Among the 600 or so attendees at the incorporation information forum held at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on Sept. 23, white and yellow shirts identified a number of those who were committed to a position for or against the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot.

However, among the hundreds of other attendees, some said they were undecided on the question that, if approved, will result in the formation of a city of The Woodlands.

Residents of The Woodlands Township attending the forum brought questions to four stations set up at the venue dealing with finance, governance, law enforcement and public works.

Resident T.J. Fry, who is among those against incorporation, said living in The Woodlands since 1982 has allowed him to see founder George Mitchell’s vision for the community become a reality, and he is not convinced by arguments for change.

“It is a safe place; it is a wonderful place to live; why change this?” Fry said. “It is rushed, and their numbers are not adding up. We have something that is the best; why would we break it if it is not broken?”

Resident Rance Raney said he came to the forum to get more information on the financial projections being presented by The Woodlands for a future city.

“There are some really disparate projections about the cost of incorporation and government if we were to incorporate,” Raney said. “I have not heard everything I would like to hear from the anti-incorporation people.”

Raney added he was in favor of incorporation to allow citizens and voters to “take control of their own fate” by allowing The Woodlands to put ordinances in place, which it does not have the ability to do as a township.

Ongoing debate

While the Sept. 23 forum was presented by the township, other forums in The Woodlands since August have presented other viewpoints.

An Aug. 23 forum hosted by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce included speakers such as Danny Signorelli, president and CEO of The Signorelli Co., a real estate company based in The Woodlands. Signorelli has spoken at several public events in recent months on the topic of incorporation.

Among his criticisms, Signorelli asked whether the township can reduce its tax rate if incorporation does not happen, noting over the past decade the township’s tax rate has decreased from about $0.42 per $100 valuation as a community association prior to 2010 to its present rate of $0.2231, while about $20 million has been set aside in an incorporation reserve fund.

The question came up again as one submitted on a notecard at the Sept. 23 forum, and in its resolution against incorporation the chamber of commerce also cited the notion of “pretaxing” residents to fund an incorporation reserve.

Monique Sharp, the township’s assistant general manager for finance and administration, said Sept. 23 the township’s incorporation reserve and its other reserve funds were not the result of a tax on residents. She said the reserves, including the incorporation reserve if it is not used, cannot be used to reduce a future tax rate.

“You have not been taxed to build up the incorporation reserve,” Sharp said at the forum. “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.”

She noted the reserves can be designated for one-time purposes but cannot be used to fund ongoing expenses in the way tax revenue is.

Opposing views

Another forum held by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 15 included viewpoints from Jim Carman, president of the Houston Region of The Howard Hughes Corp., and James Noack, commissioner for Montgomery County Precinct 3. Both speakers and the chamber’s board of directors have made statements against incorporation this year. Township board of directors Chair Gordy Bunch said he had planned to attend but was diverted by the week’s storms.Carman said The Howard Hughes Corp. company is against the measure due to concerns about future costs and the effect that would have on township services.

“This is not a Howard Hughes versus the township board issue,” Carman said. “This impacts every one of us who live, work, have a business or even visit The Woodlands.”

Carman stated during the forum he believes holding an election in an odd-numbered year without a major state or federal election will result in lower voter engagement and questioned the timing.

“We think it is a risky proposition to incorporate right now,” Carman said. “It is rushed. We do not understand why they are pushing it in an odd year this close to an election.”