Montgomery County Commissioners Court Hears Presentation on Incorporation Transition Proposal
On Tuesday morning, February 12th, The Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch gave a presentation to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to provide an update on the status of the Township’s incorporation planning process and request consideration of a potential agreement for the transition of services from Montgomery County to The Woodlands.
Bunch noted that the Township has not yet completed its incorporation study. Upon completing the study and holding public forums to educate and consider feedback from The Woodlands residents, the Township board will decide whether or not to move forward with an election for residents to vote on whether or not The Woodlands should incorporate into a city any time soon.
The transition proposal included the transfer of provisions and costs of two services that Montgomery County currently provides to The Woodlands: road maintenance and law enforcement. In the event of a vote to incorporate, The Woodlands would be responsible for these services.
“Our co-constituents are currently receiving services from the county that at a time that they would vote to incorporate would need to be transitioned orderly from the county to the new city…We have a draft agreement which lays out the services that the county currently provides, how we believe they can be transitioned over a three year period, and allows the county to transfer the costs from the county budget to the future city [of The Woodlands] budget, provides for orderly transition and stability for county employees, and also allows the public safety and public services to be continued to our co-constituents,” said Bunch to the court.
Bunch explained that the Township’s transition proposal suggests that Montgomery County continue to pay for 100% of The Woodlands’ roadway maintenance through the first year following incorporation, after which roadway maintenance in The Woodlands would be 100% funded by The Woodlands thereafter. The proposal also suggests that Montgomery County continue to pay for 100% of law enforcement in The Woodlands through the first year following incorporation, after which The Woodlands would fund 33% in the second year, 66% in the third year, and the full cost thereafter.
Bunch stated that The Woodlands incorporating and the Township’s transition proposal would be a good deal for Montgomery County. Montgomery County would continue to receive the same amount of property taxes from The Woodlands while having to provide fewer services to The Woodlands. “Not only is [The Woodlands] becoming a municipality inuring to the benefit of the county from a long term budget perspective, but that benefits every constituent in the county,” he described.
Following Bunch’s presentation, Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, whose precinct contains most of The Woodlands, commented on the success of The Woodlands as a master-planned community.
The Woodlands is one of the best master-planned communities in the country. The success that it enjoys is because of the very people who chose to live, work, play, and pray in The Woodlands. This one-time bedroom community has transformed from a vision created by a larger-than-life Texas oil man to a thriving Township that benefits from a regional participation agreement protecting it from annexation until 2057.
While free from the burdens of roads, bridges, municipal courts and other city functions, the Township is able to focus on quality of life issues such as covenant enforcement, enhancing already amazing amenities, further development of its ISO 1 rated fire department, and so much more.
Some say the Township enjoys the best of both worlds, that it is able to levy and collect ad valorem property taxes, has a unique use of hotel occupancy tax, and collects sales tax much like a city, yet the municipal type functions are provided by the county. Some say this agreement leaves the Township vulnerable and ultimately unable to protect its interests.
In the end, as Chairman Bunch said…The people [of The Woodlands] will vote, their voices will be heard, and they will decide if they want to become a city.
Noack highlighted the importance of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court and The Woodlands Township working together throughout the process and proposed that the two entities hold a joint workshop to answer any questions their co-constituents may have.
Bunch also asked the commissioners for any data they have on annual maintenance costs of roads within The Woodlands to consider in the Township’s financial analysis on the costs of incorporation. Noack suggested that they use an annual cost of $5,000,000 as that is about what the county spends now for road maintenance within The Woodlands. Currently, The Woodlands Township’s financial analysis draft predicts it will spend $800,000- to $1,800,000 for roadway maintenance and $2,717,000 for a public works department each year in the five years following a potential incorporation. Noack also explained that as an incorporated city, The Woodlands would have to pay to purchase new equipment to maintain its roads or contract with the county to borrow theirs. The Township’s financial analysis draft currently predicts the cost to purchase the equipment necessary to maintain its roads to be $4,970,000.
When asked by Noack what issues have triggered the move towards a potential vote on incorporation, Bunch cited the control of roads, greater flood relief funding advocacy, $1,000,000 in liquor tax revenues, the ability to freeze property taxes for those 65 and older, and the ability to enforce fireworks bans and adopt new laws. Ultimately, Bunch said incorporation is about self-government.“There is a strengthening for the community to be self-governed under a municipality. There are also inherent dangers. Yes, there’s an increase in cost, and there’s also what occurs in other cities that you wouldn’t want to occur here should they vote to incorporate… the residents of our community will write their own rules…the people can be in charge of themselves."
The Montgomery County Commissioners Court decided not to move forward with the Township’s transition proposal during Tuesday’s meeting to avoid binding future Montgomery County Commissioners to any obligations, but agreed to follow up with an executive session and public workshops on incorporation in The Woodlands.
Following Bunch’s presentation, two concerned Woodlands residents gave public comment.
One resident said she moved to The Woodlands in 2008 from a community in Atlanta that was undergoing the incorporation process, explaining, “It’s given me a lot of concern as I see this now in The Woodlands going towards the same possible conclusion. The biggest problem in that was transparency. A lot of things fell out of that…in Sandy Spring, Georgia that were not made clear to us as residents and as business owners and working citizens… I see the same lack of transparency here as well, and that gives me a lot of concern…I would like to see a little bit more open dialogue…”
Another resident cited concerns about incorporation with regard to property taxes increasing and questioned the political motivations of those who seem to be rushing toward incorporation.“I moved to The Woodlands in 1978, and as a Montgomery County resident who expects as CISD becomes a Chapter 41 District in the next year or so and it enters the state recapture program sending our tax dollars to other districts, I want assurances that our taxes are not going to go up to make up that difference, be it through county tax, city tax, or hidden franchises,” she stated.
“I’m also concerned about what political motivations may be at play when there’s no obvious reason to rush into incorporation and conservatives aren’t supposed to raise taxes and grow government. What personal political motivations are there to break the long held political ideology? So, as a suggestion, anybody that serves on the Township Board could say that they would not run for those positions," she continued. “I’ve lived here a long time, I’ve watched it grow, and I don’t want anything to change this awesome community we live in. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."
A full video of Tuesday, February 12th’s Montgomery County Commissioners Court can be found here.
Information provided by The Woodlands Township regarding the potential incorporation of The Woodlands including FAQs, a video of the community forum, and a document library can be found here.
The Township usually holds a public incorporation planning session each month and encourages residents to attend. Videos of past meeting can be found here.