A major contributing factor to the proposed increase is a projected lack of growth in the township’s sales tax revenue, said Monique Sharp, assistance general manager of finance and administration for The Woodlands Township.
Other factors include an increase of $1.6 million in its solid waste contract and an increase of $1.1 million in its streetscape maintenance costs, since the township is assuming responsibility for costs previously borne by The Woodlands Development Corp.
The board met the week of Aug. 12 to determine which budget initiatives would be included in the final proposed budget package. Among the items included are financial and staff support for suicide and gun violence prevention and awareness; funding for a playground at Bear Branch Park; park renovations; a variety of recreational amenities; a fund for a possible performing arts center; and funds for the township’s bond redemption reserve for future debt retirement, Sharp said. It is also including money for the police department to acquire license plate readers and make several vehicle replacements as well as for the fire department to acquire gear and vehicles.
To balance the budget, the township will establish a $2.5 million sales tax reserve to account for the current volatility of sales tax revenue, Sharp said. It also reduced the number of new staff positions to be added overthe next five years, used existing reserve balances to fund some operating and capital expenditures and redirected funding from its Economic Development Reserve to a Capital Replacement Reserve.
Director Ann Snyder said after the presentation she had reconsidered her position on the sales tax rate increase, and asked the board to consider scenarios without any increase.
Chairman Gordy Bunch said the projections do not take into account the uncertain future of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which is being acquired by Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. this year. That could further affect tax revenue if the company decides not to stay in The Woodlands, he said.
Bunch said the township is built out and the tax base is not going to grow at the same rate moving forward.
“We’re going to see very [few] incremental increases on new properties,” Bunch said. “You’re going to be here in 12 months … looking at [a tax rate] increase,” he said. “Not having new construction properties added to the tax rolls [will] make [the township] different.”
Several residents encouraged the board to instead adopt the effective tax rate, which would generate the same amount of revenue earned in the previous year.
Resident Mark Owen of Cochran’s Crossing said he feels the board will eventually have to grapple with the need to deal with increased expenses given lower revenue.
“I think you went through a very transparent process,” Owen said. “We may not be able to cover increased expenses all the time with tax increases. We have to open up the discussion that maybe we have to give up some amenities.”
After the public hearing, during the township's regular meeting, another speaker urged the board to prioritize law enforcement in its budgeting. She said she was a victim of a violent purse-snatching incident outside the Dillard's at The Woodlands Mall several months ago.
A second public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 4 at 2801 Technology Forest Blvd., The Woodlands. The meeting to adopt the 2019 tax rate and 2020 budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at the same location.