Wednesday, September 26, 2007

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Junior Member

VOICE PAC uses the slogan "Vote for 1, 2 and 3 to Set The Woodlands Free". Catchy, maybe, but also dishonest don't you think? Propositions 1 and 2 are necessary to remove the threat of annexation; proposition 3 is the imposition of an advalorem tax that has absolutely NOTHING to do with The Woodlands "freedom".

I've talked to some of the VOICE PAC people about this. At first they tried to give some bogus explanation, but as soon as they figured out I had done my research and knew what I was talking about, they actually admitted prop 3 did not relate to the annexation issue and didn't really free The Woodlands from anything, but it was necessary so TCID could fund "everything". I asked if they had any conflict with promoting misleading information and they said no because it helped people tie the three propositions together in the voting booth and that's what is best for The Woodlands.

I hear the proponents keep telling those of us who have doubts not to worry because the leadership consists of honest, trustworthy people with lots of integrity. I can't help but ask, then, why do they feel the need to mislead the voting public? If proposition 3 is so good for The Woodlands, why not let it stand on its own merits instead of lumping it in with the annexation issue? Surely the truth is more important than a rhyming slogan.

Any VOICE PAC members or supporters out there? Do you think the slogan is appropriate? Do you believe it meets the definition of integrity?

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