The Woodlands board, unable to agree on tax rate, sets new date for adoption

The Woodlands Township board of directors met for a regular meeting Sept. 19.

The Woodlands Township board of directors met for a regular meeting Sept. 19.

The Woodlands Township board of directors failed to approve its 2019 property tax rate at a special meeting Sept. 12 despite the six members present voting on three different rates over the course of the meeting.

Of the three tax rates presented, one would maintain the same overall property tax rate—which includes both maintenance and operations as well as debt service rates—at a total of $0.2273 per $100 property valuation; one would have been a quarter-cent increase, at $0.23 per $100 valuation; and one would have adopted the effective tax rate of $0.2240 per $100 valuation. The vote held was only on the maintenance and operations portion of the tax rate.

The effective tax rate is one which generates the same amount of tax revenue as the previous year.

Chairman Gordy Bunch was not present at the meeting. Among the members present, the lower two tax rates failed on a 3-3 tie, and the higher tax rate failed 4-2.

“We’re stuck,” board of directors Vice Chairman John McMullan said. “The path forward is to schedule another meeting.”

The board tentatively chose Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. for a meeting at which all seven members can be present. If the vote was held at any later date—such as before the scheduled regular township meeting Sept. 19—it would need to republish notice of the action, Montgomery County Tax Assessor/Collector Tammy McRae said.

McRae told the board at the meeting if it does not establish a tax rate by Sept. 30, the effective tax rate will be set. Although the final deadline by statute to set the budget is Sept. 30, McRae said she needs the rate by Sept. 18 in order to prepare the materials before the deadline.

"We’d like to have the rate adopted by the 18th or as soon as possible," McRae said.

"I’m a little .. surprised, frankly, that we spent four days comprehensively going through this budget, and everybody accepted the assumptions that were made and those assumptions have not changed," Director Bruce Rieser said during the meeting.

The board held budget workshops in mid-August during which the $0.23 tax rate was proposed as a solution to the township's projected increased costs and lower sales tax revenue, among other financial challenges.

Director Ann Snyder she had indicated a change of heart about supporting a higher tax rate at the first public hearing on the budget in August.

"I think I feel comfortable with the effective rate," Snyder said.

Rieser disagreed.

"I think we’re digging a hole we’re going to have a real tough time digging ourselves out of," he said.

Other board members weighed in on the discussion from several points of view.

Director John Brown, who made a motion to keep the current tax rate, said he was against lowering the rate to the effective rate because it would have to go back up again in a subsequent year.

"You can cut so far back until there's no more to cut," said Director Brian Boniface, who made the motion to vote on the higher $0.23 tax rate. "For a $5 million house you’re looking at a $5 [monthly tax bill] increase."

Director Carol Stromatt said she felt residents had asked the board to tighten its belt.

"It makes a bigger difference to a person who has the $250,000 house, even if it’s only $15 [annually]," Stromatt said.

Despite disagreeing on the tax rate, the board voted 5-1 to adopt the 2020 budget. The Woodlands Township's fiscal year runs from January to December.

The 2020 budget includes $130 million in revenues and $127 in expenditures. Among the increases expected next year are an additional $1.6 million in the township's solid waste contract and an increase of $1.1 million in its streetscape maintenance costs.

McMullan was the dissenting vote on the budget, noting that there were several changes he would have liked to see in the budget before its final form.

“I would have liked to see us pay down rather than refinance the debt,” he said.


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