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The Woodlands Township Board Candidates' Views on Incorporation

by Charles Frantes

The potential incorporation of The Woodlands into a city was a main topic of discussion and a point of contention at a recent candidate forum for The Woodlands Township Board positions 5, 6, and 7 hosted by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Township Board and its consultants are nearing the completion of their study on the costs and benefits of incorporation with the goal of creating a tax rate calculator to predict how much The Woodlands property tax rate will be impacted by incorporation. Although the board has approved most of the predicted cost estimates of incorporation, it has yet to select and approve a law enforcement model and its costs for the study. After the board completes this step, it plans to finalize the tax rate calculator and vote on whether to put incorporation, along with an initial maximum property tax rate and franchise fees, on the November 2020 ballot for The Woodlands residents to vote on.​

The majority of candidates were either adamantly against incorporation or against “rushing” to incorporate in the near future, while other candidates discussed potential benefits of incorporation or took neutral stances.

Nicole Preston with Community Impact moderated the forum and asked each candidate the question, “Do you feel the Township should incorporate, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so?” Several candidates also chose to address incorporation as the main issue facing The Woodlands. Read their stances and some of their statements on incorporation from the candidate forum below.    

Position 5 Candidates:

  • Rashimi Gupta- Against incorporation in the near term
  • Shelly Sekula-Gibbs- Discussed benefits to incorporation, said let the residents decide
  • Walter Cooke- Against incorporation, sees no advantages    

Position 6 Candidates:

  • Alan Richel- Against incorporation in the near term
  • Ann K. Snyder (Incumbent)- No rush to incorporate, said let the residents decide
  • Tom Chumbley- Waiting for more information on impacts of incorporation    

Position 7 Candidates:

  • Bob Milner- Discussed benefits, said let the residents decide
  • David Cassidy-Discussed benefits and disadvantages, said let the residents decide
  • Walt Lisiewski- Against incorporation
  • Andy Dubois- Against Incorporation    

Position 5 Candidates:   

Rashimi Gupta:
“I believe that you have to look at your current situation. If there is a deficit in the budget, and moving forward we are expecting to go into deeper and deeper deficit, our responsibility right now should be to reduce expenses and look for revenue sources…If there is a surplus going forward, if there are advantages there, we may look at it, but as of today, I do not see any sense in incorporation. What will we get; more than what we have? That is a question that I would want people to consider. Yes we will be burdened with extra taxes and the fear that we will get annexed by Conroe and Houston. That is, rest aside, I’m sure you all know, we will not be annexed until 2057. So hence, while I am not for incorporation, we need to straighten up our house for today, then think of the future.”    

Shelly Sekula-Gibbs:
“Incorporation is not on the ballot this time, and our studies have not been completed. So I say at this point we should wait for the studies to be completed. We should use the data, and using best practices and analyzing the data carefully, then let the people of The Woodlands make their decision on incorporation. So what are some of the advantages if we incorporate? We become permanently autonomous if we are an independent city and others like Houston and Conroe cannot ever annex us. Right now, move ahead 38 years, Houston and Conroe can annex us and have the legal prerogative to do so. Laws that are passed after the signing of the contract that was signed in 2007 may not have any impact on that contract, and that’s part of the fundamentals of contract law. I would say that being independent and autonomous is clearly the most important thing at that time period in 2057. I think that ultimately we’ll complete the studies, give it to the people to decide, I trust the people of The Woodlands will make the right decision if given the right data; and they understand there will possibly a little increase in the property tax, but if we were ever annexed that increase would be 250% from Houston and about %180 from the City of Conroe.”        

Walter Cooke:
“I feel the Township should not incorporate at this time. There are no advantages. As Mrs. Gupta eloquently pointed out, we can’t afford it right now anyways because of the deficit budget situation. Dr. Gibbs wants us to believe we’re gonna be annexed by the City of Houston. Well, as she may know, we have a moratorium agreement with the City of Houston and the City of Conroe that prevents them from even attempting to annex until what, 2058. And Texas law now says a city cannot simply reach out and annex an area within its extra territorial jurisdiction unless the people in that area vote to be annexed. So if in 2058 if the voters of The Woodlands want to be annexed and 50% or more vote for it, well, so be it. I’m not going to be around to worry about it, quite frankly. But the will of the people will decide that question when it ever arises. Now she wants to make us believe that contract law says that the old Texas law that allowed a city to annex the area within its extra territorial jurisdiction without the vote of the people would apply because our moratorium agreements were signed before the new law went into effect. Well I’m not a dermatologist, but I am a contract lawyer, and I can tell you that is not the law, that is simply not the law because the old law will have absolutely no effect on the ability of the voters of The Woodlands in 2058 or sometime thereafter to decide on whether to be annexed by the City of Houston or Conroe.”    

Position 6 Candidates:    

Alan Richel:
I am, I don’t want to say incensed, about the push towards incorporation, but I’m a little disturbed by it. It seems to be a little perhaps self-serving and maybe presumptive in the way it’s being presented. There is no reason to rush into incorporation. As someone said we’re in a moratorium with Conroe and Houston until 2057 and on top of that the state passed a law saying that we cannot be annexed unless we vote to be annexed. Furthermore there was some things that the board did, this is part of my motivation, where they put aside a $15.1 million reserve fund for incorporation. It’s nice to have contingency, it would have been nice if that had been spent elsewhere, since we may not incorporate…  The question is, does the benefit outweigh the cost. As far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t then there’s no sense doing it. We ought to be able to keep our tax rates the same or lower and have the same or better services, otherwise I see not benefit in incorporating.    

Ann K. Snyder (Incumbent):
“My stance has always been ‘you will have to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs’. At our December meeting, Novak at that time will share the projected costs as well as share with you the finalized tax rate calculator. But, in addition to that, there will be franchise fees. A city must have franchise fees, there’s no ifs or ands. In addition to the tax increase, there will be franchise fees. The benefits of sitting on the HGAC, is it worth it? I really think there’s no rush on a personal note, and I’ve been very vocal with that. But as a board member, I think you as residents will need to decide. We have until 2057. State law in the 85th and 86th Legislative Sessions said that we as residents will vote. And if we don’t want to become a city at that time or part of Houston and Conroe, it won’t happen, and I think you all need to remember that.”    

Tom Chumbley:
“Should we incorporate, is that ever, is that right now? Right now, absolutely not. Because it’s like if you want to go buy a TV, you’d want to know how much it costs. We don’t know how much it costs. To me it’s somewhat ridiculous when you have someone come out and make a statement about ‘I want to incorporate or not incorporate’ when they don’t even have the full facts yet. And I separate the facts into three different categories. One is the legal, Amy Lecocq is here, and she’s done a great job in gathering those facts and making some of them available to people as far as the legal issues. But here’s also the political/practical and then there’s also what I call the political, and so to that extent there are people, for example I have a daughter, she is willing to pay an extra $1000 for a certain type of fender on her car. Okay, so we have certain values in The Woodlands. I’ve been knocking on doors, there’s a guy he just wanted to be a city, he had no additional criteria, no cost benefit analysis to it, it’s just that’s what he wanted. There are other people on the other end that just don’t want it… I think we have to wait until we get the information to make a decision.”    

Position 7 Candidates:    

Bob Milner:
“I think at the end of the day it’s up to the people if we should incorporate. Are there advantages? There are some protection advantages, there are some potential revenue advantages, Andy talked about the Branch Crossing road, the Gosling road extension. I think if the county would agree to take them off their current mobility plan…that there might be less pressure from residents and or people who serve on the Township Board to even consider incorporation. But since it’s still on the mobility plan, the coffees I go to in people’s homes, the village association meetings I go to, it’s very important to them. Windsor Hills does not want Gosling to be cut through the western side of their community to connect all the way to 105. They don’t want Branch Crossing ,which shows on this mobility plan to go all the way north of 1097, they also don’t want what Commissioner Riley has now moved to Mansion’s Way to create a traffic bottleneck at 2978 which will force traffic into The Woodlands Parkway extension inside The Woodlands. Yes the development company owns that property, but if we were to incorporate, the road responsibility for that property would fall under the city and not just the developers, which would require a lot more collaboration on whether or not you build could a road through those 88 acres.”    

  David Cassidy: 
So there are benefits and there are disadvantages to [incorporation] for sure. The benefits are we’ll have sovereignty over our roads, under our roads, more teeth in our covenants, a bigger say at the Houston Area Galveston Council. But at the end of the day, it’s a value thing because all those things are going to cost more. So we need to look and see are the costs and benefits going to be worthwhile. It’s going to be a hard push to convince citizens that they need to change what they’re doing when they like what we have, and then also pay more taxes for it. But, I believe fundamentally at the end of the day that self-government is something that the citizens should vote on. So as far as the board goes, if it’s a reasonable prospect that we could incorporate, I think we should let the voters decide on that. If they did, they’ll decide on the tax rate and whether to incorporate or not. If it looks like it’s going to be a Brexit sort of thing where let’s see about doing it and once we get the process going we can’t do it, I don’t want to push that forward. But I think fundamentally it’s going to be up to the voters, and we need to educate them, and I trust the voters.”     

Walt Lisiewski:
“I am not for incorporation at all; it doesn’t make any sense to me. The original concept, the original concerns of annexation are no longer there. The concerns about the Woodlands Parkway extension are no longer there. When you look at it from a business standpoint, you say what’s not working now. You know we have the fourth best city in the country, we have the best fire department in the country, we have some of the very best schools in the country, we have the best parks and recreation, so why do we want to change things. Things are working. If you put your business hat back on, if you were running this as a business and some of your people walked in and said ‘hey I just wanna spend a million and a half to prove to you that, you know, maybe we’re not as good as we think we are,’ you have to say to yourself, ‘why is that person even working here.’ There’s no reason for us to incorporate now. It’s not gonna get us anything better than what we have.”  

Andy Dubois:
“I’m running to protect our services and amenities in The Woodlands. I think they’re being threatened by incorporation. Our costs are going to be driven up, meaning we’re going to have higher taxes and we’re not going to get any more services or benefits from them. We have exceptional fire service in this community, we contract for supplemental law enforcement and it works great. We have the best parks, the best pools and the best pathways. We need to keep it that way. In terms of the costs of incorporation, law enforcement, no matter which study you look at, whether we go the route of contracting back with the county, whether we look at a hybrid police department or a full police department, it’s going to cost us more money without any more law enforcement officers. Road maintenance, they’ve already decided. It’s too costly to create our own public works department, that was at the last session, so now they’re going to contract back with the county for the same services that we already pay county taxes for. They’re not going to take in the MUDs because it’s too expensive to the residents who live in the older communities when they offset the costs from the infrastructure debt in the newer communities. So we’re not gonna have responsibility over the MUDs, or the water and sewer, or the drainage associated with MUDs, we’re not gonna take on road maintenance, so how are we gonna have sovereignty over our roads and the drainage ditches if we’re not going to take over that road maintenance? So what is the benefit of incorporation?...The big [issue] is incorporation. I think Bob is exactly right, the board can’t decide. You’ve got four sitting board members who aren’t up for reelection, who are shoving incorporation down your throat, and every session now it seems like a propaganda machine promoting incorporation. Fortunately we have many residents out here who get up and let their voices be heard, who are educated on the topic. Incorporation is the biggest issue facing us… So, I am opposed to incorporation. I don’t think we should rush it. The fact is there’s RPAs through 2057, and really forever after, based on state legislation passed in 2017 and 2015. I heard earlier we need to incorporate because we need to become autonomous. I think that’s a terrible idea. I think our great leaders through the years in this community have worked with other leaders throughout the county, region, state, and at the federal level, to make this the greatest community in the world, and we need to keep it that way. We need to work with our county leaders to ensure that we do not have a lot of cut through traffic by getting these roads we don’t want off the major thoroughfare plan, such as Branch Crossing. Branch Crossing is a connector road they’re looking at a major thoroughfare on the thoroughfare plan. It’s not gonna happen… Woodlands Parkway, [Commissioner] Riley is looking at Mansions Way to the south, the development company has property there, we need to work with our county leaders to remove those roads to work on mobility within the community. We need to work with the SJRA, the MUDs, and the county on drainage. The Woodlands has a great drainage system, we need to make sure that our surrounding areas aren’t pushing water this way. And we already pay taxes to the MUDs, to the county, and to the SJRA for flood mitigation and drainage. We don’t need to pay another taxing entity to do that.”

 A full video of the candidate forum can be viewed below:

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