The board voted 5-2 in favor of the measure, with board members John Anthony Brown and Ann Snyder voting against placing it on the ballot.
"There is no urgency to vote this November, so I respectfully say this is not the right time to place incorporation on the ballot," Snyder said in comments presented before the vote.
The topic of incorporation has been under discussion for several years, and an incorporation study that began in 2018 continued under The Novak Consulting Group in 2019 and was paused by the township in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions resumed this year, and the deadline to call for an election on Nov. 2 is Aug. 16.
Setting a maximum tax rate
The township received information Aug. 13 on 2021 certified tax rolls from Montgomery and Harris counties needed to complete certain financial calculations for the study, including the maximum initial tax rate. The maximum initial tax rate will be placed on the ballot alongside the incorporation question.
The maximum tax rate was determined to be the same as the current tax rate of $0.2231 per $100 assessment. This is because of an increase in some expected revenues and projections and the elimination of some others in the financial model, said Monique Sharp, the township’s assistant general manager for finance and administration. She said the certified tax rolls show growth in taxable property values in 2022 from $21.1 billion to $21.7 billion, or 3.4% growth.
Sales tax revenue is expected to grow by 3% in 2022 and 2.75% in the subsequent four years, Sharp said. The original incorporation model included an assumption of 1% growth in sales tax annually for the first four years, Sharp said.
A revised incorporation model presented by Sharp takes into account expected annual increases in revenues such as a mixed-beverage tax and franchise fees. The model also includes a tax freeze for residents over the age of 65 and disabled residents, officials said.
General law or home rule city?
The language of the order states the election will be for “the incorporation of The Woodlands Township district into the City of The Woodlands, as a Type-A general-law city, adopting the maximum initial city property tax rate for the City of The Woodlands, and authorizing the transfer of The Woodlands Township district’s rights, powers, privileges, duties, purposes, functions, responsibilities, the authority to issue bonds, and the authority to impose taxes from The Woodlands Township district to the City of The Woodlands.”
A Type-A government would have a city manager, although ultimately it could aim to become a home rule city, said board Vice Chair Bruce Rieser.
According to the Texas Municipal League, a general law city can only exercise those powers that are specifically granted or implied by statute. A home rule city can do anything authorized by its charter that is not specifically prohibited or pre-empted by the Texas Constitution or state or federal law.
“The advantages of being a home rule city are enormous,” Rieser said.
During a public comment period at the meeting, eight residents spoke against holding an election this year and one spoke in favor of it. Residents speaking against the timing included such concerns as the ongoing effects of the pandemic and challenges of communicating information to residents in a timely manner as well as potential costs.
Ted Stanley, a resident and chair for Township Future, a local political action committee that advocates on various local issues, said he believed there were a number of unanswered questions on cost and other matters.
“It does appear this issue is clouded with too much uncertainty,” Stanley said. “The request to table this item today is not a statement for or against incorporation. It’s a matter of prudent approach. ... We are the only special-purpose district in Texas, and yet we beat out every other city in the U.S. to be named Niche’s number one city in America."
Stanley referred to the website Niche.com, which bestowed that title on the township this year.
Resident Mark Unland said he believed sufficient information has been provided for the public to make up its minds on incorporation.
“There is a cost to waiting,” he said. “I think we have the information, [and] I think a lot of people have made up their minds of how they’re going to vote.”
Charlie Adams, another resident who spoke at the meeting, said he felt more time was needed.
"I would like more time and a few more public forums," he said. "I don't think two months is enough time."