The Woodlands Independence

The Woodlands Independence

by John Risher

It wasn’t very long ago that our community leaders called upon us to vote in favor of The Woodlands establishing its independence from the City of Houston.  The most compelling reason put forward for this change was that we could better serve our own needs than that which big city politics could produce. We have only recently completed that transition from Homeowners’ Association to The Woodlands Township and, almost like magic, we have already embraced the very failings of big city politics that we so righteously impugned.

Our new Board has accomplished in two years what it took our federal government over two hundred years to perfect – dysfunctional government that does not respond to the will of the people. On our behalf, the Township Board has embarked on a wide-range of big city initiatives just like those we feared would be imposed upon us if annexation by the City of Houston occurred.

At the Board’s urging we have become the proud owners of The Water Taxis – a money-losing venture that the private sector could not make profitable.  But our Board assures us they can succeed where others have failed.  Their first effort was to declare The Water Taxis to be a vital element of the community’s mass transit system and solicit Federal money to finance a maintenance facility for the boats.  We should be embarrassed by this scam, but we are so shameless that we are constructing the new facility at the front door of the community for all to see.

And, if that isn’t enough, we are ready to pass our community’s very first tax hike, in part, to defray the cost of The Water Taxis.  The current budget envisions a new occupancy tax to be imposed upon visitors to The Woodlands when they stay at one of our local hotels. While we are assured that the use of these funds is targeted for legitimate economic development purposes, it’s interesting that the first year’s revenue is instead dedicated to funding The Water Taxis.  Programs to increase economic development are worthy of community funding as they create jobs and business opportunities for our residents.  I do not think, however, that anyone is going to move his business to The Woodlands Township just to take rides on the Water Taxis.

We also have begun the process of re-distributing wealth within our community with the passage of the Over-65 tax exemption.  This social engineering of our former “flat tax” on residents has reduced the community property tax base by $113,821,250, but did nothing to correspondingly reduce operating expenses.  The tax gift given to a small number of residents of the community has simply shifted tax burden to the remaining residents of the community.  Our Board is even considering adding a homestead exemption that will have the effect of shifting tax burden to the commercial owners of the community – the very people we are spending money on to encourage moving to the Woodlands.  I think I now understand why the Board feels the need for the new hotel tax for economic development needs.  If we are going to increase taxes on business in our community we might find that more businesses decide not to relocate to The Woodlands or, perhaps, some of our existing businesses might relocate out of the community to reduce their tax burden.

The Board is currently proposing a budget that reflects a 6.0 % increase in the cost of operating The Woodlands Township over last year’s budget.  I guess our leaders have not heard that there is a recession in our country and that everyone else is tightening their belt, not loosening it.  I have a simple solution to this problem.  In its current budget projections for The Water Taxis the Board is projecting operating expenses to remain flat from 2012 through 2015.  Why don’t we have the people who are going to run The Water Taxis so efficiently tell us how to run the community without any increases in costs over a four -year period?

This week’s revelations about the internal fighting among Board members are, however, their crowning achievement.  It has been but four short months since the community completed the transition to full resident-elected Board members and already an enlightened group within that Board has determined that it knows better who should represent the residents than do the residents themselves.  There can be no justification for the Board deciding to exclude other Board members from active participation in legitimate Board business.  It’s one thing to disagree on issues and to vote accordingly; it’s quite another matter to say, “I don’t even want to hear or consider your point of view”.  If the residents don’t like what a Board member is advocating the election process is there for residents’ action.  We did not elect Board members to decide for us who will make community decisions and who will not. The Board should be a cross section of the community with many different and varying points of view.  It was not elected to simply vote in lock step with the views of a select few of its members.

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