Why Does the Woodlands Need to Become a City?
THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The Township Board is entering the final phase of its Incorporation Study before it calls an election in November 2020. (Do not believe calling this election is still up in the air!). But after two years, lots of money ($1.4 million) and hundreds of pages of confusing consulting reports, a critical question is still left unanswered-Why? What is broken? What is not working? What don’t Residents like about our current governance model? All the reasons given by the Board to justify incorporation have gone up in smoke. Here is what we know:
• The Residents see no reason to incorporate. Multiple resident surveys show that 70% of the Residents see no reason to incorporate. Residents also do not wish to pay higher property taxes to become a city. These same surveys show that 85% of the Residents are very happy with the quality of the services provided today by the County, The Township and our MUDs.
• The Woodlands cannot be annexed by any city, today or in the future, unless Woodlands voters decide that is what they wish.
• The County has moved the route of the so-called Woodlands Parkway Extension outside the Township’s boundary. So much for becoming a city to stop this extension!
• We also now know that a new city does not have absolute control over its city roads. Also, the city cannot stop road extensions if the Counties believe they are important. If the County and City disagree, the question is one that would have to be settled in the courts after we become a city. Harris County has caselaw finding for the County in this situation. Voters should not be deceived into believing that incorporation will fix these issues.
• County tax rates will not go down. Whatever the County saves will be spent elsewhere.
• Today, The Township has all the powers needed to control development and mitigate flooding. The focus of The Township should be on fully exercising the powers it has today.
• The Woodlands already has most of the critical powers most communities want when they decide to incorporate, and we have achieved these benefits at a much lower cost.
Given the above, why do we need to change? Where are the benefits that will justify the significant additional costs? The Township owes The Woodlands taxpayer a true picture of the pros and cons of becoming a city.
Becoming a city will be very expensive both in terms of the additional capital (debt) needed and increased annual operating cost. But should we incorporate, we could find the actual cost to be much higher than estimated with no recourse to reverse the incorporation decision. For example:
• The Board has intentionally minimized the costs of an incorporated law enforcement program. They directed the consultants to create a hybrid policing model to avoid the pricey startup costs of a Municipal Police Department thus underestimating the cost of law enforcement. What city of our size does not have its own police department? So much for “gaining more control over our destiny.” We will still be at the mercy of the County.
• In addition, Montgomery County is already debating whether it should charge cities for their use of the County Jail, the Animal Shelter and Animal Control Services. These potential, future costs have been ignored in the current estimates.
• Likewise, the cost estimates being put forward for the maintenance and expansion of our roads do not fully include the estimates put forward by the Board’s own consultants, let alone County estimates. By my estimate, the consultants’ estimates are being understated by at least $9 million per year.
• In addition, residents will bear the increased cost of a mandatory franchise fee, the amount for which is not fully known and can be changed by the Legislature in the future.
Like any complex endeavor, there is a lot of risk with accepting the consultant’s conclusions and financial estimates, especially given that no entity of our size has attempted incorporation in Texas and that no contingency for error, omission or inaccuracy has been included in the current estimates.
Based on the above observations and others, many of my friends have said this study has been a waste of time and money. I tend to agree. However, at this point, most of the money is now a sunk cost, so we need the question of incorporation to go to a vote in November 2020. The issue needs to be settled, at least for the foreseeable future. Independent of what our Board and their consultants say, all The Woodlands residents will need to educate ourselves. Hopefully, voters will reach the conclusion that little or nothing will be gained by incorporation and any benefit is overwhelmingly outweighed by the risks and costs of such a drastic and unnecessary change. Vote No to Incorporation.
Former Township Director
The Woodlands, Texas