Incorporation, law enforcement top resident concerns at The Woodlands Township meeting

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The Woodlands Township’s ongoing incorporation study—particularly its transition plan for law enforcement services and the status of the plan itself—continues to draw residents to its monthly board of directors meetings, but officials said a vote on incorporation is not expected to happen this year.

Several citizens spoke on the topic during the public comment portion of the township’s board of directors meeting Feb. 21, questioning the feasibility of public safety proposals made by groups consulting on the incorporation process. While agreeing with several points raised, board members also urged patience and noted that plans are still preliminary and a final vote on incorporation is likely more than a year away.

“It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we get an agreement with the county that provides our current public safety officers certainty of their employment, our community certainty of its initial services post-incorporation,” board of directors Chairman Gordy Bunch said. “We’re happy to have everybody going along with us, and we have a lot of time.”

Discussion at the meeting centered on a draft law enforcement proposal Bunch presented at a Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting earlier this month. The draft modeled a four-year transition from 100 percent county-funded law enforcement to a force completely funded by The Woodlands, with a hybrid city-county force in the interim years after incorporation.

Director Bruce Rieser said the township is prohibited from setting up its own police force before an incorporation vote, necessitating the use of some form of a hybrid model during a potential transition.

Citizens voiced concern over how that interim period might play out, and Bunch said that he also wants further analysis on the effects of an autonomous or hybrid police force ahead of a possible vote on incorporation. But he maintained that there is still plenty of time to refine the idea.

“We’re all going in the same direction,” he said. “I think one of the things that has driven a lot of the urgency around this is the thought that somehow this was going to be a November [2019] ballot initiative. I think I can safely say from at least my one vote it’s not.”

Bunch said he would prefer to see a high-turnout election date in 2020 or 2022 if incorporation comes to a public vote.

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