Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Results for The Woodlands 2016

The Township residents have voted for self-control and against blocking incorporation through promises and scare tactics by big-money candidates. Some idealistically voted against those who used big-money to fight their opponents, raising the bar on the amount of money required to fund a candidacy for the Township Board of Directors. Voters chose residents from the ballot, who have vowed to be conservative and inclusive but aggressive in determining our future. I consider this a victory for residents and a loss for the corporations, which want to expand The Woodlands and our roads towards our West.  We will know later this year who exactly financed the effort to block our initiative for incorporation and who even invaded our privacy by advertising on our phones. Ethical issues were raised in this election. We need to address those issues with our state congress.  

In the meanwhile, the Commentary looks forward to anticipated progress in establishing a path to incorporation or whatever we end up calling our legal status, as a result of electing willing candidates. The process is sure to be methodical and conservative.

Many thanks to those who worked for this success. Special gratitude is expressed to the Patriots PAC and its president Julie Turner, who worked tenaciously to support the candidates they thought deserved to be elected.

The Woodlands Township Position No. 1
Amy Lampman
Gordy Bunch
Bob Leilich

The Woodlands Township Position No. 2
Mike Bass
Brian Boniface
The Woodlands Township Position No. 3
John Anthony Brown
Stuart L. Schroeder
The Woodlands Township Position No. 4
Bruce Rieser
Chris Grice

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Fire, the Cause and the Lie

You are my 911 call today. There is a fire in the woods. Residents of The Woodlands need your vote. There is a "70%" lie on signs and in advertisements, costing some $244,000+.  The controversy of the lies is a fire literally roaming in our neighborhoods. The lies surround a claim that you need to vote against a 70%+ rise in property taxes. The 70% claim is nothing but a scare tactic.

As I mentioned in the last post of the commentary, the financials of this effort are crazy. First, we do not even know the parameters of incorporation and second, we do not know how much it will cost because it is not defined, nor the financial assessment for taxes. There is also no law supporting our incorporation. There are several variables that determine the cost. One critical factor is how we would define incorporation. Secondly, what problems are we trying to solve. Third, what are the risks involved and how much risk we want to take.

I think most people recognize and understand that when the Tea Party considers candidates, it looks into cost and what is good value for the residents. Value is the only way to look at government change or decisions. A dramatic lie like this one is not the way to look at it. "The Woodlands Concerned Taxpayer PAC" continues to tell these lies, as if residents can't see through it. One thing for sure, most of our residents are pretty darn smart. New voters however may not have sufficient exposure to local politics to know who are backing the developers' PAC, which is financing the candidates against incorporation.

It is very important to put your thinking hat on and expose the lie in your own mind. I believe that we have several big problems that can be solved only with legislation. Incorporation is one solution alternative and status quo, another. Are there others? I have not seen anyone look at that yet. I believe we can define incorporation such that we continue to contract services, rent existing facilities and build nothing. We should be able to operate on what we defined for taxes for the Township. The public agreed we could have taxation at $0.32 per $1000 property valuation when we voted for the Township model. Returning to that would be a modest 39% raise in Woodlands taxes. A far cry from 70+%! Now keep in mind that the signs and brochures don't tell you anything about where that number 70 came from. The candidates and PAC also say that the average cost of incorporation would amount to $57,000 for the average taxpayer. Everything they say is inflated and designed to scare residents. Who in  their right mind would compute average cost anyway? For the aggregate of people in The Woodlands, any meaningful statistic would be for the median value, not the average. That is too much. You can easily compute your own, as I did. Assume a 40% rise in your Woodlands tax rate $0.23 to $0.32).  Now saying that, I want to be perfectly clear, unlike the opponents of incorporation. That number is a guess based on discussions I have had with others. $0.32 would make a good logical cost constraint in my mind. But that could be inflated up a little to account for economic inflation from when we initially voted for the township.

Assuming we can define incorporation and accomplish the needed services to protect our community from being a county conduit of traffic, and do it within the financial limits that I have noted, I calculated my own taxes. That was $185/year rise, or 39% increase. For under $20/month, I would retain the quality of life that I demand here. I predict that it will take three years from now to be able to incorporate, if we started working on it now. We would require legislation to enable incorporation. To do that, we first have to define incorporation for us.

So for the next 37 years, it would cost me, including compounded interest, some $18,000 more than the 2017 $0.23 tax rate. I am confident that amount would easily be recovered from probable devaluation loss due to the noise, the traffic and the general discontent of the residents of The Woodlands caused by not being a city. I call it "house insurance". The logic of the opposing PAC includes comparisons of tax rates with other nearby cities. The trouble with that is - we have an HOA upkeep contract on our residences included in our government model. Other cities typically do not. Each neighborhood has their own HOA rules and those regulations cost money to enforce, folks. We are able to include all of our property taxes in IRS returns (including HOA expenses) of The Woodlands residents, since it is all bundled into our property taxes.

Since the candidates on the slate of the corporate PAC are not showing any interest in protecting our community from devaluations of the future, I advise residents to not vote for them. The Woodlands Concerned Taxpayers want residents to be blocked from moving forward. Translated, that means we would not be represented. They would likely define incorporation, establish higher costs than we would want, and then elect not to vote on it. Even if they did allow us to vote, we would likely not have the opportunity to participate. I would not trust them at all, because they are financially supported by the PAC and their election essentially bought. So instead of protecting our community, they might even spend money irresponsibly to avoid incorporation. That is in a nutshell, how I feel this will progress should they be elected.

We need creative conservative thinking and action to get us to where we should already be in government. Having a unique form of Texas government prevents us from being included with other cities in regional planning issues. It just makes sense for us to be on equal footing with surrounding cities.

So vote for the  Gordy Bunch (who has had a tremendous term in office since elected and is the most creative thinker on the Board), Brian Boniface, John Anthony Brown, and Bruce Rieser. Electing only Mr Bunch does us little good on moving forward, because he needs more voting support on the Board of Directors. All four are excellent candidates. I had hoped to see Mike Bass help us to confront these issues, but he has abandoned his position in favor of fighting the proposal with corporate big money. He has not listened very well to residents nor asked for our opinions. We should have a government by and for the people of this community, not by and for the developers in the county.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Election 2016 - people or incorporation - confused?

If you are like me, there are robo calls, flyers in the mail, flyers on my doorstep, advertisements on TV and about everything else imaginable with "NO 70% Tax raise!" Have you looked at the ballot? The subject is not even there! Why are we then deluged with materials and interruptions to our lives? Even my phone has advertisements on the township election by the PAC against incorporation!

The answer lies in history and political nonsense. In this year of total nonsense at the top level, the local level is competing with the high level politics for time. Who can spend the most per capita? Clinton, Trump or the four candidates for The Woodlands Township, funded by a PAC organization. And who  is spending all this money? Believe it or not, we are not to know. The money comes from a Political Action Committee. We do know who the front people are in this PAC, but it will be months before we know how much they spend. So what possible reason would so much money, effort and advertisements be placed into this campaign?

We have to look at the history of The Woodlands to understand this.  First, how did we get here? We are a Township, a special unique government entity formed by the more powerful Republican politicians in Montgomery County, often known as some of the worst dealing people in Texas politics. Where promises are temporary and actions are self-centered.

Personally, I voted for the Township only to prevent us from being merged into the giant Houston city, where we would lose most of our identity and  uniqueness. Just being a subdivision of Houston was not my idea of a great place to live. After all, our sister community out to our east was consumed by Houston and the remaining bones cast out on the ground in just a moment of time. It's carcass smelled very bad, leaving many issues that took a great deal of time to iron out.

We voted to block incorporation through contracts with Houston and Conroe. As a stepping stone toward incorporation, with all the protections and benefits of a city, the Township as a stepping stone concept, seemed to be a great idea. Now, people are knocking on my door trying to get me to fight incorporation. I will do not do that, at least yet. What the Texas legislature passed for our Township model can be changed anytime by legislative action. If something disastrous prevents us from incorporating, well, we have until 2057 to solve it by contract. But corruption is pervasive and the sometimes is an elusive thing in our lives. It is never cast in stone, although protected by courts, where politics also play a role. A combination of legislative action and big city contractual moves, could put us in Houston or some other legal governmental entity in the future and perhaps without our consent.

So who is behind this costly effort? The flyers clearly state that a previous board member (a lawyer) and his father are the front people behind it. That is, they hold the keys and are guarding the palace of funding secrecy. What do they have to gain by this effort and money?  The previous board director has a personal stake in this because he sponsored the expansion of The Woodlands Parkway from FM 2978 to Hwy 149. The bond to build this with taxpayer money was overwhelmingly defeated this year. Residents here did not want to pay for developers property access and the mobility through The Woodlands for those in communities built by those developers.  Why was this project so important to this lawyer and his family? New development along the extension of the parkway is valued at $100s of millions. Guess who owns property and stands to lose investments. Always follow the money in politics. I am aware of some of the people involved in the planned development. They lie in the shadows, which should be revealed in 2017.

Along came Gordy Bunch as a candidate, who was elected as a director of the Township. When the road issue came up, he was very interested in the planning for the future extension of The Woodlands Parkway. That road is the primary east/west traffic artery for residents. Corruption seemed evident in the activities around the promotion of the county plans. Like the saying goes, "where's there is smoke, there is fire." Montgomery County planned to buy the right of way, and it was time to plan funding of the road.  Gordy led an effort to block the funding by fighting the proposed bond. It easily became evident that residents in The Woodlands would suffer from the additional auto traffic that would result. If we wanted to maintain our reputation as a master planned community, people would laugh at a freeway going through the community. Property values would take a dive, as we would witness the destruction of what we know as The Woodlands. How do we control this mobility plan, for which we have no say? How can we fight it in the future, so that The Woodlands retains its reputation as a master planned community? We have no say-so at this time, except to report to the county. We would have say if we incorporated and took control of our roads.

So studies have been made through consultants to see approximately what incorporation would cost. That would depend on how we frame incorporation. Exactly what we would HAVE to do vs what we need to do vs what we want to do? What details would he put into a project frame. How would we fund incorporation? How would taxes be determined?

The answers are not yet known. "Unscrupulous" is the word to describe the effort to block incorporation. Do not we deserve to have input on this matter? Is it the job of the directors to decide for us? Whatever happened to the caucus approach by including residents in open meetings and discussions on what we want? The Road bond had one such meeting that I attended, but at the end of the proposal and not throughout the process.  Now the residents are being asked to vote for an alliance of candidates who seek to block the residents from having a chance at incorporation. To some running for office, that is only a political election strategy, but a very dangerous one for residents.

The alliance front is called "The Woodlands Concerned Taxpayers". The idea is that by electing certain individuals, corporations can protect their investments and eventually pass a road bond to pursue expansion west at the cost of the taxpayers,e;g;, us! They do this with reverse psychology, selling the blockage of incorporation through a scare technique and saying our taxes will be raised by 70%. It is a twisted way of getting voters to run away from investigating incorporation. Let's take a quick look at that thought. When we established the Township, we agreed to the Township taxes at $0.32 per  $1,000 property valuation.  It is now at $0.23. That has been convenient for us, but not a prerequisite for the establishment of the township. That was what we thought would be the cost of avoiding annexation by Houston. $0.32 was in line with the existing community tax rate. If taxes were raised back to that in the future, it would be about a 39% increase from the 2017 approved tax rate. It is believed by that rate is quite possible as a taxpayer cost, should we decide to incorporate.

But the fact is, we have not actually got to the point of determining the cost yet, because quite frankly, it is impossible at this point  First, we have to frame the problem correctly, frame a solution and its alternatives and cost each one out. This 70% claim is simply nonsense and designed to scare you, the taxpayer.

Looking at it another way, I ask the question, what would it mean to me if Township taxes were raised by 39%? I am retired, over 65 and live in a modest home. My total property tax would increase by 8.8%. In dollars for me, it would be $185 per year, assuming a 39% increase. What would we gain by this? Perhaps control over our roads, perhaps control over noise, perhaps control of smoking in our restaurants and bars, perhaps undetermined subsidies that other cities obtain from state and federal governments. This has yet to be determined and is what I am talking about when I talk about the project frame. The frame might include a City Hall, which we probably do not need. There are many other decisions on what would or would not be in the frame. No matter what, we must be included in the decisions along the way.

For now, we have an election. I endorse voting for those candidates who will look after residents' issues, who will include us in discussion meetings and keep the cost low for the benefits we need in any incorporation effort. These resident-centric candidates are Bunch, Bonafice, Brown and Rieser! Please do not block me and my neighbors from participating in the determination of the outcome of The Woodlands, a place I adore but have been concerned about for many years. We all are concerned taxpayers. The township model of government does not allow us to reach our potential of excellence but leads us to non-essential change, like building a skating rink and the bike trails, spending millions as a developer instead of a government. Although these types of projects expand the quality of life, they are not essential to our existence. Let's work together as a community, not put people into office who want to block residents from determining their future quality of life. We have had enough of big corporations running this community!     

Additional facts to know: 
(1) Taxes cannot be raised more than 8% without a vote of the taxpayers. State law.
(2) Any change to our government will require a vote of residents.
(3) Cost of money is currently the lowest ever. Interest rates remain very low. This will very likely not be sustained in the future.
(4) The cost of construction and property now is relatively low compared to the future. Inflation will cause the cost to go up over time.
(5) There is no proposal or action in any way on the ballot to incorporate.
(6) There is of now no known way to legally incorporate our township. A community the size of ours requires legislation. It usually takes years to pass legislation in the Texas Legislature.
(7) The tax rate has been established at $0.23 for 2017. It has been steadily decreasing for years and will again decrease as the community continues to mature. It would no doubt jump somewhat when we incorporate, if we ever do.
(8) It will take years to change our government. We can save now in anticipation that it will happen and that would lower the cost of incorporation as cash flow in the future.

This is the best time to consider incorporation. In my opinion, if we wait, we will never incorporate and Houston will eventually annex us. Voting people into office because of a scare tactic is wrong. We all will suffer as a result, because the people opposing this candidate slate will be allied with the corporations, not the residents. People say they will be dead and gone long before 2057 or have moved, so why even consider it? Many people will find there are considerable benefits that need to be weighed right now, that will improve the quality of life here.  Incorporation is not just keeping Houston out, it is protecting what we have now!   

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Woodlands - Township or City?

This subject is our primary focus in the 2016 November election of four Board Directors. Just why is this an issue? I was among those who considered the original idea of a Township. The concept began in the homes of those involved in the development and promotion of the new business area of that time, known as Town Center. That would produce sales and hotel tax income for the government.

At the time, The Woodlands had been mostly a residential community of about 50 to 60 thousand with village shopping centers to support the daily lives of residents. Roads were designed and built for residents and The Woodlands businesses. Community amenities were designed and deployed for residents. The governing body was a group of home associations, tasked with maintaining amenities, enforcing deed restrictions and providing safety and emergency services to the community. At that time, those governing bodies coupled to residential volunteers seemed sufficient to keep the community operational and quality of life excellent. Suddenly, Houston started efforts to annex developed communities to their north. Of special concern was the annexation of The Woodlands twin - Kingwood. That resulted in a number of issues which we wanted no part of. The Woodlands was not yet a target of Houston, because the existing businesses would not provide sufficient revenue to justify the cost of annexation. But the writing was definitely on the wall that it would be a target in a few years. So the community took action and held meetings to find a solution to this coming threat. It sought out the issues and reasons to fight Houston. On the side, as these meetings progressed, the Town Center started their own process and went straight after a legal blocking measure by sponsoring a bill in the Texas Congress  to allow The Woodlands to form a government called a Township.

I was among those pursuing incorporation by the The Woodlands associations at that time, but decided to join the Town Center effort to negotiate with Houston and Conroe to prevent annexation, so that we who lived in The Woodlands would control our own destiny. Our Texas senator negotiated with the city of Houston and Conroe to come up with a 50 year limit for us to incorporate, if we would pay Houston and Conroe a part of our tax income. You will find articles in this blog on how I thought it all would work out. I went door to door discussing the proposal with residents for an election which was required in order to make this happen. After sweat and work, we managed as a team to get the approval of residents. Our goal was to eventually incorporate, but a Township would be a stepping stone to that goal. That stepping stone has been in place now for over 10 years. During that time, sales taxes and rising property taxes have generated enough revenue for a reduction of Township property taxes and added amenities. The Woodlands is nearing build-out; the development company has been trimming their operations down, eventually to leave the community. We will no longer be burdened with some expenses but will have others to replace those expenses. We obviously need a 5 and 10-year financial plan that assumes incorporation early in the plan.  

So from day one, I have looked forward to a better consolidated system of self determination in governing this community.  The government of The Woodlands should have control over the quality of life here. The county, hospital districts, schools, road district and water utility districts have that control now. Incorporation includes some aspects of water and county functions that currently are not included in the Township functions. These additional functions might include maintenance of some or all roads, water utility, animal control, policing (contract or employee), ordinances, and judges(elected). All miscellaneous functions associated with cities in Texas would also be possible. Examples are regional planning, regional emergency response, airport, and other possibilities not in my head at this moment.

It is presumed by some that taxes will be raised by the Board as a result of incorporation. Remember that is a presumption, not a fact. We would have to vote on incorporation before we could incorporate. No one knows how much it would cost. There was a flawed study conducted by a consultant years ago. That had a high cost. Right now, we need to assess what we want to be and cost it out. Examples: Do we need a court of law? Do we want to continue to contract out our police to the Sheriff or the constable or the school system police? There are options in every category of service. Do we want to cap what we would spend on incorporation? What are the benefits and what problems we are trying to solve? We need a clear process with reasonable expectations to determine what next steps to take and help us to decide what we want to do in the next few years. We already know that we needed control over our road plan this year. How soon is too late is now the big question.

Let's get out and try to solve our issues in this election. Vote please! Those who are against incorporation should not be on the Woodlands Township Board of Directors! Review each of the four positions and candidates for those positions with this in mind. I intend to address the election soon.

The worse thing we can do is continue to not know what it costs and what barriers we have to overcome and/or go very slow with a process. Right now capital is cheap, so we need to understand our finances and our goals as soon as we can. We may have waited too long already to take advantage of the current economic cost of capital.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Noise Measurements in The Woodlands Texas

Old News is good news? Revisiting old news can be beneficial sometimes. Noise pollution continues to be an issue here, side-by-side with The Woodlands being a traffic hub for the county. So here are the prior articles published on sound in The Woodlands. I did a two-location study several years back and published this data. It has been hidden since 2013, when I let the old URL expire. So I am making this information available in a more concise single location for reference.

Gosling Study : One day, I took measurements on Gosling, before the road was expanded to four lanes south of the Woodlands Parkway. The results were published in this article.
Traffic Noise in The Woodlands Texas - Indian Springs

Gosling Expansion :
Gosling Issues

Grogan's Mill Flyover: I was asked by a resident if I would expand my study to a location he was concerned about. It proved useful to have a second reference for the future, so I did it. This is the article on that study, before the bridge was expanded over Lake Woodlands.
Grogan's Mill Sound Study

The Woodlands Commentary is back! After a few years of being quiet, I plan to start publishing information about our community again. I let the old internet address go away (woodlandscommentary,com) and replaced it with this (