Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Woodlands Township 2010 Budget Public Hearings

As we take each step towards the first budget for the township, more residents are waking up to the opportunity to influence the outcome. Last night, the public hearing at The Woodlands Emergency Center proved to be a more informed, more aware, less emotional group than the previous town hall meeting on the same subject. Assimilation of the budget by more residents is producing more interest by people without political agendas, such as incorporation. To some people incorporation is the solution to all issues, but ask those who live in cities and see what they say. When the time is appropriate, we will consider incorporation, bringing to the table the pros and cons of following that path. One person at the meeting last night even volunteered to go to the City of Houston and renegotiate the agreement with that city to incorporate The Woodlands before 2014. This is supposed to fix our "policing problem".

In all reality, we do not have such a problem. The Woodlands is a safe place, but it is now an urban community that will have crime regardless if it is a city or not.

So putting the political aspect aside and just looking at the issues of the budget, many of the residents and board members are taking a fresh look at it. Don Norrell presented a fresh view of the same budget but this time had an alternative financial proposal that was discussed with the Sheriff's office. It is doable and in my opinion, the preferred alternative. I believe The Woodlands as a whole welcomes the redistricting proposal and wishes to act independently from the county which has significant budget issues this year and probably next year as well, limiting what we can do. That is, I believe we want to get on with it and fund what is required so that we have our own district with supplemental contracted deputies in 2010, not wait until 2011 and not have a phased approach to reach that vision. One of the suggestions in Mr. Norrell's alternative is to discontinue the patrol contracts with Shenandoah and Oak Ridge. Instead, use those ($0.5mm) funds for the extra $1.5mm dollars required to implement the project at the beginning of 2010. It was suggested that the remaining funds come from other undetermined projects that would be deferred by one year.

The trend of thought seems to cap the budget as it has been proposed, at 32.8 cents per $100 evaluation. It appears that the board asked to keep it there. That is a reasonable approach to me but we should be conscious of the public view of the budget and make adjustments to mitigate their (our) concerns.

The other project which needs adjustment is the Indian Springs fire station. Indian Springs is a mature village, now completed for quite some time. Many of the homes in the village were built in the 1990's. For five years, the plan has been to build a fire station for the village in 2010. That seemed like eternity as residents watched the service continuously decay as the traffic increased on Gosling and The Woodlands Parkway. The eastern side is served by station #2 at Research Forest and Gosling, so the trucks must deal with the congestion to reach the village. The response averages about 8 minutes. The maximum average of most fire fighting units is 5 minutes, that recommended by the insurance standards board (ISO). The current ISV level is not acceptable. In the proposed budget, the station is scheduled to be built in 2011. That means the village station remains in the long range plan. Another way to look at it is: the station has been delayed in favor of one in a developing village. Since the budget item has been scheduled by the WCA for years, the transition agreement has faulted on a critical service level. Therefore, we see this as a problem related to the 2010 transition to a new government. We would likely have a fire station in 2010 since the WCA and TWA acted independently on their projects. Last night, I was there to represent the concerns of Rush Haven residents. There were also residents from Trace Creek subdivision who have a similar service response. They also are concerned along with the entire ISV village board.

Personally, I was pleased to at least see the township board receiving and considering resident concerns. More than that, I was pleased to see the president of the Township working the residents' issues. That gives us all some hope and tells us that it is worthwhile to attend and provide our opinions and input to the board. I thank the chair person, Mrs Nelda Blair for being very patient with everyone. A great deal of passion was expressed, whether just perception or real, about the service levels of policing and the priorities in the budget.

Hopefully the board will realign budget priorities to meet the expressed needs of the community.

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