The Woodlands Township Board of Directors continued its ongoing quest for information and analysis of possibly incorporating into a city Sept. 25, hearing a lengthy report from a consultant, who is doing the vast studies of the issue, and making several informal decisions regarding how to move forward with the process.
Wednesday’s meeting included the seven-member board hearing about some of the more pressing issues related to possible incorpration, such as the potential financial model and possible revenue sources to be included in projects. There was also discussion of what new employees and positions would need to be created if The Woodlands becomes a city eventually, choosing a public works model for analysis purposes and also information on how the township would need to restructure the administrative positions in the event of incorporation. There were brief updates on the proposed tax-rate online calculator as well as the timeline for incorporation issues.
The township has been exploring possible incorporation since 2011, when former elected officials examined the possibility but opted not to act. In January 2018, the Board of Directors embarked on the current incorporation planning process with the hiring of two consulting firms to assist with information gathering and analysis of the many issues involved. For The Woodlands to possibly incorporate , the seven-member board would first need to vote on and approve placing the question on a ballot for voters. If that occurs, voters would either vote to approve or say no to the prospect.
Several township officials and board Chairman Gordy Bunch have stated repeatedly there would not be a possible vote on the question until November 2020 at the earliest . If the board does not place the question on the 2020 ballot , Bunch said the preference for a future vote would be in a high-turnout election year such as 2022 or 2024. To place the question on the November 2020 ballot, the board would need to approve that by the end of May 2020 to meet state requirements.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Jonathan Ingram, a consultant with the Novak Consulting Group, guided directors through several choices for the financial model. The firm’s specialists need to know what preferences township leaders have on several areas before moving forward with their studies and analysis for the financial model.
The board approved choosing a five-year financial model, which is what the township currently uses in its annual budgeting process. Ingram told the board some of the new revenues that could be collected if incorporation is approved included collecting the state’s mixed beverage tax, which would add about $966,000 a year annually to township coffers. He also said if The Woodlands becomes a city and implements a property tax freeze for citizens who are 65 and older, the township would see a gradually increasing tax revenue loss beginning at almost $70,000 in the first year and growing to an estimated loss of more than $830,000 in revenue per year by year 10.
Other discussion topics included the cost of the many new positions that would be needed if voters agree to become a city, including: $150,000 annual cost for a building inspector; $192,000 annually for a city secretary; $118,000 per year for a risk manager and $91,000 in annual costs for a paralegal employee.
One area of uncertainty in regard to revenue is franchise and access fees for local utilities. Under state law, only a municipality can collect franchise and access fees — which utilities charge to customers on their monthly bill. Because The Woodlands is a special purpose district and township — the only one in Texas — the township has been unable to collect franchise nor access fees from utilities such as Entergy Texas, Inc., which provides electrical power to the community, as well as Comcast and other cable providers. That revenue is estimated to be about $7.8 million per year, however the amount is a guess because most of the utilities collecting the funds did not reply to requests for financial data, Ingram added.
The directors voted 6-1 to approve seeking a public works model and street maintenance model that would allow for funding of those services at a conservative approach. Director Ann Snyder voted no on the option.The board also heard about how it would need to have a city manager and then ideally three assistant city managers. Those functions are now performed by Don Norrell, who is the president and general manager. He is helped by three employees who hold the title of assistant to the general manager. Not much would change with these roles other than the title and that duties would be more evenly spread out and defined between the three assistant city managers.
The township board had desired an online tax-rate calculator to be added to the incorporation website; however, Ingram said Novak consultants had found the task too difficult and beyond their scope of website design skills. Property tax bills in The Woodlands are comprised from nine to 12 different taxing entities, such as the Conroe Independent School District and local municipal utility districts.
The next incorporation planning session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 17, with another incorporation planning meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 23. The topic of both of those meetings will be the law enforcement model if the township decides to incorporate.