Under the threat of forced annexation by Houston, many community leaders in The Woodlands have argued that the township should begin exploring the steps needed to incorporate if it becomes necessary. The master planned community currently has a unique form of government and essentially functions as a large special purpose district.
Seeking to avoid Kingwood’s fate, The Woodlands was able to secure an agreement with the City of Houston along with enabling state legislation in 2007 that gives the township until 2057 to incorporate without threat of annexation. However, as with all legislation, this provision can be amended by the Legislature at any time, which many in The Woodlands find concerning considering Houston’s large legislative delegation.
At one of the August budget meetings, the township voted to place $2.5 million in an Incorporation Reserve Fund to plan for the future and explore what the transition into becoming a city would look like.
However, when the final budget was adopted, the board voted 4-3 to remove the money from the Incorporation Reserve Fund and instead place it into a slush fund labeled as the “Capital Contingency Fund.” Director Mike Bass, who is up for re-election in the Nov. 8 General Election, led the charge to transfer the money for planning ahead into the slush fund.
This move was vehemently opposed by Directors Gordy Bunch, Laura Fillault, and John McMullan.
“We all plan for known events – our retirement, our children’s education and other foreseeable events. The incorporation of The Woodlands is going to happen though its timing is uncertain,” said McMullan. “For so long as The Woodlands remains an under-powered special purpose district rather than a city, real estate developers and hostile Montgomery County politicians will have an outsized role in determining our quality of life. We all paid a premium to live in The Woodlands and we need to protect our quality of life. This Board should responsibly plan for our self-governance.”
While the tax dollars reserved for future incorporation were specifically designated as such, the money in the Capital Contingency Fund is undesignated which, as Fillault explained, is a lack of transparency with taxpayer’s money. “When funds are designated, taxpayers know the intent of the funds. The undesignated funds mean they can be used for anything – a true slush fund.”
Although Bass and the directors who voted with him refuse to prepare for or address the important issues of incorporation and avoiding forced annexation, they appear to have no qualms about securing money for their own pet projects.
At the same meeting, Bass and his allies on the board successfully approved a budget item allocating $500,000 for bicycle infrastructure every year. Bass is also pushing a plan to spend over $13 million on bike lanes.
While no one on the board is pushing for immediate incorporation, it is always wise to plan for such a contingency. No tax impact study has been done, so no one knows what the cost of incorporation would be, which Bunch made very clear at a recent township meeting:
“To be clear, nobody factually knows what the cost would be to incorporate, and nobody, current or past, serving on this board, has established an incorporation date.”
With Houston’s financial situation becoming increasingly volatile and the threat of annexation looming, the Board owes it to residents to find answers to questions surrounding incorporation so they can be prepared to preserve residents’ quality of life and steward their tax dollars wisely.