A crowd of more than 500 residents gathered at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on Sept. 23 for a two-hour forum on incorporation. In an unrelated matter, The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce voted to approve a resolution voicing its opposition to the measure on Sept. 24.
The Woodlands residents will vote on whether the special-purpose district should incorporate into a city on Nov. 2. Early voting begins Oct. 18.
Consultants answer questions
At the Sept. 23 incorporation forum, township officials and the consulting group that prepared its incorporation study presented a summary of the proposition on the ballot Nov. 2.
The consultants summarized key points in the more than 300-page incorporation document that can be viewed online on an incorporation website prepared by the consulting group.
The presentation covered topics such as law enforcement, public works, finance and governance, and consultants along with township officials were present at breakout tables throughout the ballroom to take resident questions in an additional half-hour segment after the main presentation.
The study provided a financial model for a future city, including items such as the development of a city police department. It also provides a model for an in-house public works department.
Among the topics that residents brought up in breakout tables in the forum were the question of recruitment for a future police force and how a city would navigate current hiring difficulties across the country.
Jonathan Ingram, a senior manager with Raftelis, responded to the question.
“This is a hard time to be a police officer. Ultimately what you want to do is build a recruitment plan that ... provides opportunities for county employees who wish to become [The] Woodlands officers ... that could be an option if there’s space to protect those positions.”
The township contracts with Montgomery and Harris counties for law enforcement. Under a hybrid service model, a future city would transition to an in-house police force over four years.
Other questions discussed in the law enforcement breakout area included how Creekside Park, which is within Harris County, would be staffed in the future, and consultants said it would be staffed with at least the current number of officers, 12, some of which could be city personnel and some county. A transition date has not been established yet with Harris County, he said.
In a response to a question from the audience in the finance breakout area, Monique Sharp, the township’s assistant general manager for finance and administration, said the township’s incorporation reserve and its other reserve funds were not the result of a tax on residents. The question noted the township has more than $100 million in reserve funds, including about $20 million in an incorporation reserve.
“You have not been taxed to build up the incorporation reserve,” Sharp said. “That reserve was funded by favorable sales tax variances and favorable expense variances. You ... will never see where there has been a specific allocation of sales tax or property tax dedicated to the incorporation reserve.”
Sharp said the township has historically received more sales tax revenue than it has budgeted for in many years. Those excess funds go toward paying callable debt, funding budget initiatives—items outside the base budget—as well as capital projects. Any remaining funds could go into the incorporation reserve, she said.
She noted that the reserves can be designated for one-time purposes but cannot be used to fund ongoing expenses in the way that a tax rate is. It cannot be reallocated in order to reduce the tax rate, she said. Sharp said the township has two debt obligations that will be paid off in the next five years, and it does not currently have callable debt.
Consultants said additional responses to questions will be prepared for The Woodlands Incorporation Study website.
The forum can be viewed on the township website.
Chamber weighs in
The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, which includes members from outside the boundaries of The Woodlands, released a statement on the afternoon of Sept. 24 stating that after surveying its membership several times, its board of directors unanimously voted to approve a resolution opposing incorporation.
Among the items in the resolution, the chamber stated the township had previously indicated it would not place the election on the ballot in a non-presidential or gubernatorial year. The resolution states the chamber believes inadequate time was provided for the community to understand the measure. A decision to place the item on the ballot was made by the township Aug. 13, and the deadline for a ballot item this year was Aug. 16.
The Woodlands' incorporation study began in 2018, and the process was paused in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The resolution cites concerns about law enforcement and taxation among reasons the chamber opposes the measure.
"After hearing from many experts, Montgomery County commissioners, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, and many members of the business community about incorporation, we believe to become incorporated at this time is not a good idea for our business community or residents," said JJ Hollie, CEO and president of the chamber. "... Timing of incorporation should be entirely up to our business community and residents to ensure they fully understand the transition plan and impacts."