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.

1 comment:

Steph said...

Could you put a link to http://www.TalkofTheWoodlands.com on the Resources section of your website? I complied with your request for a link on 7Oct07 and thought that you would be adding one here.