Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Election Issue

It is important for residents to understand some of the history behind the current election and the political tactics being used by some candidates for being elected. For one, there is usually an advantage of some sort for a politician in The Woodlands to run for office. Yes, they are all for "representing" the people. You know the way they make
it seem OK, "for the people, by the people". The "by the people" here has traditionally been at the election centers, not in the Board Room. The "for the people" seems to be traditionally "because I like it this way". That is, a politician typically has a motive for running for office and represents himself. The Commentary has, on occasion, asked candidates to submit their reasons for running, I received their generic rhetorical answers to try to convince the public of their motives. There are no plans to do that this year. It is too obvious.

Originally, several influential people were put on a Town Center Board. When the Township was founded by transferring and consolidating all local HOA's into one entity, the "Township", several of those on the Board came along free as new government directors. They became incumbents in the election. Their motives were in local business and political power. That is not in itself a problem. The problem in some folks view is that one (or all) of them had ties to contractors and/or properties involved in development or related contracts. They performed their new government jobs in an open and direct way (kudos), following the law. In the background, they were preparing for development and business opportunities (criticism/conflict of interest). In Montgomery County, this has been a longstanding tradition. Someone has to do the job and after all, like the lady once said, the pay is not the greatest in the world (Directors are not paid anything for their work). Now, four of those people have stepped down and others have filed to run for office. Two positions are being filled with new candidates in this election and two are being challenged. 

To make it more clear, one of them was voted out of his position and two moved on to other related business activities. Our lady volunteered to work on the road issues, the Methodist Pastor decided to let go (it was said that he wanted to be mayor), and like our lady, the lawyer also went on a "road" trip. (pardon the pun). Now we see a pattern. So then, as a consequence, the road issue became a huge concern for many residents. Our county's plan has been in place for quite some time, but it was not ever presented to the residents as an option. It was just a fact. No one should get in the way. That, in my own opinion, gave residents a false impression, eventually leading to a complete revolt in the community, when confronted with a road bond election.  Now that The Woodlands has awakened to the threat of the parkway becoming a freeway for through traffic, other roads in the master plan of the county have also been brought to the attention of the residents. Trees? I see the removal of trees on the parkway and Gosling in the future unless we do something about this. I can hear the increased traffic noise as horns are honked, brakes screech, exhausts boom. Maybe this is what some want, the lowering of property values along the resident corridors of these roads. Can you imagine how wide these two roads will have to be and how busy they will be in 10 or 20 years? We have an added nearby Toll Road now. I was looking for that to take much of the traffic to and from the outside. Alternatives to the master plan should be completed by the county now!  We must have our say at the regional and county planning tables. Residents of The Woodlands MUST be able to manage their own streets. Also the bicycle and pedestrian traffic must be considered in the plan. We got here by being a master planned community. Let's keep it that way!      

But wait! We are not incorporated, so we have no say-so in the matter at all. We are only spectators. Unless we are a city, we cannot actively participate in regional planning nor have a vote in what happens with our roads. Shenandoah, Oakridge and Conroe has a say, not us! The county owns and is in control of our roads - maintenance and planned widening or other modifications. Now our roads are for the county to plan and benefit, not for The Woodlands benefit. What has been seen as a benefit now is seen as a detriment to quality living here. That my friend, should tell you the situation in a nutshell. Yet there are other issues bothering some residents besides the roads. Those who say the Township is just fine as a government don't realize what we are missing in subsidies and that we are not prepared to ward off other issues that face us with 125,000+ inhabitants.  

Just recently, ads have surfaced on Facebook and will soon also appear in the newspaper that local taxes will increase 70% if we incorporate. That was a worse case scenario, plain vanilla thinking, influenced by certain Board members at the time.  The truth is that the same people that recently helped plan the road expansions are likely behind these ads. Why? They want the county to have control of the roads because they are tied to development investments outside of The Woodlands. Business and residential properties bought earlier are threatened by us taking control of our own roads. Roads are expensive to build. We just rejected a bond proposal to pay for the extension of The Woodlands Parkway (good for us). Properties and development projects are at risk for those politicians connected to the road issue (bad for them). So the county will use heightened property value taxes to fund some of the costs of expanding roads such as the Woodlands Parkway (good for them). Yes, we end up paying anyway (bad for us). We need the help of the state to force the reduction of taxation of properties when property values rise. Support the efforts to protect property owners from rising taxes in the Texas legislature, a top priority for Dan Patrick! 

Finally, in this coming election, I would say at the start if the campaigns, if the candidate is stating the 70% rise in taxes as a reason to vote for them, it is a flag NOT to vote for them in my view and this is the reason. They are playing to the residents' emotions. I don't want a raise in taxes and you likely don't either. But we are not voting in this election on incorporation nor the budget. We are voting on those willing to help us out of this situation and bring us to our own future determination. The previous flawed study on incorporation was performed 5+ years ago. It was influenced by the same people as are now trying to load The Woodlands up with the burden of being traffic channels for the county. Since that study, our property values have risen drastically; income has increased dramatically and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. We need clear open minds to find the right solution for us. Those elected should represent us, not special interests. If new studies indicate the trendy incorporation approach, then we will vote on its merits. If another timely solution is found, then we can vote on that. But enablement for us to participate in decisions is an absolute MUST! Voting for directors who oppose incorporation without current data will simply block efforts to keep The Woodlands an outstanding place to live. Vote "by the people" in this election. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Property Taxes in The Woodlands Texas

It is close to budget time in The Woodlands once more. After the election, the elected Woodlands Township Board will discover how much property values will be available and then try to spend the taxes from it. Each home is taxed based on the appraised value of the home to pay the bills of the Township. The process dictates management via a percentage of appraised value. So you have local inflation built into your taxes and your life. Here, this is often very different from the inflation rate for salary raises determined by companies using the national rate of inflation. As long as spending goes up, your taxes will go up. So what percentage pay increase do you get each year? If you got 3%, I bet your taxes went up by more than that. My taxes were raised by 10% (maximum by law) year before last, because my house was appraised at 18% above the previous year, and I fought the adjustment. I am thinking it would be better if I were to sell the house and lease it out, because the lease rate would rise with less of an impact to others, but to me on a fixed income, it impacts me negatively. How about you? Are you staying here? Can you afford huge home tax inflation in your life? Then a year ago, I ran across an attempt in Willis, Texas to deal with the situation pragmatically. Tax on dollars and not on inflating values is the proposal being considered. Why does the government receive a financial windfall when we intend to stay in our homes? Isn't that for transients and not for the base community?  We need our taxes indexed by dollars, tempered by inflation rates, not by the uncontrolled contracted sale of homes in our neighborhood. At the very least we need a cap on taxes governed by the inflation rate. We are constantly paying for area growth, thereby subsidizing developers in our area.

The bottom line is that when a politician says he will keep the tax rate down at 3.2 cents per $100 appraised value or whatever, he means he supports taxation inflation in dollars. Let's stop this practice!

Then what about Homestead exemptions? Personally, I am for encouraging ownership of property in The Woodlands by the residents who live in the home. That is done through Homestead Exemptions. This type of exemption is intended to provide an incentive for home owners to live here. Our Board of Directors has voted not to have such a break for homeowners. Let's fix this problem. Income to the Township is at an all time high. Why do we as residents not see some benefits? We struggle in the traffic and with the related noise.
  
What cities do not have Homestead exemptions? Why do so many have these exemptions and why? Why don't we have one in The Woodlands? The state of Texas allows Homestead exemptions for very good reasons, yet The Woodlands, Texas does not yet have one. There was an opportunity two years ago, but the directors just do not seem to be on top of the real important things (yet). We sit in limbo between a bona fide city and a rural  community with HOA-like governing responsibilities. We are an HOA in a rural community with a downtown business community we call Town Center. Our laws are county laws. Our roads are managed and governed by the county. The Woodlands Development Co continues to make decisions for us, without consulting us. Our directors manage a $90+ million budget. Our community requires taxation to service debt and pay operating bills, but it does not need to be for government-owned businesses.

Vote conservative and vote for fair taxes that mean something, to provide services and not so encourage rental properties and not for creating community-owned businesses.    

Monday, February 20, 2012

2011 Voting Records of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors

Voting Record Documents for viewing (in PDF format)


Explanation and other resources
These voting records are extracted from the minutes of the Woodlands Township Board meetings. They document to the best of my ability, each decision in those minutes, with intent towards brevity and simple language. This is organized by subject matter and can be a used as a tool to find a motion and then seek the minutes for the associated meeting through the Township website.

If you want the exact wording from the minutes, I suggest visiting the Township website at http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/Archive.aspx?AMID=30.

There are videos of these meetings, so the demeanor of the Directors and the rationale behind some of  their votes can be seen by the public. Videos of the meetings are found at this location on the Township website: http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/index.aspx?NID=778

Information to support each proposal is provided to the Board by the senior staff of The Woodlands Township or presenters at meetings. These documents on the most part are also available on the website at  http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/Archive.aspx?AMID=43. Remember that information on a topic can be more informative from the previous workshop meeting, when the Directors may be more apt to discuss an item and may ask for more information to be presented at the actual Board Meeting for the month. In some months, there are Special Meetings to receive information and/or to make decisions. I believe I have captured all the formal decisions of the Board of Directors in the two documents I have published here. 

The information provided here is also intended to provide the vote on each motion of decision to see how each Director stands on a particular subject. You will be able to observe other trends and be able to discern where disagreements or agreements are found on the Board. Absenteeism is also a part of the data provided. This is intended to provide a scorecard approach, where Township Directors are more visible in their actions and thereby held more accountable for their decisions or lack thereof, when elections roll around.  A report card this is not, but feasible to also produce. Remember that the Board of Directors were responsible for managing an incredible $92+ million budget in 2011, all collected from taxpayers owning assets in or visiting this community. 2011 Budget reference



Election Notice - Water Districts The Woodlands



Check to see if one of the municipal districts below serve you. If so, consider applying for a director position on that Board. Regardless, please vote for your directors in the early election or at the General Election on May 12th.  

Filing Information

Filing for director positions with the Municipal Utility Districts served by The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency is under way. Elections will occur on May 12, 2012 for The Woodlands Metro MUD, The Woodlands MUD No. 2 and Montgomery County MUD Nos. 6, 7, 36, 39, 40, 46, 47, 60 and 67.
Candidates may file from February 4 to March 5, 2012. Application packets are available at the WJPA Water Resources Building, 2455 Lake Robbins Drive, 77380. Completed applications must also be returned to this same location. Filing, obtaining application packets and returning application packets may only be done during regular WJPA office hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Voting Information


Early voting: April 30 through May 7. Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 
Election day: May 12. Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Both early voting and election day voting will occur at the Water Resources Building office located on map below.

Google Map

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Two key elections face The Woodlands

I hope you are like I am, with strong interest in the local Woodlands, Texas elections. This 2012 year will be another crucial year for our community. Please be in tune with what is occurring in The Woodlands Township election, as well as the county.

One incumbent, County Commissioner for precinct 3, has decided not to run. He is apparently retiring from public office. Ed Chance has been in that position for a long time now, and has orchestrated the development of amenities and services for south county, i.e., the area of The Woodlands. He is has been responsible for developing the park along Spring Creek, maintaining our local roads, monitoring traffic and installing cameras at intersections here. He has overseen the operation of our recycling facility and generally represented us in the County's affairs. I will be commenting on that position as time moves on, but for now, you should be aware of the role of this position in The Woodlands Township. It is no accident that a key political figure, Nelda Blair, Director on The Woodlands Township Board, is managing the campaign of Mr. Kenny Speight for this position. She is part of the "GOP establishment" and has interesting motives behind that campaign. Watch here for my insights which I plan to share. 

Four Woodlands Township Director positions are up for election. You might want to know more about the incumbents, and their roles in the current politics of the Board. I will be addressing that directly this year. If you are happy with the outcome and decisions of the Board, you may want to keep these incumbents in place, but beware! By doing so, you may be relying on a select few of the other members of the Board, not these four.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Next generation government for The Woodlands Texas - Focus groups for Gap Analysis

The first step of resident input has been completed in a newly established project to determine the next form of government for The Woodlands Texas. As early as 2014, we are legally able to change to a city form of government.This phase of the project was to get feedback from residents for a gap analysis being conducted by the project consultant. Two goals of this phase are in the project plan - (1) See what residents don't know or understand, and (2) determine what are the perceived issues and future needs for effectively governing the community. To do this, residents were divided into two knowledge groups and attendees chosen at random to attend a number of focus groups moderated by the project leader. Focus groups were kept small in size so as to encourage interaction and contribution. The data collected will be sorted out, analyzed, characterized , and then presented back to the community in January to the next focus group workshops and apparently a town hall meeting. You will find a number of issues below related to governing and what seems to be a laundry list of problems as the primary concern on people's minds as we move forward. I may not agree with some of these, but I do believe as many ideas as I can remember should be included. I missed some I am sure, but the idea is to get these out in the open for continued development and thought by residents.  

To get an idea of what has been brought forward in these focus group discussions, here are some of the thoughts from one group.

What is right about our government
There was not much discussion in this area.
(1) Parks and pathways are excellent amenities and are kept clean.
(2) Government looks after the expense of our pools but there are perhaps too many of them and some tax dollars support their use.
(3) We are not part of Houston or Conroe (implied,not stated explicitly)
(4) Inclusion of residents in Parks department and policing strategies by government staff
(5) The Fire Dept is a fire class service.
(6) The policing force has improved and is now one of the best around.
(7) Excellent delivery of information to residents, beyond that required by the Open Records law of Texas 

Gaps
(1) Residents cannot influence decisions about land use. This is no longer a community of large land blocks to be developed except in the Village of Creekside Park. In the other villages, development is typically near and around existing residences or businesses. Residents have been demanding input for years, but go unheard and then with empty promises of inclusion into the process. As the remaining development properties within the villages are sold, residents do not want to have surprises and new establishments that seem to alter the master plan, with lack of controls such as noise, presentation and  privacy expectations that affect the quality of life by taxpayers. 
(2)  Local taxes for the benefit of local needs are managed by separate entities, some of which reach outside of the territorial jurisdiction of The Woodlands, with even differing strategies of management. Lack of centralized control of tax dollars is a gap, especially for county wide taxation based on property values. The county commissioners conduct their meetings on local issues in Conroe, and those decisions are integrated with other county areas. Management for a town of 90,000 should be from within the community and integrated with this community's priorities and needs, not managed by an external entity. This tax domain primarily consists of road maintenance, law making, courts, policing and jail. Governing must be equal and apply to all parts of the county equally due to the legal restraints on spending of taxpayer money.
(3)  There are no controls for noise pollution other than county laws which are designed for rural areas. County rules, regulations and guidelines are applied to stop signs, speed limits, signs, traffic noise, dogs barking, and other very common municipal issues within the territory of The Woodlands. The lack of ordinance power prevents The Woodlands from controlling its quality of life. It forces the community to accept rural conditions within the bounds of large densely populated area. 
(4) There is not an effective way to interact with the Board of Directors as a whole. That is prevented by the current structure and method of government. There is no area representation on the Board of Directors and there is only a one way communication in meetings. Every taxpayer should be provided equal amenities and quality of community life. The village representation at meetings has failed to accomplish the original intent of Village liaisons. It is too weak a link to the board of directors. However, the Village Associations themselves need to be preserved and provide the social aspect of our community in the way they have traditionally served.  All taxpayers are not represented by members of the board in the current government/political environment.
(5)  Our local government has no control over the roads and streets. County and state regulations control and their funds maintain them. The placing or removal of a stop sign, the timing of lights, speed limits, design, and all related matters are in the hands of the county and state where a resident has much less influence. In contrast, our local government maintains the paths which must cross those streets and the master plan which includes easy, flowing pedestrian is sometimes impeded by actions on these roads. Noise on the roads impact the quality of life for several blocks adjoining the main roads. Some residents are thinking that we should re-evaluate the widening of the roads. Governing this issue is ineffective.
(6) Our parks for the most part are clean, but some are not. Trash is brought in and left in the parks and sometimes in the water of some of our parks apparently by outside visitors. This situation needs to be governed, perhaps by control of use.
(7) Residents do not participate in government elections sufficiently. There is a knowledge and interest gap. It appears we continue to have an educational issue or more probably are still plagued by government complexity. It takes years to get educated to a comfort level on local issues, while many people move in and out of the community. Before this government was established, all residents had a say in politics and community decisions. Additionally, demographics have been changing dramatically. We now have entire blocks where many residents have no ability to vote, because of the citizenship voting law. This problem did not exist before this new government, because all residents had a say in their government. No board member represents these people and they have no say who governs them.
(8) Managing and encouraging homes to be purchased instead of rented as a business plagues the community. Residents prefer to have resident owners as neighbors instead of renters who rarely participate in government or have an interest in the local systems. They become users and part of the problem while no one represents the home at the polls. This is apparently a growing problem and not governed in any way.
(6) There is no governing of imposed tax dollars. Instead, taxes are governed by percentage of home value. Although the economy continues to have low inflation, some home owners have huge tax increases and therefore significant inflation. Salary does not keep up with home inflation. This affects long term residents the most. It is assumed that the value of a house should be the taxed by a cap on percentage of value instead of tax dollars. This gives the government more money. Residents are more than concerned about this, but it is not governed. 
(7) The DSC is a critical part of the fabric of the community, yet members on this committee are appointed by the Board of Directors. There remains representation by the development company. The RDRC boards of each village are elected to position, but the DSC sometimes overrides the decisions by those boards. This creates a gap in governing. Perhaps a solution would be to place this function in the hands of the people and let there be an elected association to manage restrictions.
(8)  This government has evolved into a business-centric group of directors who are imposing past and present decisions of the development company and the prior Town Center government officials who were appointed, on the residents. There is a hesitancy to consider candidates who have other ideas for various reasons. Incumbents are the preferred choice of the very few voters who go to the polls. This seems to be the cause of the continued frivolous spending of tax dollars and lack of home owner buy-in to the business community role in the spending of tax dollars. Governing Town Center activities, plans and role in the community remains with the development company. 90,000 residents need to have a say in the development of the entire Woodlands now. These people live here and many of them work here. Governing the use of land is a huge gap as we move forward. There continues to be negative neighborhood impact by development decisions. One such recent example is a cemetery in close proximity to a residential neighborhood. When are we ever going to get a master community plan to manage? The gap is that the local government does not have land use controls.    

Future Challenges
(1) Peripheral development of business and housing. ExxonMobil brings a larger number of people to the area in a relatively short time. Development along the new parkway and other peripheral areas will bring considerable competition for tax dollars and housing. Rental properties could increase in our community as older homes sell. Traffic could rise and the quality of life decrease if not governed. Development to our north will bring Houston closer to us. New development will outclass technology here in The Woodlands, especially "green technology". So there is a perceived related threat to home value and taxation demands by our government.
( 2) Traffic in general will rise as our roads continue to absorb traffic passing through The Woodlands, as a conduit between new development to the west and south from I45. Governing the use of roads and related noise/vibration  is a considerable challenge. The quality of life here needs to be protected.
(3) Managed affordable taxation for the residents
(4) Resident participation as volunteers. There is less opportunity than in the past to participate in government. Growing replacement or new volunteers is an issue. There is less opportunity than in the past to learn how the governing processes work, how issues are addressed and how decisions on the budget are made.
(5) Developing transparency of the development company as a governing body. It makes decisions for residents and has the master plan that is not visible. Residents want transparency now. The master plan appears to change whenever the development company wants it to. It is time to stop that behavior, or it is time to open it up so that residents buy into it and have confidence in decisions and not feel constantly threatened.
(6) Getting resident buy-in/influence in decision making. This could be related to just getting the vote out. Current government makes decisions based on the ideas and thought processes of a very few. There seems to be little conferring with residents on the issues.  

Need to protect      
(1) Unique feel of The Woodlands
(2) High quality of our schools
(3) Forest including trees, undergrowth and wildlife. Seems to be a gap in protecting our wildlife.
(4) Parks and pathways
(5) Residential standards
(6) Managed traffic flow (a county service)
(7) Volunteer system - inclusion of residents

Missing items
I can think of a couple of additional things not mentioned but very relevant to the future governance model. One is water. We are taxed based on bonds for wells. Newer MUD districts have a much larger debt than the older ones in general. I see a financial issue associated with consolidating all the MUD districts together now but we may want to do that in 10-15 years. We face significant issues with water in the future, and there are issues with the governance model related to these issues.

On the positive side, we have excellent senior staff in government, most which transferred from the associations. This was not discussed in our focus group. 

In our current governing model, we cannot annex peripheral areas. This was mentioned, but I don't believe it ever made it to the gap analysis data. To be able to manage our current territory domain, we need to be able to have the sales tax income generated by nearby businesses. There needs to be flexibility to annex areas, especially to our west.

Our fire department is certainly a very good one, but we do not need to be top of the class in firefighting capability. We need better leverage surrounding departments. Our goals should not be to be the best in every class of service but to be as good or better in some of them, with a manageable and affordable budget. Budget must be governed better than it is. 

The exercise itself did not ask for feedback but did ask for questions. That bothered me a bit. When I asked a few of the people leaving what they thought of it, I got some good feedback that should have been gathered in the meeting itself. However, I believe this was very worthwhile and am anxious to see the results from other focus groups. I wish they too would be published, but I do not yet have my hands on any documentation. I understand someone else has done some documentation though. The project manager seemed a little anxious about that, because I believe he wants it all to be presented as a processed presentation rather than delivering the sound bytes that were collected. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Difficulties of governing


Government is basically the same everywhere except maybe here. You can't please everyone, especially here. In The Woodlands Texas, we have some unique issues. History drives our dilemma. We started as a development company and gradually transitioned into an association. Then we developed Town Center independently but in parallel with the residential villages using totally different concepts, but retaining similar processes and community values. Village residents were not necessarily in agreement with the development plans of Town Center but few contested the vision of a suburban downtown in the middle of the forest, governing itself. From the beginning, Town Center has been a place for visitors. Now it is also a place for a unique urbanized class of residents. With the merger of Town Center and association governments into a township government, some of the conflicts have not yet been adequately addressed. Some big issues remain and the task to effectively govern this community is difficult.  

Newer residents have embraced the ideas of urbanization more than old timers. This has caused somewhat of a conflict between naturalists and city dwellers, a concrete/steel society vs a natural setting. This subject is rarely discussed because it just lies in the background, like a shadow, going unnoticed and being misinterpreted as the same as a business vs residential conflict. Villagers do not want to hear noise or see concrete and steel in their communities. That is the basis of conflict between the two paradigms. Commercializing The Woodlands must be done with care and consideration for the reverse side of the coin.  

The line between commercialism and naturalism could be drawn at budget time. Residents should not have to pay for commercialism, yet investments in commercialism can save taxpayers real money. Now the question is constantly asked, should government be in business, with capital investments and profiteering? This is one ongoing debate that is currently occurring within the government of The Woodlands. It is a conflict, because there continues to be vestiges of the old Town Center in the way the directors think and act. After all, we have a number of old town center directors remaining on the current board.

Many people here ask pertinent and pointed questions, but they rarely take any action. Last night I attended a town hall meeting specifically convened to review the 2011 budget. Outside of the normal crowd, there were very few residents, maybe only two who stood up and made what I would call "normal resident" comments. I made comments too, but I have been commenting regularly ever since our governing question came to the table a few years ago. The township directors were all ears with pen and paper in hand, but with so few voices speaking, they should not feel comfortable in receiving the feedback they sought. They get what they can and will discuss what to do before finalizing the budget. Last year, the public produced more comments than this year and had significant impact on the outcome. This year, the election generated significant focus on the issues, but the public did not come out and vote. It was no surprise to me to see so few people attending the town hall meeting and so few comments made.

It is no surprise to see the same issues at the town hall meeting as the election. Are the issues real? Is policing really an issue? If it is, why didn't the public vote out the incumbents and let new ideas be brought forward? Status quo does not produce change. It sustains the old. It is interpreted as "everything is OK". Just keep the taxes the same and we will be happy.  Yet the public said something different in the residents' survey. There are problems to be solved, especially in law enforcement.

The board has therefore made a small change to the budget to reduce Alpha Omega mounted patrols and put the money towards policing. $300,000 was knocked off of the $1.5 million contract, yet we will continue to see the mounted patrols in the parking lot of Walmart at I-45 and SH-242. The idea is that they are charged with patrolling all of Town Center. We will increase policing in 2011 through more overtime and three more hires. Each hire will require a full sized police car, compatible with the Sheriff's fleet for high speed chases on highways. These automobiles must be replaced every four years. We are not county roads. We are a urban community of neighborhood streets. Our policing requirements are different than the county. Every officer is trained in the county processes and skills are developed in the same way. Sheriff policies must be retained in the deployment of the officers. Isn't it time to change?

Hand it to the board however. The proposed budget has a plan to study policing again. Yes, get consultants and see what is needed in the community. It is difficult to govern a community, especially when there are no skills within the board to manage the policing of our community. This study may be the right thing to do now, but it must be done carefully. Representatives from the village associations are being given the job of giving feedback on the future of our policing. Maybe the feedback should also be given to a committee of knowledgeable people in the community. There is an abundance of issues associated with the direction we are headed, but someone has to lead the effort and get it done.

Fortunately, we have seven residents who volunteer their time to make these decisions. I hope they take to heart the comments made last night in their thoughts as they reconsider some of the decisions in the budget. For one, I hope we move off of the old idea that there is any law enforcement benefit in the deployment of horseback patrols. That is purely a tourist expense, hid under the umbrella of law enforcement. Much of it could be used as a general homestead for residents. If in 2011 it would be trimmed from $1.2 million to $500,000, then we would have enough money to fund a homestead discount in 2012. I have heard of no plan to reduce this budget item in the five year plan, so this would apply for five years out as well as today. With $500,000 we should have plenty of visible mounted patrols in pretty red jackets to give the township its "personality". Just put them in the right places - where people walk (but not parking lots). Put them in places for physical presence at events where people gather and along paths in Town Center, strictly for visibility. Put them under the jurisdiction and management of tourism, not law enforcement. They are patrolling to attract visitors. Let's find out if they really do that.