At the introduction of the Montgomery County road bond a few months ago, County Judge Craig Doyal stated that a bond this large would result in a property tax increase for residents. He along with steering committee chair Nelda Luce Blair have since flipped, with both saying residents will not see additional taxes if voters approve the debt on May 9th.

At a recent bond forum, Blair said that a tax increase isn’t needed because future growth is expected to be higher than last year’s 11.4%. To be conservative, bond financing was calculated using a lower projection of 8% population growth.

But even if an increase in the nominal tax rate is avoided, rising home values resulting from rapid growth will cause Montgomery County residents to still pay more in taxes. Officials claiming there isn’t an increase in the rate conveniently dismiss this fact and are misleading voters.

Three studies were commissioned to provide the court with an analysis of what the parkway would mean for traffic in the area, confirming what opposing voices in the Woodland’s community are concerned about.

The Brown & Gay study that Judge Doyal requested specifically says, “The build condition will negatively impact the intersection of Woodlands Parkway….causing it to exceed acceptable vehicle delays during both peaks hours, AM and PM.” In fact, all eight of the conclusions from the taxpayer funded study show a negative impact if the Woodlands Parkway Extension is completed.

Another comprehensive study approved by the Commissioners Court and created by the Houston-Galveston Area Council and Texas Department of Transportation show a future need for the extension, but not until 2040. Residents question why $560,000 in tax dollars was spent on studies if officials are going to ignore the professional opinions of those who conducted them.

Even proponents are questioning the reason behind the county’s push for the controversial Woodland’s project. Instead of removing the project to help ensure the bond passes, officials have chosen to selfishly take advantage of the community’s needs by tying them together in an all-or-nothing package, essentially risking 76 other projects over one controversial portion. Alternatively, officials could have followed the advice of bond reform advocates, by dividing the package into separate propositions on the ballot.

The bond steering committee is closely tied to the Keep Montgomery County Moving PAC. The PAC is run by bond committee chair Nelda Luce Blair, while its Treasurer, Joe Michels, also is a committee appointee. Many members of both the committee and the PAC have a vested interest in seeing the bond pass. As with most public works projects, the companies set to benefit off the projects are financing the pro-bond PAC campaign.

Brown & Gay Engineers and Jones & Carter Inc., both of whom were already chosen to do traffic studies, are donors to the PAC.

Community member Kevin Williams posed the question to the forum panel regarding the conflict of interest, “Would you ask your barber if you need a haircut? No, because his answer would always be yes.”

Many residents are asking how and when this bond will be paid off. Blair makes the point to explain that not all of the bond projects receive funding upon bond approval. Once the projects are shovel ready, then the project will receive its designated funds to begin construction.

If each project is going to be funded and started individually, voters should be allowed to select individual projects that they feel are needed. Instead of holding the needs of the county hostage to the wants of the county officials, every project should have to be justified and decided on by the voters. Allowing voters to handpick and prioritize which projects are important to their community is not only beneficial because it puts the power in the hands of the taxpayers, but also because they know best what their community needs. Bonding reform to require separate ballot propositions for large-scale projects would allow for a more equitable process.

Both sides are using the next four weeks to fully advocate their stance on the bond. Residents are hoping to send a message to the county officials saying that if they continue to ignore their concerns, they will stop them. The county is hoping that despite flaring emotions over portions of the proposal, they will move forward with the projects. Nonetheless, questions of their efficacy remain over their insistence on keeping this “poison pill” included in the overall package.

Petitions, polls, and protests illustrate the large number of area-residents are willing to hold officials accountable. Ultimately, the final decision will come on May 9th when Montgomery County residents head to the polls.

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.

RELATED POSTS

McAllen Plans Property Tax Hike

City leaders for the largest city in Hidalgo County have characterized the tax hike as a tax cut, but the average tax bill will increase by $77.