Governance vote delayed

With a potential landmark vote looming in 2014 that would have permanently changed the governmental structure of The Woodlands and significantly raised residents' property taxes in the process, The Woodlands Township's board of directors decided in September to delay the vote.

When the township form of governance was established in 2007, one of the mandates of its creation was a citizen vote must be held sometime in the next 50 years on whether The Woodlands would remain a township, incorporate as a city or establish another form of governance. The first year that vote could have taken place was 2014.

"We wanted everything to be on the table," said Bruce Tough, chairman of the township board of directors. "We wanted all the information to be provided and all the questions to be answered."

In 2011, the township hired Partners for Strategic Action, an Arizona-based urban planning firm, to conduct an incorporation study. In January 2012, PSA's study revealed that by incorporating as a city, The Woodlands would need to hire an additional 200 full-time employees and establish its own police and public works departments.

"The process that we went through included first analyzing the current situation and issues that were not currently addressed by the township, or [issues] that are unable to be addressed by the current governmental structure," said Curt Dunham, Partners for Strategic Action CEO. "We determined there were very few gaps between what is desired [by the residents] and what currently can be provided."

PSA's report stated the cost of those services would result in an increase in township property taxes of 22.89 cents to a total rate of 55.39 cents per $100 of property valuation, a hike of about 70 percent.

As part of the 18-month process, the township and PSA conducted a resident survey, asking Woodlands residents their opinions on potential incorporation. According to the report, about 80 percent of respondents said they opposed a potential 2014 vote, while 36 percent said they were in favor of remaining a township. Only 6 percent said they were in favor of a 2014 vote.

"The feedback that we received was the cost-benefit of incorporation was not there," Dunham said.

According to PSA, the projections regarding staff and property tax increases address the 2012–15 time period.

Despite the township's decision not to pursue a 2014 incorporation vote, Tough said he believed Woodlands residents would eventually decide to adopt the city form of government.

Tough said as The Woodlands population continues to grow, mobility and traffic congestion will continue to be a concern among residents.

"What will change people's mind is when traffic congestion gets so bad and the county can't provide the necessary services, and that may become a trigger issue," Tough said.