The Woodlands Township board says more study needed before decision on incorporation vote

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The Woodlands Township board of directors said more time is needed before its incorporation study can yield conclusive answers about issues such as the cost of law enforcement services, but members of the board reiterated incorporation itself is not likely to go before voters this year.

“This is not a 2019 ballot initiative,” board Chairman Gordy Bunch said at the Feb. 27 board meeting. “None of us are seeing this being completed any time soon.”

The Novak Consulting Group, which is conducting the township’s incorporation study, reported the cost for a hybrid law enforcement model—a topic that has drawn strong public interest—is among the factors still under development. A hybrid law enforcement model would consist of a combination of a municipal police department and county contracts. The township currently contracts with Montgomery and Harris counties’ law enforcement agencies.

Board Vice Chairman John McMullan said the area he has gotten the most pushback on regarding the incorporation study is the potential costs for law enforcement, noting there are gaps between The Woodlands projections for law enforcement costs and other benchmark cities.

“We need to spend the time and the money to drill down on that,” he said on the policing numbers.

Other points addressed in Novak’s presentation were the potential costs of a public works department and an animal control department.

Novak estimated a public works department would cost $4.6 million annually and include 34 full-time equivalent employees. It would also require $16.8 million in one-time capital costs for equipment, land acquisition and facility construction.

Animal control, currently provided at the county level, would cost $681,000 annually with seven full-time employees, and startup costs would include $175,000 for vehicles and equipment, representatives with Novak said.

The effect of other elements on the incorporation financial model, such as the use of a franchise fee, are not yet clear, Bunch said later in the meeting.

Pros and cons

In discussing the “pros and cons” of incorporation, Novak Consulting Group President Julia Novak said there was no empirically correct answer to the question of whether to incorporate.

Novak said The Woodlands would have greater self-determination powers and recognition as a governmental entity, but it would also have greater responsibility and a financial burden it does not currently carry.

Director Ann Snyder said she wants to keep the unique character of The Woodlands Township in mind as the board moves forward with the discussion.

“I’m not suggesting we don’t have a plan [for incorporation], but perhaps we don’t need to be like everyone else,” she said.

Director Bruce Rieser said incorporation, if voters approved it, would not mean the community losing its identity.

“To Ann’s point, while we may have a government structure that would be similar to other communities in Texas, that does not mean The Woodlands would be like every community in Texas,” he said.

Resident concerns

Several residents expressed concerns about a possible future incorporation election both before and after the Novak presentation.

Former Director Mike Bass said he feels attention should be paid to the potential future costs of incorporation.

“I think we need to be honest and clear with people on if we’re going to talk about the pros and cons of incorporation,” Bass said. “Let’s talk about it in the context of why now or why in the foreseeable future. That’s a different set of pros and cons, and that’s what people need to understand. We list a lot of revenue sources that are pros, but they don’t talk about the con of the increased cost of incorporation.”

Steve Leakey, president of the Voter Awareness Council, a local nonprofit group, spoke after the presentation, discussing the need for voter education before the issue is put on the ballot. He shared a handout with the board suggesting the township have at least 50 percent of registered voters state they are well enough informed on the topic to vote, before placing the issue on the ballot.

The next incorporation planning session is scheduled at 6 p.m. March 27.

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Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of the paper in March 2017.
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