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!