased by emotional preference, political or personal, and have no personal motives except for the desire to live in a self governed community apart from Houston. I simply want us to govern ourselves and maintain our values, control our processes and preserve our lifestyle. I have reached my conclusion based on:

    1) Sufficient risk mitigation evidence and due process by the Governance Council, the TCID board, our legislators, and many others who have worked so diligently to get us this far. 2) Role and urgency of this very important step in the vision of the road to our independent governance (click), and 3) My personal understanding of the issues involved.

    Let me say first that there is risk to voting YES! I have come to understand that the risks have been mitigated in about every way they should be, under the conditions which exist. Since I run this risk assessment based on a YES vote, I also need to state that I believe the NO position has much more risk than the YES position. I address the NO position at the end of this posting.

    As background and from a personal perspective, I have a vision of future incorporation, yet maintain an open mind to alternatives. I postulate that what we need and what we want could be in conflict, and we should study our choices in the future, say over the next 5 years or so to determine our final step on the road to governance. The timing to take this step for self governance is very much now! Our strategy now should be to execute our plan, not start all over! For the future, we should make ready to finalize our governing strategy in about 2014. To do that, I believe we should begin work on the final solution about 2010, after the election for the 7 at-large representatives. To prepare for the work on that, our ultimate solution, we must elect candidates starting in 2008 who have the desire to seek the appropriate final solution in a timely manner. TCID will have plenty to do before they can start working out the details. We have momentum, but we must maintain it to reach our desired outcomes. There could be other interim actions to build on what has been completed already, to simply strengthen the power of the Township. Our legislators are very aware that there may be some fine tuning (amendments) to optimize the organization and responsibilities of the township board. One tune-up initiative might be to seek legislation for local ordinances in the next legislative session. Another could be to alter the makeup of the board to provide for village in addition to at-large representatives.

    Benefits and Risks of the YES Position

    To understand our risks, we must first know the goal and the benefits of these proposals. The goal is simply for us to govern ourselves. I do not agree that our goal is to avoid annexation nor is it exclusively for us to be a municipality. To say either is not framing the issue correctly in my opinion. Certainly the timing of this action now is driven by the need to avoid annexation so that we can accomplish our goal. Placing the governing responsibility into the hands of a 7-member board is a good short term solution, but it is not likely to be our final solution to governing ourselves.

    The benefits of the ballot proposals are listed below in no particular order.

    Benefit A. Consolidation of The Woodlands associations and services. This has been a challenge for years to residents. In what association am I and why? What are the differences between the WCA, TCID, TWA, WCOA? Who do I go to for what? We should welcome one organization for addressing our local issues, our budget, and our services. This consolidation will not help us with county, state or MUD issues however. We should welcome uniform fees and assessments. We will continue to have several covenants that will continue to create some confusion. Residents will have a stronger presence in the affairs of the villages due to decreased participation and influence of the developer.

    Benefit B. Lowered association dues. We should see a 31% reduction in 2009 and onward, excluding normal inflation. We should see a 15% reduction in 2008, a partial tax year.

    Benefit C. Village Associations should remain and even be a stronger means to liaison with the TCID for community issues, giving all residents equal access to governmental services.

    Benefit D. Proposition 3. We can claim association dues on IRS tax returns. A YES for Proposition 3 is required to signal to the board that we want them to levy a dollar-for-dollar ad valorem tax to replace our association dues starting in 2010. This will result in a tax reduction on our return. For example, if your association fee is $1000 today and your income tax bracket rate is 28%, you save about $310 from the assessments offset by sales taxes and an additional $123 and $422 by claiming the ad valorem tax. (only if proposition 3 passes). After calculating additional sales taxes, the total annual net gain to our bank account would be $579 in today's dollars.

    Current association assessment............. $1000 (what we now pay unclaimed as a deduction in our tax return)
    Reduction - sales tax revenues ............ -$ 310 (by levying a sales tax and using the surplus to subsidize part of the association fees)
    Reduction - AS. dues on IRS form...... -$ 123 (by claiming our association dues in the form of an ad valorem tax)
    Reduction - JR Moore's analysis.......... -$ 422 (WCA 42.2% saved by ad-valorem tax)
    Added sales taxes (IRS table) ............ +$ 384 (the amount of sales taxes we have to pay for goods and services)
    Reduction tax return sales tax............ -$ 108 (by claiming the additional 2% sales tax on our tax return)
    _____________________________________
    New assessment...... $421, or a total savings of $579 annually (57.9%).

    Benefit E. Conroe cannot annex Harpers Landing.

    Benefit F. Houston nor any surrounding municipalities can annex the remainder of The Woodlands. The Woodlands would be free from Houston ETJ in 2014.

    Benefit G. The Woodlands remains a planned community but under one governing body, including the new Village of Creekside Park. Our community captures the Harris county component of The Woodlands.

    Benefit H. There should be less influence from the development company and more influence by residents in the villages within the villages. The Commercial Planning and Design Standards will remain the same and be enforced by the Design Standards Committee.

    Benefit I. Regional improvements - we will help finance and be able to reap the benefits of projects like Hardy Toll Rd extension into downtown and parks along the creek. The Regional Participation Agreement is a well organized and structured agreement to place The Woodlands in a supporting role with Houston by expending only 1/16th of one percent sales and use taxes into a fund for developing the regional projects. This fulfills George Mitchell's view of our regional role and is an ingenious coorperative solution to enable us to self govern ourselves.

    RISK ASSESSMENT of the YES Position using the risk level times impact assessment method.

    A "risk" below is assigned a numerical value 1 through 10 and is described by a word. An impact also has a numerical value and is described the same. The risk assessment value is calculated from the two by multiplying Risk*Impact=assessment. Maximum value would be risk(10) times impact(3) = 30. Any over about 15 may not be worth taking for the benefits listed. Red colored risks below indicate those over an arbitrary threshhold value of 8.

    1. Houston will annex The Woodlands even if we are part of the TCID special tax district - very low(1) * high(3) = 3
    2. The majority of the governing board will utilize their energy, time and money primarily for the town center, leaving the villages up to their own devices and problems. Low (2) * medium (3) = 6
    3. The Woodlands becomes a hodgepodge of corruption in government where the TCID board is funneling financial resources to their own businesses and/or to their own or their family private bank accounts. Low(2) *medium(2)= 4
    4. Decisions are made by TCID, counter to the wishes of many and regardless of the sentiment of the residents. Low(3)*high(3)= 9
    5. There is no representation on the board of the less financially capable residents, causing a taxation without representation issue for lower income socio-economic areas in The Woodlands. Low(2)*low(1)= 2
    6. There is practically no way to get incorporated. Low(1)*high(3)= 3
    7. Houston will raise the financial stakes in the agreement, forcing us to pay more for our "freedom", leaving the community with an unplanned additional financial burden. Low(1)*high(3)= 3
    8. The financial analysis (click) may be incorrect, so we end up paying more association dues rather than less. Low(1)*medium(2)= 2
    9. Our village and/or Town Center businesses no longer are financially attractive to customers and many fail due to loss of the "sales tax advantage". Very low(1)*high(3)= 3
    10. Houston signs the agreement after the election and we are stuck with a proposal that we cannot agree to. Then NO longer relevant. The agreement has been signed. Low(0)*high(3)= 0
    11. Development company representatives are elected into office and gain control. Low(1)*medium(2)= 2

    Rationalization of Risk to the YES position

    1. Houston will annex The Woodlands if there is significant financial gain for the city of Houston. Should we vote YES, all tax revenues will be assigned to the special tax district, removing all possible revenues from Houston's grasp. The regional agreement with Houston is relevant, because we can become a municipality only with an agreement with Houston to not be in their ETJ (jurisdiction of annexation). That agreement has been approved by the City of HOusotn. It contains all the financial obligations originally agreed upon by Mayor White and Senator Williams. It protects the interests of Houston by having a termination clause should The Woodlands forfeit on its payments. This indicates the serious nature of the intent of Houston to not be burdened with all the financial reponsibility of the regional development projects. The risk is now high that Houston will want to annex us soon, should we vote no to the first two propositions. The reason for this conclusion is that Houston will need to finance the projects regardless if we vote yes or no. The agreement is made null and void if we vote no. They will come to us for the tax revenues by annexing us and using much of the sales tax revenues to fund these regional projects. The risk of this item is considered low if we vote YES to the first two propositions.
    2. The integrity of the board members is high. They are qualified to govern the residential areas of The Woodlands. Six residents will be elected at large in the elections of May 2008, a majority of the 11-member board. The WCA appointed representative term ends in 2010. He was of course elected to this position in Indian Springs, so he is an elected official by The Woodlands residents and consistently works for the benefit of the residents. That gives us at least seven "elected" officials, more than a simple majority of the board. All board members have shown significant stake in the outcome, even those who will be leaving in May. All elected board members after May, 2008, will be residents and have a personal stake in what happens in our villages. The experience level of the board is high and they have been successful in their efforts to improve the Town Center. They will continue to have obligations in the Town Center, therefore, there is some risk of village attention dilution. I have determined for my own vote, that the risk of this dilution is not high. I do not see the impact as great, because we have several board members who should have sufficient time and energy to work on the village issues and we should have sufficient capability from those newly elected in May.
    3. The board says they can govern us with integrity, so I am taking their word on that. Read their Bios and comments in the Meet the TCID Board(click) and look them up in the internet of you want to understand some of their works over the past few years.
    4. From my own personal observations, the TCID board is actually listening to residents better than the association. This could change over time if the residents' behaviors are excessively critical. The Village Associations will transition into a stronger resident advocate role. This should help residents be heard effectively.
    5. Socio-economic risks are very low. Some people fear that sales taxes will adversely affect lower income areas. We may need to pay attention to economic consequences of our decisions on taxation, just like any municipality would, but apparently we do not have villages that are significantly more economically stressed than others. We have some families economically stressed in all villages by mortgage issues and other situations, e.g., fixed incomes. Subsidized housing does exist in Panther Creek and Grogans Mill villages, and it is possible that people in those complexes will be impacted more than others, but they are not representative of village residents. We must be sensitive to their needs and not forget they are there. They can work through their village associations to be heard if there is an issue. Some people argue that those individuals and families are at risk because the board positions are elected at-large rather than by village.
    6. The TCID board has the authority to dissolve themselves, per House Bill 4109 This gives us the residents a means to transition to a municipality or other expanded township authority if desired. The process would be similar to transitioning from an association to a special tax district, with the transition of assets, debt and power to a municipal government instead. Some oppponents to the propositions claim that it is nearly impossible to move the debt, but I have read this provision several times and that allegation and fear is just not true. Therefore this is a low risk.
    7. There was a lingering fear that the Houston City Council will change the terms of the regional agreement between Major White and TCID (via Senator Williams). This passed by the city of Houston City Council on October 23nd as city ordinance #25. This has no risk at all now except if we go into an economic depression and are unable to collect sufficient sales and use taxes to pay our part of the financial obligation.
    8. The financial analysis was done by the Vice President of TCID and not contracted to an outside firm. From all I can see, the information is correct, as one would expect from the person responsible for finances in TCID.
    9. There is not any real threat of residents boycotting the businesses here because of a sales tax. Convenience is something to consider in The Woodlands. People will not go far for most goods and services. Shopping here is no different than Houston or Conroe. This crosses the risk threshold in my mind, but I am not very concerned about it.
    10. Should we vote no on the proposals, and the agreement is axed, we can still go ahead with the TCID consolidation and taxation effort to ward off annexation. HOwever, Houston is set to find a solution for regiponal improvements and we would no longer be under a cooperative agreement, so The Wioodlands would be a prime target for annexation again, probably higher than before. That would probably occur promptly in 2014.
    Benefits and Risks of the NO Position

    Benefits to the NO Position A. As-is comfort zone for the majority of The Woodlands; everything remains status quo. B. Opportunity to apply for incorporation now. I believe this would be politically doomed for failure and is not a real opportunity. C. Special election could be called later.

    RISK ASSESSMENT of the NO Position.

    1. Annexation of part of The Woodlands by Conroe - high(9)*small(1)=9 2. Annexation of the majority of The Woodlands by Houston - medium(5)*high(3)=15 3. High water rates due to Houston and Conroe city taxes - medium(5)*medium(2)=10 4. Lower service performance from Houston's and Conroe's service providers. high(3)*high(7)=21 5. Opportunity for a special election. high(7)*high(3)=21

    Rationale of Risk Assessment to the NO Position

    1. Conroe has limited time in its annexation initiative. They would be forced to complete their initiative immediately, even we if said we would have a special election later. This is a small part of The Woodlands, so its impact on the whole is relatively small. Nevertheless, it has high probability of occurring. 2. Houston annexation planning could start in 2011. There is only one legislative session left before they could start that process. With a stroke of luck, there could be another session opportunity in 2011. Mayor White may not extend out that long. So there is a threat of the loss of his leadership, as well as our legislative sponsors by that time. Timing is very important. 3. High water rates by Houston is almost a given if we are annexed. A typical water bill for one month is well over $100 average. Added to this is the fact that annexation would bring to us a 2% sales and use tax and a City of Houston ad valorem tax (similar to the one proposed). 4. No provisions have been provided for a special election. The next legislative session is in 2008. We would have to put off the propositions until then, so at the earliest, we might have another election in 2008.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Panel Discussion with Woodlands Decides

    I attended the Saturday panel discussion, one of the two scheduled meetings for the public during the week of October 11th, 2007. Among the contributors were our state senator and house representative. The panel consisted of various community leaders to answer questions about the three propositions.

    Notes:

    • Annexation - Houston could begin its three year annexation plan in 2011. Originally, the deal with Houston was 2011, but as a result of a law passed since Mr. Mitchell made that agreement with Houston, we got a three year extension of time.
    • NO community in Texas such as ours has ever escaped annexation by a municipality.
    • This was a defensive move by Mr Mitchell to prevent fragmentation of The Woodlands through adjoining small municipality annexations. It was to encourage regional participation and cooperation among the regional municipalities. Houston was the best city to take full control of The Woodlands as it existed then.
    • Now one regional project which is in the agreement with Houston is the Hardy Toll Rd extension into downtown. Any resident who travels the Hardy Toll Rd to downtown Houston will appreciate this plan.
    • Will Houston city council sign the agreement? We believe so. There is no indication that they will not. The substance of the agreement remains in place but it is being edited for legal reasons, a word-smithing exercise.
    • The Village of Spring Creek is about 3000 acres and would be part of The Woodlands Township jurisdiction. Harpers Landing would also be a part of the township.
    • In 1996 Kingwood was annexed by Houston. In 1999 we began our dialogue to prevent annexation by Houston. We started soon thereafter with additional legislation barriers to discourage annexation, such as the requirement for a fire station near the annexation area, owned by the annexing municipality.
    • After May 29, 2014, the cities of Houston and Conroe would cease to have The Woodlands under its jurisdiction and The Woodlands would be free to become a municipality.
    • Windsor Hills will be included in The Woodlands Township. They would change their community fees and processes to that of the township.
    • Conroe and Shenandoah have the same sales tax structure that we would have. 8.25%.
    • Texas sales tax is deductible on IRS returns.
    • Why are we rushing to get there? The governance process mandated that we do it as quickly as possible. There were only two legislative sessions left before Houston could begin the annexation process. We did it in the first legislative session, but we are a bit lucky on this. Next time, it is very doubtful we would have this kind of success, if we have to do this all over again.
    • Why would we approve the propositions before Houston signs the agreement with The Woodlands? We are lucky that Houston is working on the final wording of the agreement. Mayor White told Senator Williams that he would try to get it signed before the election as a favor to the residents of The Woodlands. There is no need to have a final agreement. It is like asking the cart to go before the horse. Our neighbors to the south are being very cooperative and neighborly.
    • Sales taxes will include cable and telephone, just like within municipalities.
    • MUDs will continue to lower their debts by the annual taxes. We have some good people there, utilizing the monies efficiently. If we were part of Houston, we would probably see about 5 times the water rates of The Woodlands. It is common in municipalities to use the MUD taxes for additional items to be funded as well.
    • In the MOU, TCID can dissolve itself after 2014 as long as assets are totally transferred to another governing body, such as a municipality.
    • If The Woodlands residents wish to have a different number on the Township board, our legislators are willing to go to bat for it as a fine tuning goal next session.
    • Service contracts and schedule of implementation are designed to protect service levels from politics.
    • Ad valorem tax can be implemented in 2010 if needed. It would be optional even if the proposition is passed. The third proposition is just there to confirm what the public wants for association assessments. As it stands, association assessments are not tax deductible. An ad valorem tax could be assessed the Township without public confirmation, but that will not likely occur. Property tax assessments via proposition 3 would be required to be uniform.
    • 1/16th of the 2% sales tax will be applied to regional projects. That amounts to approximately $1,000,000 annually.
    • There will be no changes to the school districts.
    • To make changes to the covenants, 2/3 of voters are required.
    • There would be stronger controls of ad valorem taxes than association dues because of more stringent state regulations. There would be a dollar for dollar offset of ad valorem taxes towards the reduction of association dues.
    • Why not a debate on the issue between the pro position and the anti position? The Woodlands Decides is neither. It is here to clarify the proposals and encourage the public to vote in this very important decision for The Woodlands.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    Identifying my Trees

    This posting has been moved to a separate blog - Our Trees

    Monday, October 1, 2007

    Meet the TCID Board

    This information has been moved to the Who's Who in The Woodlands blog.

    Click on desired topic

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    Commentary The Woodlands
    Our politics and government Local issues, elections, info
    Who's who Local politicians and personalities
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    Liv'n & Lov'n Personally shared

    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    Governance in a nutshell

    Updated on October 29th with current information.

    What are the important aspects of this election that we need to know? The list below is how I currently understand the situation. I plan to maintain this as we go along, because my understanding grows and things change. This is a living document.

    Items of High Significance Check Spelling

    a. An interim governing body is required to get us to a mutual agreement with Houston. Despite arguments to the contrary, 2014 is the year for which we must wait to incorporate. Technically we can file anytime. Practically, we must be politically sensitive to Houston and support the agreement made by Senator Williams with Mayor White.

    b. TCID is the only option for self-governance until the next legislative session. The last legislative session granted TCID the temporary authority to expand its authority to the rest of The Woodlands for establishing self-governance. Our vote yes on the ballot gives TCID the authority to govern all villages and Town Center. Jurisdiction does not cover some locations east of Hwy 242. TCID will change from an 11-member board, which was appointed and elected, to a 7 member fully elected board with a phase out of existing members as each member's term expires.

    c. Voting YES in the election is equivalent to electing each member of the TCID board for his or her remaining tenure in office. I prepared a separate blog article on their qualifications and bios.

    d. If either of the first two ballot proposals fails, both fail, and Conroe will begin annexation of Mud 39 of The Woodlands. The third proposal for ad-valorem tax is optional.

    e. The basics of governance jurisdiction and intent has been published in a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This is a document between The Woodlands Association and TCID to define the intended relationships, transfers of assets and authorities. This document is required to set intended boundaries, responsibilities and schedule of change in responsibilities. It cannot be executed until after the elections. This document was created to show due diligence by The Woodlands Association and TCID to demonstrate a workable plan and no loss of resident services in the process.

    f. Ad-valorem tax would be a means for residents to report their association dues legally to IRS. It has no other intended use but it could be used in the future as a tool to obtain needed revenues (just like any other governing body). The tax rate would be .304 in 2009, slowly declining in subsequent years. The MOU sets 2010 as the beginning date for this tax, and even then it is optional. But passage signifies that the residents want the tax write off and provides a tool for TCID to tax if they should need to in order to balance income with budget (not expected to be used for this purpose).

    g. A 2% sales tax would be levied throughout The Woodlands per jurisdictional boundaries. All of the excess would used to defray some of the association dues. The excess was calculated based on current Township budget and the association's budget. An analysis indicated a 31% savings on dues for each residence in 2009. Currently an estimated 70+% of all shoppers in Town Center are from outside of The Woodlands. Infusion of money from the outside is expected to grow. The flow of money from non-residents will help may the bills.

    h. Associations’ operations will continue to operate, initially as they do today, but changing over time according to the memorandum of understanding until the transition is completed in 2012. Deed restrictions will continue to be enforced and in 2010, the Township will assume responsibility for enforcement of those covenants. Covenants will remain the same unless changed by the prescribed method of requiring 2/3 of the votes in an election designed to change the covenants.

    i. Services will continue to be provided as they are today and are protected by the memorandum of understanding . These will basically remain the same by contracts with the county, contractors, and association. A restructure of the Fire Department to report to the new governing body will occur as soon as possible, with a transfer of assets. Operations will be funded by the additional sales taxes, thereby reducing association fees because the TCID will fund the fire department through the sales taxes.

    j. Budgeting process is not defined, but there is a vision. Capital expenses and operating expenses have been brought forward into the financial analysis from the current plan. All fits together just fine. The memorandum of understanding designates "develop appropriate oversight for program and budgetary development processes ...". This will be done based on funding responsibilities and "institutional experience and knowledge". For example, the budget of the fire department will be handled by the Fire department board and overseen by TCID. At the beginning, each association will have budgeting responsibilities connected to their need to fund the services they provide. This will change according to the schedule until 2011.

    k. Voting participation in The Woodlands has been historically atrocious for local positions. We need everyone to participate in this election. Each voter must be a registered voter, just like any other county election (this is going to be administered by the county). October 9th was the deadline to register if are not a registered voter in Montgomery county!

    l. There will be no ordinance capability under the existing structure and authority of TCID. Our lawmakers are willing to seek this capability for TCID in the next legislative session, should we ask them to do it. In the interim, our laws will remain under the umbrella of county and state only. The MUD districts under the umbrella of the Joint Powers Agency will remain as they are with their elected officials to manage MUD taxes and water operations. Police services will remain contracted. We will not be a municipality in the beginning but a special service district, a legal entity under state law. Influence of the development company remains basically the same within the associations and TCID.

    m. As today, we will have no zoning ordinances. The development company will continue to build out under the constraints of the covenants and standards. However, we will continue to have lot use designations. There are some undeveloped lots designated for mixed use, etc etc. It is up to us as individuals with our village associations to challenge or moderate the specific uses of land. These designations are part of our covenants and part of the master plan of our community. This election should not be a contest between the power/influence of the development company and the residents. It is instead a decision on selecting a road to self governance, if any road at all.

    n. Costs of incorporation will likely be higher than the Township. Although some residents have expressed incorporation as their intent, there is much work ahead to define related costs and decide on incorporation as the final solution to our government. If and when we would select incorporation as the final solution, we can expect government costs to rise, and there would probably be more pressure on our police to issue paying citations. Additional pressures to fund related services such as street maintenance would also be an issue. Check the city of Houston for tax issues. They have the same sales and use tax we will have; they have an ad-valorem tax but higher than we would have; they would take our money and use it for funding Houston projects and operations which would of course include us if annexed. They are able to lower their cost by volume and size. We have efficiencies as well, with our consolidated area and master plan. Incorporation would not bring any additional leverage externally for our community. For example, regional transportation will continue to be an issue, and our interests must be represented by the Township government. Incorporation is not a necessity to ward off annexation by the city of Houston. It is a convenience to control all services within the jurisdiction of those who govern it. Municipalities tend to have high water costs, because they often attach funding of other services to their water service operation. Our water bills will be unaffected by the passage of these proposals.

    o) Socio-economic representation - the at-large positions on the TCID Board will tend to reflect the governing preferences and economic decisions of the general voting population of The Woodlands. However, there seems to be no practical way to develop a meaningful representation for the lower income population. The idea originally envisioned by George Mitchell was a total community of various incomes throughout all the villages. Low income housing now is primarily in Grogan Mills and Panther Creek villages.

    p) Seven at-large positions - the rationale for seven is not known. The number seems to be reasonable when considering small cities and the number of people elected to their councils. Conroe and Shenandoah have a similar setup with only at large positions.

    q) Taxation without representation - this is a divisive phrase intended to sway the vote against the propositions. I have yet to find substance supporting this view. There will be no major decisions before the five (probably six) new at-large positions are filled by the voters in May 2008. When those positions are filled, we will have a majority of elected officials on the board (those five or six coupled with some others). See MEET THE TCID BOARD in this blog for specific qualifications and elected terms. Some incumbents were elected, not at large, but certainly for the positions they currently hold or were appointed to, via the organization from which they were elected. I find all of the incumbents capable of representing and appropriately managing villagers' taxes. Every position is accountable to the voters. After May 2008, they will certainly be a majority elected board. There will NOT be taxation without representation even in the transition period!

    r) The development company and its influence on the residents - Deed restrictions will continue in effect. There is no plan to change. The development company will have only one but elected employee on the TCID board after May 2008. This means the development company would have less of a role in the governing of our community. In 2010, the development company has no representatives after the election of that year. Some people make a big thing out of a person having worked for the development company or having been a builder. Check out their credentials and make your own assessment.

    s) In the transfer of assets, The Woodlands Association will gradually lose its assets and power until the organization is no longer needed. The role of the village associations will be to act on behalf of its residents to help develop the capital budget, resolve local issues and conduct local events. The village associations will continue to exist and have elected officials. They will continue to function as a liaison with the association and in the future with TCID.

    t) Houston completed the legal wording of the regional agreement. Although we do not have a copy of the appendix which defines the projects and their priorities, we now have a legally binding agreement to read and understand. If we fault on payments, we could fault on the agreement as well. It will be important to make payments per the agreement. Other wise, the substance of the agreement is what was expected. Houston will be the project manager and drive the projects to completion. The projects will be a cooperative mix where the northern outlying areas of Houston will benefit from the improvements. An example is commuting via the Hardy toll road. It will be extended to downtown, improving commute time for The Woodlands residents.

    Resources

    1.http://www.thewoodlandsassociations.org/site/home/default.aspx - for a tutorial to the elections
    2.
    http://www.town-center.com/ - for boundaries, polling locations, financial analysis
    3.http://www.thewoodlandsvoicepac.com/ - for independent support group perspective
    4.http://woodlandsknow.com/ - for an independent counter-support perspective

    5.http://www.TalkofTheWoodlands.com
    6.http://www.thewoodlandsassociations.org/files/MOU.pdf
    - for text of the Memorandum of Understanding
    7.
    Financial Presentation - describing the sales tax and ad valorem tax as they pertain to the expansion of TCID.

    Ask questions and I will try to answer or get an answer for those that I do not know. I can be reached by email at indianspringsguy@sbcglobal.net.

    Governance - September Forum

    The following is not meant to be a report on this meeting but my view of it and what I personally heard. These notes are from my notes but also include some my thoughts during the session. Just for the record, I am FOR self governance and am willing to establish an interim governing body to reach that goal, as long as I have say in the decisions through appropriate representation. A public panel forum was conducted by the TCID (Town Center Improvement District) on September 26th, 2007 at the Conference Center in The Woodlands. Our Texas state senator, Tommy Williams, and our state representative, Rob Eissler, presented their perspectives of the opportunity for The Woodlands to self govern to the TCID board and attending residents. Residents followed with one question each and a followup question. Each ressident was allowed multiple questions but had to rotate through the queue. The board stayed until all questions had been presented and answered. Senator Williams has been a strong advocate and supporter of self governance in The Woodlands, and Representative Eichler has also strongly supported the initiative. Senator Williams said "we had to play the hand we were dealt." We played the hand and came out a winner. What we have now in chips is the draft agreement with Houston, an agreement with Conroe, TCID coming forward to play the role of an interim legal governing entity, two enabling bills passed in the Texas legislature, and the three propositions on the ballot for November. "Our solution is to take something that exists and do something with it". The Woodlands is fortunate to be able to establish a 2% sale tax and not be limited in its use such as are municipalities. Municipalities must use 1% for operations and the other 1% for improvements. The Woodlands via TCID can utilize the entire 2% for operations. Basically, from a practical political point of view, the ballot in November is about annexation. If the first two propositions fail, Conroe will annex their part, and we will be at the starting gate again with Houston for the rest of The Woodlands. In Austin, we did what we could with the cards wehich were dealt to us. It would have been essentially impossible to realistically achieve a local municipality without this effort in Austin. Houston would not have gone with us without the steps we are proposing. The Houston agreement is interlinked to the process we are using which applies state wide. The probability of annexation by Houston will be high if the first two measures do not pass. Representative Eichler said that he always believed annexation should be a marriage, not a a kidnapping, but history has proven the latter. The bill in the House expires after the election if the first two measures do not pass. If the first two measures on the ballot are not approved, residents will not get another chance. We will be at square one again, facing annexation by Houston. We could file for annexation, but we will have the same destiny as Clearlake and other past failures. The ballot will have two measures that interrelate. One cannot pass and the other fail. If one fails, the other one fails. The third measure for ad valorum tax is optional. It is there to enable residents to legally file "association dues" in their income tax return. Currently, TCID has the temporary power to conduct an election. If the measures passes, their jurisdiction powers will be made permament and they can annex the rest of The Woodlands. The TCID board will change from 11 to 7 members elected at large. It was not thought necessary to have village representation, because all villages are nominally the same. Financially, the picture looks good. Usually the planning for the use of sales tax takes into account swings in the economy. Therefore, TCID plans with a forecast surplus. 70% of the sales tax for TCID comes from zip codes outside of The Woodlands. These results have just come in from a survey and analysis. It is forecast that sales taxes will fund the fire department for the entire community if that is the way residents would like to distribute the sales taxes. Whatever accounting process is elected for funding our services, the sales taxes will help residents substantially to lower their association dues. The earliest we would see the 31% reduction is 2009 due to the way taxes are levied and paid in Texas. In 2009, the financial analysis forecasts 31% reduction in association (ad valorum) fees with no reduction in services and using the association's budget forecast model. We see a .304 ad valorum tax rate for 2009 to receive the other 79% of association fees as an ad valorum tax. Bonds will be utilized to finance regional projects per the agreement with Houston. We have had experience in successfully using bonds to fund large projects in the past. A MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) will be completed in October, to give residents an understanding of the direction and intent of TCID on certain issues. The draft document is being reviewed and changed. It will help clarify what to expect from TCID over the next few months and years. For example, the covenants will remain in effect. There is currently a FAQ document on some of the basics, but the MOU will dive into more of the critical details. The MOU is essential for understanding what form of governance will take place. The regional agreement with Houston should be signed in October before the elections. There seems to be no more major obstacles left. The method of dissolution of TCID is being reviewed and changed to remove some risk associated with the current wording. It is expected that people who run for TCID office will be challenged with future governance issues on their platform, especially in regard to becoming a municipality. Since the agreement with Houston will be tied to 2014, there are some additional measures which may take place beforehand. The 7-elected TCID board will be at its fully elected voting strength of 7 in 2010 when the last current TCID board member leaves. The earliest year of incorporation will be 2014. I will probably be discussing the additional measures with Senator Williams within the next few weeks or months to setup a platform to address in the next legislative session. It may be feasible to obtain the ordinance capability for TCID and tranfer those to the ultimate governing body, e.g., city government in this effort. I expect to bow out and turn the effort over to TCID once we get the rationale for such a platform clarified. People want see more details which will be published in the memorandum of understanding soon. The Houston Chronicle published an article this morning covering this meeting. It is accurate. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nb/woodlands/news/5165872.html

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Street Honeycomb

    One reason to live in The Woodlands is the difficulty in understanding how to navigate among the honeycomb of streets in the tall pines. It actually creates a type of safety net because most casual visitors have a difficult time finding anything here. The design not only emphasizes our forest but mandates its maintenance as part of the East Texas piney woods. The next time we get lost on one of our streets, remember that we have designed it his way for a reason. The design of the streets with the unique naming of each one to denote something of the wildlife or forest, is truly a desirable trait of this place. One can enjoy the forest right on our neighborhood streets. Whether it is driving about or it walking or bike riding along the numerous hiking trails, the forest is at our fingertips and we are surrounded by it. Here we stop not to smell the flowers but to gaze at the awesome forest preserved about us. However not all residents and visitors see it the same. Some cannot appreciate where they are and must rush at high speeds on our streets, honk horns, or play loud music in their automobiles. Some do not even see the children going to school. Some people are apparently here to work and not play. In the beginning, The Woodlands was a place to live and commute to the big city. Now it is becoming a city of its own, and many of the residents live like they are in a big city. That is sad. Those who read this blog, I would hope, will join me in promoting the simpler lifestyle which emphasizes the forest and distances itself from the hustle and bustle of the city. We do need to govern ourselves so we can strategize those values which are dear to our hearts.

    Thursday, August 30, 2007

    The road to Governance

    Updated 10-14-07 to update and clarify. The Woodlands residents have decided to pursue incorporation via a five step approach. 1) Hire an outside consulting company to lead the residents and political figures to a careful and representative conclusion using quality project management techniques. This has been successfully accomplished. The Woodlands residents participated in an effort to fully understand what they had in common and the direction they wanted to go. It included mapping out a strategy based on what was most important to residents. This effort included asking the mayor of Houston to speak to the residents on his views. Our state senator attended some community meetings and sought a political alliance when we needed it the most, just before the 2007 legislative session. 2) Politically acquire the right to be self governing. Led by our state senator and district house legislator, (a) an alliance was achieved with the city of Houston and Conroe, and (b) two legislative bills were passed enabling The Woodlands to be self governing. 3) Vote on a plan to use TCID as a first step governing body. It already exists and can be utilized for a transition to incorporation. This will be on the ballot this November. To vote, one must be a registered voter. An education campaign has begun on how the resident will be able to deduct their association fees in their tax return of 2008. This can be accomplished by changing the association fee to a TCID tax structure, levied by the county. It will also contain a poison pill, so to speak, to remove the sales tax as a target for financial gain through invocation of Houston's jurisdictional right to annex The Woodlands. For this to be effective, the sales tax needs to be the full 2%. 4) Exist as a special tax district (TCID) until incorporation is possible. This will occur about 2011 when we should start planning for a municipality government for 2014 or later. To be a city, there is much planning ahead, including development of facilities and developing a reasonable governing plan. Shall we have a Mayor or a Business Manager? How would we distribute council representatives and how many? There will be many questions to answer. We need some time to work all this out. 5) Finally comes incorporation with city ordinances and self determination for the quality of life we expect coupled with appropriate governance to ensure our value system. This requires sufficient representation for us to make decisions for the good of the whole and the good of each village or neighborhood.