Friday, July 31, 2009

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

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