A spot typically filled by a Woodlands Township representative on the Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1 board will remain empty after concerns were expressed in late 2016 regarding the legality of serving on a second board with taxing capabilities in the same geographical district.
The WRUD is a special-purpose district created by House Bill 2818—authored by then-state Sen. Kevin Brady—in 1991 to construct and fund major thoroughfares and collector streets in The Woodlands.
From its inception until 2014, the WRUD board consisted of five members elected by voters in the district, which encompasses roughly 2,500 acres in The Woodlands.
However, a change in legislation in 2014 allowed it to appoint two additional directors, one from The Woodlands Township and one from Montgomery County. At that time, the township selected former township Director Mike Bass to serve on the board.
“[The WRUD] provided an offer to the township and county to appoint either an elected official or staff member to serve,” township President and General Manager Don Norrell said. “In effect, by that action, it increased their elected board from five [members] to five [members] with two elected representatives.”
After losing his bid for re-election on the township board in November, Bass’ resignation created a vacancy on the WRUD board the township had an option to fill, Norrell said. The other countywide elected official serving on the board is Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal.
After the new township board was seated in November following elections, it considered appointing directors to other boards and committees in the community, including The Woodlands Convention & Visitors Bureau, but there were no volunteers to serve on the WRUD.
“The argument from many is that [the WRUD] is taxation without representation,” township board Chairman Gordy Bunch said. “It’s not a false accusation. The [addition of two elected official board members in 2014] was to create the semblance of representation through extra appointments.”
The WRUD levies a commercial property tax rate of 32 cents per $100 valuation to pay for various road projects.
It has issued $108 million in debt for projects in The Woodlands, Bunch said. One of the most recent projects is the ongoing Kuykendahl Road dual bridge project over Spring Creek in Creekside Park.
Having a small number of voters in the district is one of the issues the township has with serving on the WRUD board as well as serving on another board with taxing powers in the same geographical area.
“It’s difficult to ascertain or influence these projects,” Bunch said.
Bunch said in an instance where a project may be designed by the WRUD, there is no ability to block the issuance of the debt or the project from moving forward.
“Five members are elected by the number of voters in the district, however, people elected are not within the district necessarily,” Bunch said. “The only broadly publicly elected people is the appointee we appoint and the county judge.”
According to the enabling legislation, the qualifications to serve as a director on the WRUD board are that a director must be at least 18 years of age, a resident of Texas and not disqualified by law. Although the boundaries of the district encompass the township, they are drawn so no residential homes are included.
The legislation that created the district did not include a boundary description, instead it referred to a “metes and bounds” description recorded in real property records of Montgomery County.
Bass’ term on the WRUD board was set to end in May, at which time the township board may choose to revisit the issue again if it so desires.
If an elected official or staff member from the township is appointed to the WRUD board, that person would operate more as an independent official, Norrell said, and could relay information back to the township regarding ongoing and future projects.
“They’re representing the township, but not voting how this board would determine as appropriate,” Norrell said. “They’re basing their decisions as a single board member on a separate governmental entity.”