Twenty-eight miles north of Houston sits The Woodlands. Under most definitions, the thriving area would be considered its own city – except it’s not, it’s a Census-Designated Place (CDP) in a perpetual annexation fight on two fronts — against Houston and Conroe.

A CDP is the complete opposite of a city, which is considered an incorporated place that levies its own taxes and fees for local government services. Because of this, the county government has more influence (and responsibility for services) in the community than it does in a city, town, or village.

Montgomery County currently has jurisdiction over the thruways of the community. But because of the Commissioners Court’s plan to proceed with the Woodlands Parkway extension, which was already rejected by voters, the community is urgently seeking a way around the court’s forceful push: incorporation.

“The Woodlands has nearly doubled in size since year 2000. Were we a city, we would be about the 30th largest city in Texas,” said Woodlands Director Laura Fillault. “As an unincorporated area, we are increasingly vulnerable to the county’s whims.”

While incorporation would shift the burdens of police, water and sewer service, road maintenance, and more to the government of the Woodlands rather than the county, some say it’s a small price to pay to remain independent from the encroachment of Conroe or the financial despair foisted upon them by Houston.

After the absorption of Kingwood by Houston, The Woodlands residents urged their then-elected officials State Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) and State Rep. Robert Eissler (R-The Woodlands) to pass two bills: HB 4109 and SB 1012 which allowed The Woodlands to expand, begin to collect sales tax, and proffer regional government agreements.

Approved in 2007, the agreement with Houston protects The Woodlands from annexation for 50 years in exchange for $45 million in sales taxes over a thirty-year period. This pay-off was necessary due to problems with current state law that allows for forced-annexation, a process by which a city can absorb new territory without having to obtain voter approval of those being taxed. In other words, the law places the interests of tax-hungry cities ahead of local taxpayers.

The Woodlands has until 2057 to incorporate or face annexation by one of the two growing cities to the north and south of it. Fillault went on to say, “Nine years have already passed since the regional participation agreement was signed with Houston and Conroe and very little has been done to plan incorporation. It’s time to embrace what we’ve become; a successful, desirable, vibrant mid-sized Texas city.”

As county officials continue to push unwanted road projects in the community, members of The Woodlands Board of Directors are seeking input from residents about their opinion on annexation.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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