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!   

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