Tax rate cut, future of $1.8M mounted patrols among topics at The Woodlands budget meetings

The Woodlands Township board of directors
The Woodlands Township board of directors concluded budget workshop meetings Aug. 6. (Courtesy The Woodlands Township)

The Woodlands Township board of directors concluded budget workshop meetings Aug. 6. (Courtesy The Woodlands Township)

Budget meetings for fiscal year 2020-21 began Aug. 3 in The Woodlands Township, where the board of directors arrived at a proposed tax rate midway through the week. Fiscal years in The Woodlands run from January to December.

The proposed tax rate of $0.2231 per $100 valuation is the effective tax rate, or the rate needed to generate the same amount of property tax revenue as the previous year. The current tax rate for FY 2019-20 is $0.2240 per $100 valuation. Each cent of the tax rate represents $2.11 million, according to information from the township.

As part of the discussion, the board of directors evaluated requests from various departments and discussed the future of several services in the township.

Alpha & Omega Mounted Patrol

The board on Aug. 5-6 addressed additional needs in the The Woodlands Fire Department, the parks department, law enforcement and the perceived need for the contracted mounted patrol services provided by Alpha & Omega Mounted Patrol in areas such as The Woodlands Mall.

Board members took varying stances on the patrol services, with some advocating for the sense of security the patrol brings and others saying that the $1.78 million in funds allocated for the contract could be more efficiently used elsewhere.

“I don’t see, in these challenging times, removing something that is an asset and a deterrent to crime in our community,” Director Ann Snyder said during the Aug. 5 meeting.

Benefits of the mounted patrol service cited by board members include their performing car alarm checks, assisting law enforcement and providing a community security presence as well as crowd control.

Board discussion also touched on what other technologies and methods could be available to provide added security. The possibility of adding other law enforcement officers or park rangers instead of continuing the mounted service was also floated.

“When I was in the military in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, we had individuals that patrols the perimeter fence 24/7, and today, they use drones to do that,” Director Bob Milner said in the Aug. 5 meeting. “So I believe that there are some opportunities here to think about what the future may look like.”

The discussion continued Aug. 6, and the board ultimately decided that while the money was in the budget for the service, the details of the contract could be worked out at a later date and changed if needed. The funds could be used for other services, such as additional law enforcement officers, if that seemed a more effective use of the funds, they said.

"No one wants to compromise safety," Vice Chair Bruce Rieser said. "It’s not an issue of defunding anything. It’s looking at ways we can enhance the security in areas where we think there are tools that can help us with some of the items that occupy a considerable amount of A&O’s time."

Departmental needs, budget initiatives

In its Aug. 5 discussions, the board approved budget initiatives to increase the sales tax reserve by 5% to 10% in each budget cycle and to retire a portion of callable debt, among other items.

The board did not approve initiatives for several fire department requests for additional staff.

Several proposed positions were not approved Aug. 5, including proposals for a battalion chief with a salary of about $155,000; a fire department lieutenant with a $129,000 salary; converting a part-time fire specialist to full-time with a $47,250 salary increase; and similarly converting a fire fleet technician with a $40,000 increase.

"I think it's a time to figure out a way to do more with a little less," Milner said.

Chair Gordy Bunch said that although Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds may be available for some costs, they cannot support long-term, ongoing expenses.

“I share that with the fire chief to make sure he understood,” he said. “We love you; [we] want to be as supportive as we can; but when you’re looking at a 3.5% revenue [cap], if you extrapolate these out, it paints a very different picture.”

On Aug. 6, the board also discussed a need for $14.1 million worth of work to fire department facilities, including reconstruction Station No. 5 and improving Stations Nos. 3 and 4.

However, those would likely need to be included in a future bond issue, Bunch said.

Additionally, the board approved using $200,000 in the budget that had been slated for law enforcement pay increases to go toward other staff and firefighter pay increases. The law enforcement raises for Montgomery County Sheriff's Office personnel will not be implemented because the county did not increase those salaries as expected, township officials said. Bunch proposed those funds instead go toward raises for local staff and for firefighters.

Because the proposed tax rate is also the effective tax rate, the board will not need to hold a public hearing on it and can adopt it at the next regular board meeting Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. Meetings are currently being held via video conference.
By 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 that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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