Friday, July 31, 2009

Woodlands Township Budget Scope and Overview

The Proposed 2010 Budget includes the funding of The Woodlands Township and the Community Associations of The Woodlands’ services and staff, along with funding for The Woodlands Fire Department, The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau, and includes an enhanced community-policing plan, as well as continued infrastructure development.

Its scope includes long and short term needs of the community. The idea is basically to maintain the current level of quality services and to enhance selected services. A process has been established through a strategic plan to ensure the efforts are directed towards long term strategic objectives. These include replacing aging facilities, maintaining a very large number of assets, and creating a flexible financial environment in which to succeed.

The budget includes the combined services of the Community Associations and The Woodlands Township. The Woodlands Fire Department will continue as a separate not-for-profit corporation and will be funded entirely by the Township Board of Directors. The Community Associations’ assessments will be replaced with a Township property tax levy. All responsibilities and obligations of the Community Associations will be assumed by The Township on January 1, 2010.

“These are historic times for The Woodlands,” said The Woodlands Township Chairman of the Board Nelda Blair. “This budget will reflect the needs of the combined organizations of The Woodlands Township and the Community Associations of The Woodlands, including combining the staffs, centralizing responsibilities and improving efficiencies. Quality of services will remain the same or be enhanced as the two organizations combine as of January 1, 2010.”

Basic services provided in the Proposed 2010 Budget include:

  • Covenants Administration assumed from the Community Associations’ responsibilities
  • Parks and Pathways - 110 parks and 180 miles of pathways
  • Aquatics - 13 swimming pools, 50% funded by revenues and 50% by fees
  • Waterway maintenance - pathway, fountains and park
  • Fire and EMS - 6 fire stations with related trucks and equipment and 110 firefighters
  • Enhanced Law enforcement - 54 deputies with proposed reorganization and delivery of services
  • Neighborhood Services - from existing services by the associations
  • Security services - in Town Center
  • Convention and Visitor Bureau - special events
  • Economic Development - partnerships
  • Refuse collection and recycling
  • Streetlights
  • Roadway and entry maintenance
  • Capital projects - replacement of aging or non-serviceable equipment
  • Capital projects - new parks, pathways, fire stations
  • Debt service - existing debt refinance and financing new projects
The Woodlands Township has four primary funding sources1:
  1. Property tax of $37.9 million - will replace Community Associations’ assessments
  2. Sales and Use Tax of $30.1 million – general operating fund plus Houston, Conroe agreements
  3. Hotel Occupancy Tax of $3.5 million - sole use is for the convention center
  4. Other Revenues of $5.6 million
  5. Bonds or loans for large capital projects
The property tax levy will replace the Community Associations’ assessments, which fund these services:
  • Community policing
  • Covenant enforcement
  • Parks and pathways maintenance
  • Aquatics
  • Neighborhood services
  • Garbage collection/recycling
  • Community maintenance
  • Administrative services
  • Capital asset replacements
  • Capital asset additions
  • Operating reserves
  • Debt service
  • Community relations
The Woodlands Fire Department costs were previously funded by the Community Associations’ assessments and will now be funded through Township Economic Development Zone (EDZ) fund which is sourced by sales taxes.

The sales tax is expected to generate approximately $30 million annually. Approximately $15 million of the annual sales tax collections will be used to fund the cost of The Woodlands Fire Department previously funded by Community Associations’ assessments. The remaining funding from the sales tax collections (approximately $15 million) will be used to fund (1) Regional Participation Agreement funding to Houston and Conroe, (2) debt service and annual expenses including:

  • Economic Development Zone debt service
  • Town Center security
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Community event promotion
  • Economic development promotion
Service enhancements included:
  • Expansion of existing community policing program (over a two-year period)
  • Initiation of a group sales operation - use existing personnel
  • Initiation of a centralized purchasing operation - use existing personnel
  • Program for capital reserve funding
  • Program for economic development reserve funding
  • Funding for assumption of water taxi service
Provision for three reserve accounts are proposed in the event of potential downturns in sales tax and hotel occupancy tax collections.
  • Operating reserve – 20% of operating expenditures
  • Capital Asset replacement reserve
  • Economic Development reserve
1 Township 2010 Budget webpage

Woodlands town hall meeting August 2009

The second town hall meeting, since the Township was formed, was directed at the 2010 budget. Residents did participate in comments after the budget proposal prepared by the township and association staff was presented. Like usual, some were ultra critical and others who had special concerns. The Township continues to have a few people totally submerged in their quest for a city government. Most residents don't really care, so long as their quality of life is maintained or improved and they don't have to spend their hard earned money for something they can get otherwise. There remain issues in the community as we regularly discuss here on this website, but where is there any place without issues? So what said the people in this meeting? The responses are cataloged, but I can't say that I captured all of the concerns expressed.
  1. Swimming pools are not open at convenient times for working residents who want to enjoy the amenity with their families. Suggestion - open later, close later (8pm). I suspect Parks and Recreation will be looking into this suggestion. People do use the pools early in the summer, but the need to be open later is probably a valid point for some pools, maybe not all.
  2. Seniors need help with the rising cost of living here. We need a senior tax exemption. The Township has been working on this issue. Tom Campbell has been a very big proponent. I too hope for relief!
  3. We have a problem with crime here. Let's have a surge in law enforcement, similar to the Iraqi surge. Get it fixed now! This was in response to the two year plan in the budget. I will write an article specifically on this subject soon. It is much more complicated than this, and we need to have a detailed plan to deal with the recent and future issues.
  4. Stolen car in driveway. "I moved away from a place that had crime and came here to get away from it. I bought a new car, and it was stolen out of my driveway here. I thought this was a safe place." This is of course a valid concern, and we all are on board in concert with this gentleman; however again, the issue is complicated and needs discussion and planning. Residents have a role in this too. It is not just a problem for policing or for the Township.
  5. Another concern about policing budget. We don't want to overspend on the issue. Shouldn't we be looking at efficiencies of our current deputies first? There may be improvements that would not require so many deputies. For example, reporting using our park WIFI installation, or working to reduce false home alarm calls, or working to have our citizens take on some responsibility themselves for the rash of crimes such as locking their home and cars. I will address policing issues in a coming article.
  6. Unnecessary Spending - playground equipment was recently changed in Capstone Park. New equipment is not as durable as the old equipment, and the old equipment did not need replacement. This appears to be a waste of money. We don't need to replace equipment just to replace it. Make it last for its lifetime.... I have been a bit concerned about this also. However, as Claude Hunter responded, equipment is often changed out for safety or regulatory reasons. The reason for this particular instance was unknown.
  7. Another concern stated for lack of tax exemptions for the elderly. We have lived here a long time and want to stay but there is no tax exemption for those of us over 65 (over 70).
  8. Museum and cultural amenities. the Township is lacking in its effort to bring a museum here. Can't we have funds allocated to that effort? A teacher and long time resident brought this issue to the table. There were several women who seemed to come together to express their concern at this meeting. Nelda Blair asked them to return to the podium to discuss it further; another lady did that later. A clothing store is going to occupy the place in the mall where the museum is currently located. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts will cease operation at that location in September. The Woodlands will no longer have a museum. There is no plan to find a place for it. Nelda responded that the mall operates separately and the Township has no influence on its business. "We cannot get to Houston to visit the museum there. We need a museum here." For sure, in my opinion, there is a need to have a satellite museum north of Houston, more accessible to residents here. Something more may come of this during the budget process.
  9. Understanding of bonds. You are proposing a 32 cent tax and a bond of $45mm. That is a huge tax! This was just a misunderstanding of the purpose of a bond election proposal. The statement may help the Township to sell the bonds to the public. Bonds are used to finance the investment over a long period of time, keeping taxes low. The items in the bond are mostly what would have happened if we had remained as associations instead of a taxing government. The difference is that these projects would have been financed through loans, or taken out of accumulated treasuries. The Township has to follow government regulations and must seek the least cost solutions for capital projects so that taxes can be kept flat. The bonds will allow us to pay the debt over about 20 years instead of 4 or 5. An assumption that the bonds will pass is included in the 32 cent tax rate. There will be no added tax for the bonds.
  10. Not a municipality. If we were a municipality, we probably would not be having these problems. Why are we reinventing the wheel? Let's be a city!!! Renegotiate the agreement with Houston! Well, there is a plan to study and formulate a proposal for a long term governing body. What will be done will be for the benefit of the community, not blindly do something because everyone else does it. We have a schedule and have appropriated funds in the budget for the study. 2014 is the earliest in the agreement when we can be incorporated. Personally, I do not see this gentleman's point. let's go forward and not backward. Everyone is on-board to look at this issue, and everyone knows there are pros and cons. Are we not a community of intelligent people? Let's move forward with our plan. Everyone understands the issues with policing. We will probably not have lower taxes when we become a city, more likely higher taxes. The Township has made great progress and now we have a proposal to reduce taxes with more policing. I don't know what more to ask for that being a city would solve.
  11. Not sufficient financial reserves. We need to raise the tax one cent to obtain sufficient financial reserves. I have been in city governments and seen much better reserve plans. We have significant assets here and must be able to protect and replace them. Personally, I hope the plan is sufficient. I do not want higher taxes. This will no doubt be discussed in future budget meetings.
  12. Ice Rink. We had two views. (1) Lessen the priority. It is not required. Let's instead promote private enterprise to take on the challenge. It has not been a profitable venture in the past. (2) Keep the priority. We could do a great deal to promote the sport of ice hockey in the area. Make the rink full size capable for sports competition. Rinks are a premium in the Houston area. We have to travel across the city for one. Area sports clubs will want to use it. It can be profitable. Personally, I can see both views. Before the township sets out on this, the project has to be properly sized and framed so that we don't end up with a problem. We should stay out of business ventures ourselves and find private money for them. It could be considered just another park amenity. We do need such facilities for our children. We don't need to be the recreational facility for North Houston. Why can't there be other places in North Houston with a rink? Is this really something the Township should invest in? It would be a draw for business in Town Center and would produce sales tax money though. Should residents be footing the bill? This is controversial, so make an excellent business plan for a well thought-out project, and I would support it.
  13. Law enforcement - We have a serious crime problem here. Consider immediate measures to fix the problem. No additional comment from me. I will address seperately.
  14. Veterans Park - we have taken this issue to the associations several times before. This is an opportunity for the Township. We do not have a place to go here to honor our veterans. Please plan a park in the budget for us to have a veterans park! Don't you think this is a reasonable request? I do.
  15. Can't we finance the assets longer than 20 years, more along the line of the life of the asset, say 30 years? Don Norrell responded, "yes but investors need more security at the General bond rates. We would have to pay more interest for a higher risk bond."
The comments above came from residents in almost every village. I was happy to see so many people participate. It sounded like the voice of the community, and as one resident put it afterward, "we speak out and all ideas are respected and considered even though some of us disagree on some issues." This is the way it should be. Where there is one nugget, there is likely others. A I stated in a prior article, this presentation revealed a great deal of work and thought. Everything I see is logical. There is tweaking to do, and I for one, hope to see a few things changed but nothing dramatic.

1Proposed Annual Budget Fiscal Year 2010 presented by Norrell
22010 Budget proposal from Commentary viewpoint

Thursday, July 30, 2009

2010 proposed budget

The Woodlands Texas residents have passed yet another milestone. At the town hall meeting last night, the first budget proposal of the complete township was presented by Don Norrell. I will give you my take on it.

First and foremost, the staff of the Township and the Woodlands Service Company has put together an excellent summary! The five-year plan is as Don Norrell stated, “never totally accurate but has the known requirements in it at the time of publication. Things always change over the course of even one year.” Timing of projects is partially driven by the need to keep the tax rate consistent and predictable. When a financial plan is developed, one must predict the income and the cost of providing services.

Bottom line is that the proposed tax rate is 32.8 cents per $100 county property assessment. There will be no exemption for disabled veterans, or over-65 residents, or for homesteads. In perspective and comparison, the county is proposing a tax rate on the identical property assessments of 48.38 cents. For a $200,000 home the township tax would be $656 and the county $967 for a total of $1,623. This would be the bulk of your tax bill for 2010. For a complete picture, you will have to also add the school tax and the community college tax to it. Put the township tax in a historical context: in 2007, the association rate was 45.5 cents for TWA, 42 for WCA and 39 for WCOA. So TWA will save 13.5 cents ($270 for $200,000 home), WCA 9.2 ($184), and WCOA 6.2 ($124 on $200,000 assessment).

The base operating requirement has been established at 23.5 cents. That is, to keep the same amenities, not build anything, just keep things as they are, and pay off debt, it would cost the taxpayer 23.5 cents on every $100 assessed. So that means for the $200,0000 homeowner, a tax of 7.5 ($150 per year) per year pays for the following over the next five years:

  • Expansion and reorganization of police services
  • Two additional fire stations and the replacement of the central fire station
  • New parks, renovated parks, ponds and recreational improvements.
  • Firefighting and policing equipment
  • Computers, hardware, software
  • Accumulating financial reserves
  • Emergency fund
  • Trolley expansion
  • Waterway taxi operations
  • Probably more that I have not captured
  • Study for government office construction

We continue to be a community being developed, so we continue to build parks and amenities to make The Woodlands, “The Woodlands”. Unfortunately, the Township inherits a 50/50 partnership with the developer to fund the construction of parks and pathways in new neighborhoods. The TWA debt obligations, because of that agreement, must also be paid by all of us. That debt would have been paid off by TWA association assessments over the next four years, had we not consolidated and formed a new government. We also inherit the capital investments of several new parks and pathways as a result of the development of Creekside Park Village and other new neighborhoods.

Operationally, we will be hit by a very large operational increase in the fire department. For the township as a whole, salaries and benefits go up a whopping 7.4%! Township employees will receive improved benefits from the merger by assuming some of the benefits from the Woodlands Service Company. Combined, this 7.4% equates to $1.7 million. Contracted services will also go up by 4.1% equating to $1.0 million. This primarily provides additional police protection. These two expenditure types comprise 62% of the operating budget. Elsewhere in the budget, it is difficult to see the changes simply by numbers, because of the capital spending in the last two years of the WCA when projects were accelerated. There are also some savings from consolidation and redistribution of duties among staff.

By the number to note: Policing program $1.1mm, Savings by consolidation $1.24mm, 2010 capital for construction & renovation & improvements $11.0mm, 2010 total revenues $77.7mm, 2010 total expenses $77.6mm, Debt service $7.65mm, Paths and walkways Town Center $1.8mm.

Can we expect some tuning to this initial budget proposal? I think so, but the rate will not likely go down much if any. I would like to see it capped here though and not allow it to rise above 33. Preferably, the board can add value by lowering the rate to 32 (where I really want it capped long term). It is expensive to live in The Woodlands. We face water bonds added to all of this. Much work has gotten us to this point. Refinement and fine-tuning is needed. We are, after all, in a recession. The county cut back 5% to accommodate some of the stress on everyone. It would be better to start the township lower if we can, and consider the plight of those who are under budget stress.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Potable Water in The Woodlands, Texas - declining reserves explained

Over the past few years, we have been able to watch our rapid growing county gradually become water-deprived. That has happened for a number of reasons - high consumption per capita, rapid growth of population, and drought. We are dependent on subsurface reservoirs that are being depleted and not sufficiently recharged. Although the available amount of water is stressed, we are theoretically not short of water, ..... YET. The county is predicted to double in population in just a little over 10 years. That will cause huge problems for us. Therefore, our water utility districts are planning a major project to obtain, transport and replace our MUD wells (which are not even paid for yet) with surface water from Lake Conroe. This will occur only in the five major population areas of the county. Those living outside of those areas will keep their water wells and continue to utilize existing underground supplies.

The primary issue as has been described to me by James Stinson, General Manager of Joint Powers Agency, is the waste. He has publicly stated this several times. Residents are putting millions of gallons of our limited underground water on the street, in gutters. They are also utilizing much more than actually needed to water their lawns. Some lawns are watered even when it is raining. I have neighbors who do that. They are away and have their sprinklers programmed to regularly water the lawn on certain days. Of course they reprogrammed their system for the nighttime to conform to restrictions, but if it rains (which it has not), their water system does the same as when it is dry. Now if that is not waste, I don't know what is. This can be avoided by acquiring a rain monitor device that will shut off the automatic watering system when it rains. The JPA will even help you purchase one by rebating 50% of the cost up to $150. Most residents from what I have been told, measure what they put on the lawn; they simply water it until the ground is soggy. Usually ground is never soggy with proper watering techniques, because one inch delivered evenly will not cause soggy soil unless the soil is composed totally of a soft non-compacted dirt. It usually has plenty of sand and clay making it moderately soft even when moderately wet. I have never seen it "soggy" except when using soft dirt on the surface. So the GM says we waste 40% of our water and I can certainly believe that number! Please measure the water you deliver to your yard and restrict it to about one inch per week.

I measure mine with little tins from cat and dog food. I put a ruler into the water after watering and adjust my watering technique to make it about one inch everywhere in the sunny part of the yard and a little less in the shady spots.

What happens to the underground reservoirs when we deplete them faster than we recharge them? Down in the depths of the ground, there are producing water zones. These are composed of rock, usually limestone or sand, with a lattice structure to permit the retention and movement of water within them. The rock structure essentially is composed of billions of little cavities held together by lattice rock structures. Water moves into these zones from the surface when it rains, gradually seeping deeper and deeper into the soil until it reaches these underground "homes" for water. It forms an underground water network pulled by gravity. The water acts as a cushioning mechanism, keeping the lattice structure from collapsing. There is tremendous overburden pressure caused by the combination of gravity and the weight of the rocks and soil and everything else above it. When you take the water out of the structure at a faster rate than it is put into it, the water level drops, just like a river. The upper part of the structure then collapses or shrinks until it reaches a pressure equilibrium with the tensile strength of the rock lattices. When the structure collapses, it is gone forever. The space that once existed to hold water is gone. This causes subsidence and lowered capacity of the producing reservoir, just ask people in Harris County what happened in prior decades because of their depletion of the reservoirs! Also when structures collapse, there is no more underground water at that depth, requiring some people and some utility production wells to be deepened in the reservoir to reach the water supply. Thus the vicious cycle continues.

Here in The Woodlands, we have an opportunity to decrease the rate of this self destruct mechanism by not blatantly wasting our water. We utilize more than the rest of the county. We are upstream from Harris County and they produce from what we don't. We are in their recharge zone, which without much rain, has been a very limited or non-existent process in some areas lately, so what we do affects them. Water is a very precious and limited resource. We must invest in tools and time to conserve it. Every human being upon this earth has the responsibility, as custodians, to care for it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Water - political hotspot

Here in The Woodlands, we are considering a systematic lawn-watering schedule, similar to what we have now in this drought, but not activated by drought conditions. We do need good water management. Who is the target of this possible new action and why? I see responsible people every day acquiescing to the current regulations for good reason – the drought, to conserve water by observing the current restrictions to water only two times a week (one inch). But let's get to some form of reality. Personally, I have been considering this from the moment it was instituted this year. Right now, I have to use more water for the lawn than I did before, to technically comply with the restriction. I have made it known to some of the authorities that this situation exists and why. Although there is no official accommodation in these restrictions for temperature, for soil conditions, nor for work schedules or home direction orientation, there is a means to get an exception. An example of need: Most of my lawn can go six days without water if I give it one inch and supplement the watering in a couple of small places. There are a few places facing west that cannot survive a week without water. Now it would seem that I have to water twice a week to comply with the drought restrictions. Technically yes, but actually no. There is good news, the Joint Powers Authority can and will accommodate case-by-case situations. It is recommended by the same authority to water once a week with a one-inch application. That is possible in my yard at a 95-degree maximum ambient temperature. It is impossible at 101. Our current restrictions are not inflexible. All that the Joint Powers Agency (JPA) actually asks us to do is to not waste water and help them keep the pressure up for fire safety. The current restrictions are good to help us to do that, but they need to be regarded as somewhat flexible. Try to follow them if practical. Neighbor-to-neighbor, no one wants to be seen breaking the rules. If there is an issue and you can minimize waste in some other way, tell the authority and get an exception. Then tell your neighbors why it is better for you, if watering in a different manner than prescribed embarrasses you. It might even help neighborly relations by being outside talking to your neighbor on watering days.

To accommodate my situation, I have to call the JPA and seek an exception. That I have not yet done, but when it is in place, I may be watering some days that are not mandated for my address. I seek to minimize my water usage on my lawn. That is my objective and that is the authority’s objective. The authority understands that goal and certainly supports it.

So look at the possibility of a “permanent” schedule. A schedule is not a permanent restriction; it is a model of usage. It should be thought of as a predictive model where everyone falls into a pattern of use, under a guideline of watering a maximum of twice a week, in all seasons. Then the water district should not face huge aberrations in consumption or water availability. The JPA should be able to manage the water and sewage systems much more efficiently and effectively. This does make sense!

The proposal is to establish a pattern of usage that distributes consumption as it does right now in this drought. That will probably require a model, similar to what we have now, but not necessarily confine us to that model. All that is needed is that we are consistent and water our lawns judiciously and to do it evenly across the community. Lifestyles may be different among households and homes a bit different, so a household is essentially asked to establish a predictive routine and stay with it. Don’t deviate from the model unless there is good reason to however. Exceptions cost administrative overhead.

There is more to this. 40% of our water in the summer is wasted, according to studies. It flows into gutters and into the sewage system. 80% of our consumption right now is estimated to be in irrigating our yards. A huge amount of our precious resource is wasted every day. Unfortunately, there are just a few residents who waste it in large amounts. There is waste in every household, but the bottom line volume consumption rests with a fairly small percentage of homeowners. I know I have some waste. I would say that perhaps 1% of the water applied goes down the street. If we were truly required to save every gallon, I would need to have my automatic system redesigned or just abandon using the system. I trigger it manually when my day comes around, so I can have two back-2-back cycles and get maximum penetration from the application. Managing the edges to zero runoff would be a serious challenge but may be a next step down the road, should water become so scarce that we have to regulate it by the gallon instead of by the tens of gallons.

Managing a drought is different than managing annual consumption, but what we learn in a drought can be applied to the management of the area resources in all seasons.

Isn't part of the problem the St Augustine grass that we use throughout the state? Where is A&M's solution to this problem? I do not support having a program at the spigot if we don’t have a long-range plan to deal with the root of the problem. There are two roots to the problem - people and landscape material or devices.

People are wasteful. Those who significantly overuse water should be interviewed and ways found to lessen their use of water. How do we know they are out of line in usage? There is a way to measure it. Abnormalities could be identified through an index method, which I will describe later. Maybe there is also a technology gap. I don’t assume that rain controllers, mulch and St Augustine are the solutions, and perhaps the technology used is not what is available now for the problems we have. For example, is there a better way to water the edges of the lawn to deliver water but not waste any water? Or can we use native or native-modified grasses, instead of St Augustine? For some families’ style of life, such an index may not be seem practical, but everyone can treat the limited water resource in a judicious manner. Where there is serious concern, there is always a practical solution. It is well known that misuse of water by some residents is the probable cause of our current issue, but must everyone suffer on their behalf? If it is true that 40% of our water is wasted, then why not find that 40% and find workable remedies to that problem? To me, this is a different issue than distributing the use of the water over days of the week.

St Augustine grass has always demanded considerable water to survive, although it will take a beating and usually grow back when the water is more available. Nonetheless it is susceptible to disease and drought. Is it time we change? This is a problem for Texas A&M. It is an issue all along the Gulf Coast. Grass helps to control flooding and is very useful, not just an aesthetic component of landscape. As water becomes more and more precious by short supply, shouldn't we begin to abandon our love for St Augustine and replace our grass with something requiring less water? . I am told “no’ by the GM of JPA. 1Maybe Texas A&M could research a better St Augustine that survives drought better. Drought is a Texas normality. St Augustine is not a water-inefficient grass. As I stated in another article, there are issues with the other grasses but at the same time, there are alternatives and opportunities.

Our wells are not producing what they once did. We have to drill deeper into the reservoirs sometimes to make them produce at the required rates. I have never heard of any water wells in this general area that have maintained production without intervention. Population growth here has been tremendous, but we have not had an apparent water pressure issue, mostly because of drought interventions in the summer. I have witnessed serious urban water pressure issues elsewhere and that was not pretty! It was downright annoying, frustrating and dangerous. If we have to regulate the water, then let's regulate the volume of water used. That is the real issue here, not whether we are watering on given days of the week, but nonetheless, it is good to have a systematic scheduled watering schedule just to eliminate or reduce the threat of lowered water pressure.

So is it such a bad thing to ask residents to have the same water schedule we currently have throughout the year? That seems a bit of an over-kill to me. Austin2 has a set schedule every year from May 1st through September 30th. Maybe we should have it from June 1st to October 30th. I am concerned about watering at night during October however. That will cause fungus. Maybe we can end at the end of September also. Face it any time outside of that window has no watering issues, at least from my meandering around The Woodlands.

Why not regulate growth? This would certainly be a politically explosive strategy. New housing could take on more of the issue, instead of existing residents. If we don’t have enough water, why do we grow? But the point is, we have enough. It is just being wasted.

Personally, I like using educational means to get people to judiciously consume water and when that doesn’t work, slap those who are causing the problem on the wrist. So here is a suggestion – since we know the volume of water used in every household and business, and we know the appraised square feet of each home and the lot size, would it be better to start using a meaningful measure to identify those misusing our resources? If I use 1000 gallons and a huge multi-million home uses 100,000 gallons, which one is over using water? Both have to maintain their homes and their landscape. You use a normalization technique. Say my home site is 3000 sq feet and the big home is on 20000 sq feet. Now who is using more than their share of water? Then I use 3000/8000 or .35 gallons per sq foot per month while the other homeowner is using 5 gallons per square foot. So is the large home wasting water? Not necessarily. However, what is reasonable and not reasonable can be determined from looking at the population of homes in the community and this usage index. I would say that anyone having more than twice the median index of the total population might be overusing water (just a shot in the dark). This may not be very close to an answer, but something like this is what we need to be doing.

Performance indices are one of my favorite subjects. The JPA has not publicized any yet and probably do not have one in the works. It would be worthwhile to contract an effort to assess a better way to manage this precious resource in our community. I know this can be done and it should not cost us an arm and a leg. Then metaphorically we could slap those who abuse the resource on the wrist and even break an arm if it comes to that.

This article was rewritten and published on July 22nd.

1 Joint Powers Agency - Mr. James Stintson, P.E., General Manager
2 Austin water regulations

Friday, July 17, 2009

County Bonds - Not going to happen. What a dilemma!

Earlier this week, the Montgomery County commissioners drew up a bond proposal to consider for the coming budget process. $300+ million is needed to finance a fairly long slate of needed county road major projects. Here in The Woodlands, it would involve the replacement or resurfacing of Grogan’s Mill, West Panther Creek, Woodlands Parkway, and possibly others. Although we need some work on all of these, and with the extent of traffic volume on Woodlands Parkway, the price is just too high to issue such a bond right now. The county judge says, “it isn’t going to happen.”

We do have some advantage of doing this now. Construction bids are coming in about 30% down from last year. However, now is simply not a good time to do it. It is a risky proposal, given the state of our economy and the related voter apprehension. We cannot afford a failed bond issue at the polls. Increasing taxes by 7-9 cents (or 17%) would be exceptional, especially in this soft economy, which has not yet recovered from a near disaster. “There is at least one respected financial analyst predicting that the economy will almost totally fail, that the disaster has not been averted, and that that we are still headed for a depression.” noted County Judge Alan Sadler.1. He went on to say “This bond will not happen”, meaning that the county will not go forward with such a bond. The judge is concerned that there is just too much risk of the bond failing. We need to find alternatives and find some means to fix our roads. “For example, the asphalt-constructed Walden Rd is having significant problems and needs to be replaced with a concrete construction. Yet when we first built this road according to state specifications, the state funded 80% of it. Now, we have to pay for the entire replacement road without that subsidy. This is a big dilemma for all of us.”

We are between a rock and a hard place. What happened in Austin in this legislature has hurt our county. How is it that we had federal bailout money injected into expansion projects and we are now sitting in this position to maintain our existing roads?

Today, there is no pass-through money available from the State of Texas for our bonds. TxDOT has absolutely nothing for us this time. That means we will have to finance all of it ourselves without any subsidies. We get no help. When we originally constructed Walden Road, we got 80% of it financed by the state. If existing residents have to pay for the county’s growth, something is wrong. Just imagine. A resident moves here and is asked to fund road maintenance at a high tax rate. The payments should be spread out over 20 or more years of tax base. Interest rates are low. High routine maintenance costs also drive taxes up, so we have to invest in quality projects. We need durable quiet roads. Contractors and their equipment burden some of the roads, causing wear and tear that residents eventually must pay. Roads decline because of subsurface material and they simply fail because we use them so heavily. Who rightfully pays? The county would construct a class “B” concrete road to replace the asphalt Walden Rd, which lies on top of clay. That would have one layer of iron rods, not two as in Class “A”, but strong enough to hold together on top of a clay roadbed.

What to do? Go to the hard place or go to the rock; either way it seems to me that we are in the middle and squashed.

Maybe we could get the commissioners out together on each proposed road with a budget cap of $160mm and come up with a “now” proposal with a limited budget? That would probably be well worth the effort. I think that might fly. Face it, the current proposal will not fly and the commissioner's court sees that. Maybe there are even alternatives to repairing some roads. Then after all the economic issues subside in three years, try again. Keep the property tax below $.049! Isn’t it a good idea to have very stringent criteria for inclusion of projects and a budget cap for the bonds. It isn’t so much that we have some repair to do, but it is the extent of it. We have people here on fixed incomes. We have people here worried about keeping their jobs. It is definitely a time to be conservative! Maybe not everyone is equal. Some people can afford it and some cannot. Homes continue to increase in value. Each taxpayer is paying more to the county even without an increase in the tax rate. Tough choices are coming in the county budget meetings.

Yep, truly a dilemma! We all are in this together. Hopefully, there will be some middle-of-the-road compromise. And yes, pun intended!

1 Judge Alan B Sadler’s profile

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Financing Woodlands Township Capital 2010-2014 Bonds

The Woodlands Township Executive Committee voted today to send a bond proposal strategy for a long-term debt management plan to the Woodlands Township Board, for consideration at the July 22nd meeting.

The Township five-year plan will include a number of projects requiring long-term financing. The proposed construction of a new office facility for The Woodlands Township operations is purposely not included in this list, but does not indicate that the project will be neglected in the plan. The project planning and review of facility options and alternatives is still underway and financing options will be considered at a later date.The plan is to reduce the cost of financing Township projects in this time of low cost money, and does not address the 21 million debt of the Economic Development Zones (EDZ) 1-3, which funded the construction of Town Green Park and partially funded the construction of Market Street, among others. These debts are addressed in separate funding programs.

Construction projects in the plan and the refinancing of existing debt include:

Bond Proposal for financing major capital projects in five year plan


Total estimated Capital Budget 2010-2014

Refinance TWA and WFD debts 8.0
Refinance WFD Station #6 and Fire Training Facility debts 11.6
Construct Creekside Fire Station 3.4
Construct Indian Springs Fire Station 3.7
Reconstruct Grogans Mill Central Fire Station 6.4
Purchase fire trucks and equipment for new stations 2.5
Construct new parks and pathways in five year plan (Creekside and Town Center) 12.0
The most viable financing option requiring long-term financing, with voter approval, is the issuance of General Obligation bonds (“GO bonds”). GO bonds are backed by the issuing party and carry an irrevocable commitment - the authorizing body (Township) will levy a property tax sufficient to fund the annual debt service requirements for the life of the issued bonds. This enables large projects to be carried for many years, committing but reducing the immediate tax impact of the projects.

GO bonds are typically tax-exempt bonds issued for a period of 20 years or less. They are rated by national rating agencies and are eligible for municipal bond insurance. Considering the Township’s large property tax base and the relatively low outstanding debt, The Woodlands Township should receive a favorable rating and qualify for municipal bond insurance.

Projects and refinancing will be discussed as part of the 2010 budget and five year plan. The first 2010 Budget Workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 29, 2009, and the plan will be presented at the Town Hall Meeting on July 29, 2009. The final decision on the debt management plan will be considered by the Board in late August.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Woodlands Township Townhall Meeting July 29, 2009

Today, the township announced a township meeting at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Town Center. The meeting will be open to the public. Residents and businesses are encouraged to attend. Of particular interest will be the budget. A Presentation of the 2010 Budget will allow residents and businesses of The Woodlands Township the opportunity to hear a presentation of the proposed 2010 Operating Budget and provide feedback to The Woodlands Township Board of Directors.

“The transition into one government called The Woodlands Township is well underway,” said Chairman of the Board Nelda Blair. “The process is complicated and intricate, and involves uncharted territory in Texas history. This is the first budget in this process that provides a significant opportunity for our 90,000 residents and 2,000 employers to determine their future form of governance.”

Residents have been patiently (and some nervously) anticipating this for some time. Although the economy here has been flourishing even in the depressed national economy, a number of residents remain in a more cost conscious state than in the past. It is the time to step to the plate to make opinions and needs known, if residents want to be heard by the Board of Directors. This will be an evening meeting, especially timed for daytime working residents interested in contributing to their future here, starting at 7PM.

Parking is available at the Town Center Garage at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. The fourth floor of the garage is connected via skywalk to The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. The meeting will begin promptly at 7 p.m. and will conclude by 9 p.m.

Related articles
1. Woodlands Budget Considerations
2. Newly developed Strategic Plan

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Woodlands Taxes and Budget 2010 - thoughts

After reviewing the "alphabet soup" budgets of 2009, as a resident, I concluded that we needed some sort of consolidated view of them. So I generated one. Now I am sharing the experience with you and maybe you will have an easier time getting acquainted with this subject also. It is my hope that I can get more residents interested in this year's budget process. Later this month, the township will be providing us with information, but it may not provide an easy-to-assimilate view. So embedded in this article are several tools to help - a summary, several spreadsheets and some text of what I have learned. Also is a simple "what if" scenario on taxation. In late August, the township must complete its budget and establish a tax rate. Tom Campbell issued this communique just recently: "There are so many things to work on to complete the establishment of our new government that The Township will have six meetings on each Wednesday at 9 AM from July 22 through August. July 22 will be a regular business meeting. July 29 through August 19 will be budget work. August 26 will be a regular business meeting and the setting of the first property tax rate. Of Course, there will be public hearings announced on the proposed property tax before it is approved. However, you will have your chance to influence the development of this budget at the July 29 Town Hall Meeting."

Summary - Budget 101
This year, the budget process is earlier because of the taxing process. In past years, we operated independently and could schedule everything on a calendar year. Now we must account for the county's process and fit into their schedule. The township has to develop a budget now to set an assessment rate for 2010, in order for the county to administer the assessment process and collect taxes. Remember, we will receive a tax bill this year from the county, not from The Woodlands Association. That bill will contain the normal county and school taxes plus our assessment taxes.

The Woodlands Township will conduct a town hall meeting at the end of this month to present the budget and strategic plan. This will give residents an opportunity to give our feedback. I expect the township to link strategies to budget line items in order to place financial value on the strategic plan or value on the strategic plan, which is composed of community values. How that will be accomplished is unclear to me now. My guess it will be presented in a broad view of the plan. I am positioned to attempt doing the same and may do it in a separate article, just as a exercise to understand the fit and personally share with others.

For now, all I want to do is get the information to my readers and enable you to start formulating your own opinions on what needs to be done, on what tax rates are acceptable and what questions you want answered. I will share some of my own opinions as we go along.

According to my calculations, the consolidated 2009 budget totaled $63.9 million. The consolidated 2009 revenue from all sources was predicted to be $58.4 million. The deficit was made up with reserves as the associations began to execute their plans to dissolve themselves. The TWA had a budget carryover from 2008 and that was not included.

As most of you probably know, an expense budget is composed of two parts - (1) Capital - that which is an asset investment, adding value to the asset, and (2) Operations - that which is required to finance the operation of the asset. To levy a tax for required expenses, a taxing authority must establish what is needed to operate and what can be deferred. In our case, the revenue will be generated by a state sales tax and by an assessed value property tax. Other revenue is generated, just like it is for a resident, including fee collections, bank interest, and other sources. The business of running a municipal government is, in a single breath, to provide value to residents and businesses, to control expenses through leveraged service contracts & process management, and to provide services for safety and to preserve property value. It exists to provide a safe, economical and prosperous haven to live, play and work.

This last year of transition to a new government will bring four operations together under one umbrella operation. Today, the associations have a service company, The Woodlands Operating Company, which they share together, under contract. Service costs are proportionately allocated for the service company to recover its costs to administer the service programs under its contract umbrella. This accounts for the majority of expenditures in each association, but there are also direct costs. I will not go into this aspect of the budget at this time. You can look at the published budget sheets to review what is direct and what is not.

Budget for 2010
Currently, the township is preparing a budget for review by residents and businesses. Village associations are being queried for needed improvements in the villages, so that capital requirements can be determined and projects prioritized. This is the same procedure that has been followed for years. It is also preparing operational scenarios to determine tax rates. I want to be able to correlate the old to the new. As a reminder, we will go back to the original proposal in 2006 to form a township and remind ourselves what tax structure was "promised". Most of us knew at the time that there were some unknowns, and all we had were some rough estimates. Nevertheless, we developed expectations of how we could survive financially with a taxing authority. Many people were nervous about that. Nothing has changed as of this particular moment, but details are being collected and readied for presentation. We should expect government entity consolidation to create a number of opportunities for operational efficiencies within the next two years. I will refer to my original article which supported the formation of the township as the premise for bringing this up now.6 There is a need to hold our leaders to a responsible position on their promises. Our leaders include our precinct commissioner, our state representative, our state senator, our county tax assessor and others who helped to formulate the financial view of the proposed township and means to fund its operation. We wrote based on statements made, that we would realize a 31% direct + indirect reduction of assessments through this new organization. Right now, I doubt that we will realize this, based on what I have seen and heard, but from the numbers produced below, that realization seems feasible to me. We will be able to claim our assessment taxes to the IRS, but if you have already been doing that, you obviously will not realize any additional saving from that change in collection. I expect a 32% taxation rate, but hope for less. That will be about the same as before the township was formed. Now to present the spreadsheet.

Consolidated Budgets WCA TWA WCOA Town Totals
$mm $mm $mm $mm $mm
Operating Budget 2009 12.72 14.78 2.00 26.00 53.04
Parks Care and Administration 3.605 4.214 0.458 0.994 9.271
Solid Waste pickup/disposal 2.520 2.493 0.044   5.056
Streetscape Maintenance 1.070 0.918 0.289   2.277
Public Safety 1.069 1.415 0.247 4.675 7.406
Covenant administration 1.016 1.150 0.190   2.357
Firefighting and rescue 0.475 0.721 0.138 14.725 16.059
Streetlights Power/Maintenance 0.473 0.500 0.077   1.050
Other allocated 0.442 0.617 0.111   1.171
Neighborhood services 0.258 0.332 0.058   0.648
Community relations 0.201 0.258 0.043   0.502
Other expenses 0.053 0.056 0.001 0.045 0.155
Payments to Conroe, Houston       0.959 0.959
Transition to new govt       0.600 0.600
Marketing &economic development       0.933 0.933
Community&Environmental Svcs 0.218 0.284 0.050    
General Administration 0.893 1.122 0.199 2.383 4.597
Other associations (Carlton)   0.186      
Transportation (trolleys_etc)         0.00
Other_Operations&staff 0.429 0.517 0.094 0.685  
Capital_Budget_2009 1.80 2.10 1.90 2.54 8.34
Park projects 0.702 0.808 1.891   3.400
Pathway Projects 0.750 0.578     1.328
Pathway improvements 0.000 0.335 0.008   0.343
Landscape improvements   0.080     0.080
Aquatics Facility Improvements 0.226 0.097     0.323
Signs/StoneWalls/Landscape 0.078 0.123     0.201
Athletic Facility Improvements 0.038 0.073     0.110
Other 0.003 0.003 0.004   0.010
Transfers and Capital       2.540 2.540
Total Budget 2009 14.52 16.88 3.90 31.08 63.92


There are several assumptions made to produce this table. It is only created to put together the numbers from the published 2009 budgets1,2,3,4 and provide a means to assimilate all of them in one concise view. I encourage all interested parties to review those documents as well, but this should be the quickest way to get your feet wet. Different account models are used in the association and the township. The association uses an older self-developed model, while the township uses a method known as the GASB method.5. In doing so, the township does not present the information in the same way, so I have chosen to do that as close as I practically could without losing information. The Chart of Accounts of all merging entities are being merged into one Chart of Accounts as part of the transition, so I hope to see this same information in a more readable format from the accounting system in the near future.

There are one time and ongoing expenses which are expected once again to be in the township budget. In 2009, we had a line item for $600,000 in the township budget as a one time expense. I did not back that out in my 2010 "guestimate". I did back out interest accumulated by the WCA financial reserves, since they no longer will exist. WCA had a low assessment rate for 2008 and 2009 because of their strategy to spend down the reserves before dissolving as a governing body. Therefore, to obtain an idea of what the income would be under normal circumstances, I normalized the income to an assessment rate of 32 cents per $100 assessment. I did that for WCA and WCOA. I also added in a guess for property value increases into the equation, as well as a guess for sales tax revenue growth.

 Scenario I WCA TWA WCOA Town Totals
 ............................................... $mm $mm $mm $mm $mm
Normalization for 2010
Normalize WCA @ 0.032/100 13.62  
Normalize WCOA @ 0.032/100 2.83
Reduce incomes from banks (0.24)
Added  assessments guess 0.68 2.47 0.21 3.36
Added sales taxes guess (5%) 13.08  
Guestimate income change 0.45 2.47 0.21 13.08 16.21
2010 guestimate Operating Budget 58.35
2010 guestimate Income 71.01
2010 guestimate reserve build 3.00
2010 guestimate available for capital 9.66

The scenario presented here has a large increase in operating budget for the first year of operation. That is, the consolidated budget is increased by 10% in the spreadsheet, yielding a generous $58.35 million operating budget, increased by more than $5 million. The scenario assumes a 10% increase over the 2009 normalized budget in revenue. There are certain complications in the changes that are to take place, so here we are just showing that income should be increasing by more than just sales taxes, but it is unclear how much, therefore the scenario assumption. An assumption is made that $3 million is sufficient for establishing a first year operational reserve. That will supplement the existing reserve. Then a capital budget exceeding 2009 is placed into the budget. If cuts are to be made at this time, it would likely be in the capital budget. As you will notice, I have not included a municipal office building for the government and will likely be part of the budget proposal. Another significant expected increase in service that will be costly will be the additional police protection likely to be proposed. I do assume we can become more efficient by this merger, so in 2010, I would expect to see contracts leveraged better and township operating costs reduced per household to begin the process of becoming more efficient.

So this is my current take on the budget, just to get my and hopefully your feet on the ground, to have a reference point for the coming discussions. I have not run additional scenarios but may do so soon. To expedite this information into the hands of residents, I will go ahead and publish this as it is.


1WCA 2009 Budget
2TWA 2009 Budget
3WCOA 2009 Budget
4WoodlandsTownship 2009 Budget
5GASB Model of accounting
6Commentary Article on expectations of a new government - Tuesday Elections 2007
7My Decision and what I considered in reaching it

Let me know if you want more or have feedback on this subject. Most of you know how to reach me and if not, it is in my profile. If you want to post notes in Facebook, you are welcome to do so in The Woodlands Commentary. Just look it up in Facebook.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Draft of The Woodlands Strategic Plan

This document is an early draft of the strategic directions being formulated by the township. It is being prepared for the coming town hall meeting on the budget. When I have a link to the publication, I will provide that here. This document will drive the decision making for the budget, so it is considered very important to the process, that is, taxes and spending strategies and decisions will come from this directional document.


Based on the results of the historic governance process, the Board of Directors of The Woodlands Township implemented a strategic planning process. The Woodlands is in a period of dynamic change relating to how it is governed, funds itself, and provides services and amenities. The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to keep The Woodlands Township on course during this time of change and beyond.

Vision for the Future

The first step in developing a strategic plan is to determine what is desired to be accomplished. For a company, this might be reaching a sales level or industry position. For an organization like The Woodlands Township, which is responsible for making decisions on behalf of an entire community, this process starts with a Vision for the Future.

The Vision for the Future is the ideal desired condition of the community at some future point in time – typically decades away. The Vision is a dream rooted in reality that may contain some existing conditions to be preserved along with future ambitions to be strived for.

The Woodlands Vision should be referred to regularly to ensure decisions being made are consistent with its contents.

The Woodlands Vision

The Woodlands, our dynamic hometown within a natural forest, is known for its balance between man and nature. We are a thriving business community and a premier destination for visitors – a place where generations live, work, learn and play.

The Woodlands…
…is a place where we feel safe and secure
…achieves prosperity by promoting economic development and quality of life
…cultivates the relationship between urban needs and environmental sustainability
…provides premier services and activities, superior educational opportunities, a diversity of jobs, and vibrant public spaces, events and entertainment for all
…is a place that welcomes everyone from everywhere to grow and thrive

Organizational Mission

To pursue The Woodlands’ Vision for the Future, organizations, agencies, businesses, and citizens will need to work collaboratively with a focus on the future. Leading the way will be the community’s local government, The Woodlands Township. To carry out the business and myriad of tasks necessary, it is important that the Township has a clear mission.

The Woodlands Township Vision for the Future and Mission together provide the foundation for the Strategic Plan.

The Woodlands Township Mission

We fulfill The Woodlands vision by:
· Protecting the well-being and safety of our residents, visitors and businesses
· Achieving the highest standards in service delivery
· Partnering with others to sustain the vitality of our region
· Communicating with our constituents and partners
· Attracting and retaining a talented and innovative staff
· Serving as the community’s political voice
· Powering economic growth through community investment
· Promoting continued vitality of neighborhoods and commercial areas
· Maintaining transparent governance
· Serving as financial stewards of the community’s resources
· Evolving a governance structure to meet our goals
· Promoting sound environmental policy

Focus Areas, Goals, and Key Initiatives

Focus Areas, Goals, and Key Initiatives provide the structure for the Strategic Plan. Focus Areas are broad “containers” into which the vast majority of The Township’s activities and responsibilities will fall. These Focus Areas, in no prioritized order, are:

1. Service Delivery
2. Communications
3. Organizational Support
4. Governmental Representation
5. Economic Development
6. Governance Structure
7. Environmental Sustainability
8. Fiscal Policy

Within the Focus Areas are bolded Goals which establish what is desired to be accomplished. The Goals are long-term pursuits that encourage new and more effective ways of operating.

Accompanying the Goals will be Key Initiatives that provide broad, action-oriented direction. Through the Focus Areas, Goals, and Key Initiatives, the Board of Directors has clearly stated what it desires to be accomplished. The professional staff of The Township uses this direction to formulate specific programs, projects, and actions it will take to pursue the Goals and implement the Key Initiatives along with identifying necessary resources.

Focus Area 1: Service Delivery
The Woodlands community operates through a multitude of service providers and The Township plays a critical role in directly providing several basic services along with supporting and coordinating many others. The Township often serves as the first point of contact for residents and businesses even though it may not be the service provider.

Maintaining a high level of service has been indicated as a priority in resident surveys and as the role of The Township evolves and changes, it must be in position to continue to provide superior services.
1.1. Protect the well-being and safety of constituents
1.1.1. Maintain and continue to explore options to provide a high level of proactive law enforcement visibility, effectiveness, availability and awareness
1.1.2. Support law enforcement public safety efforts with other kinds of security support in public areas
1.1.3. Explore, develop, and implement options that improve safety and educate residents on the role they can play in making their community safer
1.1.4. Maintain lighting to meet performance and safety standards
1.1.5. Maintain safe public facilities and amenities
1.1.6. Take appropriate steps to minimize the impact of various emergencies and disasters that occur and prepare the community in the management of response and recovery options for large scale emergencies
1.1.7. Work toward Fire Department ISO 1rating
1.1.8. Maintain and continue to provide a high level of fire prevention and emergency medical services
1.2. Provide superior parks and recreation amenities, facilities, programs and services
1.2.1. Ensure high quality programs and services remain affordable and cost effective while facilities are still effectively used and maintained
1.2.2. Provide a parks system with amenities that reflect the diversity of our population, provide accessibility features and preserve The Woodlands environment, quality and excellence
1.2.3. Provide a pathway system that promotes healthy lifestyles, reflects the commitment to preservation of The Woodlands environment, and adequately connects the entire community for transportation, health and wellness
1.2.4. Provide for quality, diverse, life span recreational programming and opportunities
1.2.5. Provide special event opportunities that foster community spirit, family values, and healthy lifestyles
1.3. Provide and promote efficient, cost effective and environmentally responsible waste disposal and recycling community wide
1.4. Enforce covenants and standards to maintain neighborhood and commercial area vitality
1.4.1. Develop and maintain the structure to enforce covenants and standards
1.4.2. Update standards as technology advances
1.4.3. Research and provide programming and policy options to maintain vitality as the community ages
1.4.4. Promote clean, well-maintained properties and preserve architectural integrity
1.4.5. Maintain and improve community, village, and neighborhood signage, medians, and entry ways to promote village and neighborhood identity
1.5. Improve local partnerships to provide effective services
1.5.1. Serve as a resource for our constituents in dealing with issues that impact quality of life
1.5.2. As needs arise, identify and establish alliances with organizations that will help us achieve our vision and carry out our mission
1.6. Maintain appropriate levels of support services, infrastructure and other resources to carry out the functions of the Township

Focus Area 2: Communications
Providing effective two-way communications with The Woodlands’ constituents is essential as the community’s leadership and operating structures evolve. As the long-term governance structure is solidified in the coming years, it will be important to develop an atmosphere of trust and transparency within the community.
2.1. Ensure effective communications with the community and partners
2.1.1. Expand public service announcements and information outlets
2.1.2. Improve and maintain emergency operations communications plans
2.1.3. Effectively utilize other entities and programs to disseminate and collect information
2.1.4. Provide feedback opportunities such as surveys and opinion polling
2.1.5. Provide ability for the public to communicate to the board
2.1.6. Communicate accurate and timely information on the activities of the Township to the media and the public
2.2. Provide an inclusive atmosphere to enhance transparency and trust
2.2.1. Hold town hall meetings
2.2.2. Maintain relationships with Village Associations
2.2.3. Effectively communicate financial information to the public
2.2.4. Compile and make available Board meeting records
2.2.5. Encourage awareness of public meetings
2.2.6. Promote and recognize volunteer and community accomplishments

Focus Area 3: Organizational Support
The Township’s ambitious vision and mission cannot be implemented without highly skilled, trained, and motivated people. Ensuring the highest degree of effectiveness and customer service at all levels is a high priority. In addition to providing facilities and resources to ensure a productive work environment, a culture of innovation and creative problem-solving must be maintained.

3.1. Provide education and training opportunities and a supportive working environment for Township staff
3.1.1. Provide a working environment that promotes productivity and high morale
3.1.2. Encourage education and training opportunities and continuing professional development
3.1.3. Educate employees on the Township vision, mission, and services provided
3.2. Position the Township to attract and retain high quality employees
3.2.1. Develop a progressive succession program that encourages internal promotion
3.2.2. Maintain a formal staff evaluation program
3.2.3. Provide competitive benefit and compensation packages
3.2.4. Provide employee recognition events to recognize accomplishments and tenure

Focus Area 4: Government Representation
As the recognized local government entity representing The Woodlands, The Township and its leadership need to be active participants in addressing regional issues and planning efforts. The Township also needs to be represented and visible at all legislative levels.
4.1. Participate in local and regional planning and advocacy efforts
4.1.1. Identify participation opportunities
4.1.2. Prioritize and assign board and staff representation
4.2. Ensure that The Woodlands is represented and visible at governmental and legislative bodies
4.2.1. Identify participation opportunities
4.2.2. Prioritize and assign board and staff representation
4.3. Maintain and expand local, regional, state, and federal partnerships with other governmental entities and stakeholders
4.3.1. Assign staff to specific entities to build relationships
4.3.2. Coordinate representation to ensure maximum participation

Focus Area 5: Economic Development
The Woodlands’ viability as a community and ability to pay for services and amenities is based on a strong local economy. The Township supports efforts to attract and retain employers and quality businesses to create jobs and also to position The Woodlands as a premier destination for visitors and travelers to expand the local tax base.
5.1. Attract, retain and promote high quality businesses
5.1.1. Proactively maintain contact with local and regional employers' issues and concerns
5.1.2. Maintain active involvement with other organizations, entities, and stakeholders to promote the local economy and secure economic development incentives (i.e., Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development Partnership, etc.)
5.2. Encourage expansion of employment and education opportunities in The Woodlands
5.2.1. Support strategic infrastructure improvements
5.2.2. Explore and develop viable incentives to attract employment and education opportunities to The Woodlands
5.2.3. Act as a liaison between private organizations and local governmental entities to facilitate development incentives
5.3. Support events, venues and programs to bring visitors to The Woodlands
5.3.1. Support convention and visitors bureau
5.3.2. Support public/private partnerships to increase visitors
5.3.3. Expand, support and create new cultural, sporting and entertainment venues
5.3.4. Expand collaborative efforts with other regional visitor attraction entities
5.3.5. Expand Hotel and Occupancy Tax revenues and tax base
5.3.6. Produce and sponsor high quality community events
5.4. Develop an integrated mobility system that is seamless within and surrounding the Township
5.4.1. Explore funding sources and partnerships to maintain affordable transportation and transit options
5.4.2. Examine options to provide transportation to village and employment centers
5.4.3. Work with transportation agencies to identify potential road system improvements
5.4.4. Continue to enhance bicycle and pedestrian transportation
5.4.5. Expand accessibility within the Township

Focus Area 6 Governance Structure
As The Woodlands’ journey toward effective self-governance continues, viable options including their impacts must be explored and evaluated with the results communicated to the residents and business community for feedback.
6.1. Continue to explore governance alternatives and clearly quantify and communicate potential impacts
6.1.1. Continue with research to identify the best alternatives for the governance structure
6.1.2. Perform a comprehensive impact analysis of viable options
6.1.3. Develop and implement a comprehensive communication, public input and education process to ensure understanding of governance issues, alternatives, and implications
6.2. Consider changes in the existing governance structure
6.2.1. Identify options to streamline covenant administration review processes
6.2.2. Identify improvements to the Township’s regulation making authority
6.3. Develop appropriate legislative strategies to deal with future governance structure issues

Focus Area 7: Environmental Sustainability
The community is committed to the stewardship of the environment as a critical element of its quality of life. The Township plays a key role in supporting and in some cases leading local and regional environmental preservation efforts.
7.1. Proactively address environmental and conservation issues
7.1.1. Support efforts of the municipal utility districts, San Jacinto River Authority, and others to achieve superior water quality, conservation and reuse
7.1.2. Expand environmental education
7.1.3. Support conservation initiatives
7.1.4. Encourage and communicate the value of the creation and retention of natural forested areas on private property
7.2. Adopt policies and standards to encourage energy efficiency and use of renewable resources
7.2.1. Investigate opportunities and communicate with homeowners and business
7.2.2. Identify grant opportunities
7.2.3. Improve energy efficiency of the Township fleet and facilities
7.2.4. Explore options for development standards that promote conservation and environmental sustainability
7.3. Preserve and protect the natural forested areas of the community
7.3.1. Maintain policies to protect native vegetation and wildlife habitats
7.3.2. Support reforestation and forest management planning
7.3.3. Enforce Covenants to ensure the proper maintenance and retention of green space and reserve areas

Focus Area 8: Fiscal Policy
The Township must maintain a financial position to allow it to meet current and new needs in a cost effective and accountable manner while ensuring the maintenance of existing assets as the community ages.
8.1. Maintain sound fiscal policies and budgets that allow the Township to address evolving service needs and maintain community quality
8.1.1. Plan for and identify funding for services and long term maintenance of public facilities and assets
8.1.2. Establish reserves for appropriate working capital, replacement of capital assets, and economic development opportunities
8.1.3. Explore budget philosophies that prioritize and align resource allocation to the Strategic Plan
8.1.4. Explore funding sources and opportunities
8.1.5. Maintain policies and programs regarding the collection of fees and taxes
8.1.6. Maintain a fiscally responsible management system to address funding requests from outside organizations and individuals
8.1.7. Maintain an effective long term debt management strategy
8.1.8. Conduct an annual audit of financial statements
8.1.9 Plan for future funding requirements as Developer phase-out occurs

Plan Implementation

The success of an organization is measured by the results of its decisions. An important tool for effective decision-making is the Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan must remain current and relevant through regular review and updates. Based on the challenges and changes on the horizon for The Woodlands Township, using the Strategic Plan to remain on course and keeping the plan up-to-date are critical.

The Strategic Plan is integrated into the day-to-day organizational operations of the Township. The Board of Directors uses the plan to provide strategic direction, prioritize expenditures, and evaluate proposals. Township staff used the document to develop action plans and budget proposals.

Staff is also responsible for conducting an annual Strategic Plan Audit. This activity and subsequent document consists of identifying accomplishments and progress made as well as implementation challenges faced throughout the year. Plan Audits also include any new information or changes that should be considered by the Board of Directors during their Strategic Plan update process.

Prior to the annual budget process, the Board of Directors will update and adopt the Strategic Plan.

In addition to annually updating the Strategic Plan, the Vision and Mission that serve as the foundations need to be periodically assessed. As The Woodlands grows and matures and as new people enter the community, it is important to periodically check-in with the residents so that the governing body can be confident they are leading in the desired direction.

Through systematic and diligent implementation of the Strategic Plan, The Woodlands Township can help ensure that The Woodlands continues to be a highly desirable place for generations to live, work, learn, and play.