On Aug. 17, The Woodlands Township board of directors approved a four-year contract extension to its current law enforcement agreement with Montgomery County starting in January 2021, which it sent back to the county for approval, hoping to remedy confusion that came to light at the Aug. 11 Commissioners Court meeting.
The matter also caused some confusion for residents. Six called during the public comment session early in the Aug. 17 meeting out of concern that the wording of the agenda item could signal the board's intent to call a vote on incorporation this year, contrary to statements made earlier in the year.
However, as the board discussed in the afternoon after reconvening from executive session, the item was on the agenda to allow the board to work on some legal language needed to update amendments to law enforcement contracts with Montgomery County before it ran out of time to do so.
“Without a [law enforcement] transition services agreement approved at Commissioners Court last Tuesday, that leaves the community with the current amended agreement transition services for incorporation,” Chair Gordy Bunch said at the meeting, which was held by videoconference.
Because Aug. 17 was the last day incorporation could be put on the ballot, the item pertaining to the language in the law enforcement agreement amendment needed to be discussed before the end of the day. Since incorporation will not be voted on in 2020, the language assuming the possibility an incorporation transition after a 2020 vote was no longer relevant.
“That does not mean that it is happening, but it does mean that the board had to be updated because there is a material change in conditions since we agreed to defer [the incorporation vote in 2020],” Bunch said. “It was everybody's expectation that we would have an extension of our transition services agreement with the county prior to today.”
The board’s discussion addressed the county and sheriff’s concerns raised in Commissioners Court on Aug. 11 and in a meeting with the sheriff Aug. 13. It includes language that ensures continuity of service, officials said.
In addition to extending the existing contract by four years, the amendment approved by the board at the Aug. 17 meeting would carry forward the transition services agreement for incorporation—with modifications raised by the sheriff's office—if it occurs in 2021-24.
Bunch emphasized that law enforcement is fully funded in the fiscal year 2020-21 budget for the township.
"This board is committed to not ever reducing our law enforcement assets or putting our law enforcement officers in jeopardy of being concerned about their job on a short-term notice," Bunch said.
General Manager and President Don Norrell, who will retire from his position at the end of the month after 14 years with the township, said that otherwise, the contract will not substantially change.
"We're taking the existing contract and not really changing that in terms of the verbiage there or the intent," he said. "What you have is being proposed is keeping the good stuff we have right now and actually giving them additional assurances that we will deal with personnel issues."
In the morning portion of the meeting, the board also approved the date of Sept. 10 to adopt the township's proposed tax rate for the FY 2020-21 budget.
Monique Sharp, The Woodlands assistant general manager for finance and administration, said the delay is sought due to Harris and Montgomery counties' appraisal districts having around 5% of properties under review. The current proposed tax rate is a certified estimate due to this.
"Because we are dealing with a certified estimate instead of a certified role, we [and] legal counsel are recommending that we set a different date than our original plan to adopt the 2021 budget and 2020 tax rate," Sharp said. "Harris County expects to have a certified role on Aug. 21 and Montgomery County on Aug. 26."
The board of directors unanimously approved meeting Sept. 10 to approve the upcoming tax rate.
The Woodlands board moves to renew policing contract through 2024, approves date for FY 2020-21 tax rate adoption
The Woodlands Township board of directors held a special meeting by videoconference Aug. 17. (Screenshot courtesy The Woodlands Township)