ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS RAISED AT THE OCTOBER 27 PRESENTATION OF INCORPORATION STRAIGHT TALK
At the October 27, 2021 presentation of Incorporation Straight Talk, two questions were asked by attendees to which neither Ted nor Walter had the answers. We promised to provide answers to these questions. The questions and answers are:
1. Will the results of the election to incorporate The Woodlands be audited?
The Texas Election Code is long and complicated. The Texas Secretary of State is in charge of elections and has published “Procedures to Request and Conduct a Recount”. You can find this publication on the internet at https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/recounts.shtml. This publication describes who can request a recount and under what circumstances. A recount is not automatic. The circumstances described in the Procedures must occur and an eligible person or political action committee identified in the Procedures must request a recount. Walter could not find the use of the word “audit” in the Election Code.
2. How far from the intersection of Woodlands Parkway and FM 2978 will be the intersection of the proposed Woodtrace Parkway and FM 2978?
During Walter’s remarks, he stated that the intersection of proposed Woodtrace Parkway and FM 2978 was 2.5 miles from the intersection of Woodlands Parkway and FM 2479. An attendee said no, the intersection would be 1,000 feet from the Woodlands Parkway – FM 2479 intersection. Walter contacted Commissioner Riley’s office and asked him the question. Bruce Berger of Commissioner Riley’s office responded and said that the proposed Woodtrace Parkway – FM 2978 intersection will be a quarter of a mile (which is 1,320 feet) from the Woodlands Parkway – FM 2978 intersection. Berger also said that there is already an intersection at that location controlled by a traffic light. So, hats off to the attendee who had a more correct estimate of the distance.
INCORPORATION ISSUES AND STATEMENTS BY ANTI-TOWNSHIP FOLKS
TRUE or FALSE?
We have seen these statements made by “pro-city”- “anti-Township” Directors or others.
(hint: They are all FALSE!)
- FALSE STATEMENT: We need to incorporate to avoid becoming part of Houston or Conroe.
Houston and Conroe cannot annex us against our will. We are protected by contract until 2057 and thereafter by legislation. No matter how often annexation is used to scare our residents, it just is no longer a threat.
2. FALSE STATEMENT: There were multiple “triggers” to start incorporation planning.
The single trigger (a serious problem that could not be solved by the parties discussing, by contract, by litigation or by legislation) was the proposed extension of The Woodlands Parkway and was resolved by parties talking to each other. It was never truly a trigger, but an excuse.
3. FALSE STATEMENT: Cities in Montgomery County were entitled to a specific amount from CARES Act.
This false claim was repeated for over a year, based on a faxed worksheet with no cover sheet that merely showed mathematical calculations for various per capita reimbursements. There is no provision that entitles The Woodlands to any given amount from the counties. From the start, The Woodlands was instructed to work with the counties to obtain reimbursement, since each county established its own procedures based on the needs in the county.
4. FALSE STATEMENT: The Woodlands was denied CARES ACT funds from Harris and Montgomery County because we were not a city.
Harris County and Montgomery County treated The Woodlands like a city. We received $715,000 from Harris County to reimburse for March 2020 Covid-related Fire Dept. personnel expenses. We received $244,199 from Montgomery County to reimburse for Covid-related expenses – more than any other city and 3-times as much as Conroe, the next largest city recipient.
5. FALSE STATEMENT: The City of The Woodlands will give seniors and disabled-property taxpayers a tax freeze.
The new City Council of The City of The Woodlands MAY, but is not required to, adopt the permanent Senior Tax Freeze. There will be some period of transition before a City Council is elected and established. Current Board leadership soundly rejected Director McMullan’s proposed temporary increase to the Homestead Exemption a couple years ago. While the exemption would have applied to all taxpayers on their primary residences, the Senior Tax Freeze will create a revenue shortfall that benefits only those 65+ and will penalize those under 65 years old, including young families. There is no income or wealth test to qualify for the tax freeze.
6. FALSE STATEMENT: The Township is already providing the law enforcement in The Woodlands.
Currently, the bulk of the law enforcement expenses are borne by the counties since The Woodlands is an unincorporated part of the counties. Both Harris and Montgomery County provide supervisors above the rank of Sergeant; Specialty Investigators (Narcotics, Human Trafficking, Auto Theft, Major Cases and Internal Affairs); SWAT Teams; Canine Teams; Victims Services; Crime Lab; Crime Scene; Property/Evidence; Dispatch; Policy and Planning/Accreditation; Quartermaster; Crime Data Analysis; Records Management; Recruitment and Training; and Media/Communications. The counties also provide and maintain vehicles and equipment (except for some recent Montgomery County vehicles), house all personnel and functions in appropriate facilities and provide the administrative backup required for Technology, Human Resources, Finance and Legal/Liability assistance. The counties fully fund the jail, Magistrate Court and Animal Control. In addition, Montgomery County provides 22.5 FTEs (20 sworn officers and 2.5 civilians). So, the bulk of law enforcement comes from our county property taxes. Over the years, The Township negotiated contracts to pay Harris County and Montgomery County for additional personnel to enhance county-provided law enforcement and to ensure that officers were dedicated to Creekside (Harris County) or the other villages (Montgomery County). The 2021 forecast for these contracts is $11.5M.
7. FALSE STATEMENT: We just can’t say whether the mandatory Franchise Fee will come out of resident’s pockets and businesses budgets.
The Franchise Fee is a pass-through tax. Utility customers pay the utility and the utility pays the same to the city. We now know that all but $1M of the 7.6M Franchise Fees used to determine the maximum tax rate on the ballot will be NEW charges to utility customers.
8. FALSE STATEMENT: There will be no financial impact of incorporation on the residents and businesses of The Woodlands.
The Woodlands Township Board of Directors proposed an initial rate of .2231 cents per $100 of assessed value of residential and commercial property for the first year of incorporation. They are able to do this because of several factors. The first and most obvious is the Incorporation Reserve Fund which they have built up over several years. They were able to build funds (in excess of $20 million) using taxes paid by residents of The Woodlands. In essence we have previously been overtaxed in order to offset any “real” current cost or financial impact of incorporation at this time.
Additionally, the TWT board proposed to use franchise fees ($7+ million), permit costs, penalties and fines as additional revenue to offset the cost of incorporation. These monies are not currently paid by residents across the board, but once levied and collected can have a significant negative financial impact on many residents.
9. FALSE STATEMENT: If we incorporate, we can ban big trucks from The Woodlands Parkway.
The latest attempt by PRO-city Board members to find a reason to incorporate – banning big trucks on The Woodlands Parkway is just as lame as the previously rejected reasons. While it is true there is a process to establish Truck Routes within a city, they are not practical in The Woodlands and there are limitations on the city’s authority to do so.