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.  

No comments: