The Woodlands, TX

Woodlands Incorporation: Board Directors, Howard Hughes Debate Franchise Fees

Montgomery County Gazette
The Woodlands Township Incorporation Study

By: Sherrie Shorten

THE WOODLANDS, TX - As the vote to incorporate The Woodlands Township draws near, the Howard Hughes Corporation and members of the Board of Directors for the Township are sparring regarding any future incorporation impact on residents.

Ever since the Board of Directors voted on August 13, 2021 to put the issue of incorporation on the November 2021 ballot, the Howard Hughes Corporation has created and released two studies which are highly critical and pose that incorporation would cause massive tax increases and sharp service declines for residents.

The Howard Hughes Corporation, as the parent company of The Woodlands Development Corporation, is in charge of a large chuck of development in The Woodlands. So much, that the Howard Hughes Corporation collects franchise fees from utility and cable companies in The Woodlands. Fees which, according to The Woodlands Township Board member Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, would revert to the City of The Woodlands if incorporation passes.

In an email to Woodlands residents, Dr. Sekula-Gibbs stated these were her opinions and not the opinion of the Township Board of Directors. “The Developer’s big blue anti-incorporation signs that loom in easements across The Woodlands are wrong. Their criticisms of Ms. Sharp’s budget projections are unfounded. If Woodlands residents vote to become a city, taxes won’t go up and government won’t grow,” wrote Director Sekula-Gibbs. “Something else will change. Howard Hughes will have to transfer millions of dollars in franchise fees they annually collect from utilities and cable companies to the City of The Woodlands.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack spoke against incorporation on “It’s Hammer Time” explaining, “The model that The Woodlands put together, we’re going to have to get $6.5-7 million in franchise fees just to make the math work…right now only one provider charges a franchise fee, that’s Comcast, but soon if this were to pass we’re going to see $7 million divvied up between all the business owners and residents in Montgomery County, or in The Woodlands.”

However, if the same franchise fees being collected and paid to the Howard Hughes Corporation are transferred to a future City of The Woodlands, then at least a portion of the $7 million in franchise fees are already being paid by residents and will be shifted to the city.

The Howard Hughes Corporation continues to claim, “The Township not only grossly underestimates the initial tax rate that will be necessary to convert The Woodlands from a township governance model to that of a traditional city but conceals the significantly higher fees that residents and businesses will be required to pay to maintain service levels and infrastructure needs.”

However, The Woodlands Township stands by their estimates and projections published on The Woodlands Incorporation Study website. The website allows citizens to submit questions and also publishes the answers to those questions. The document library contains a comparison of The Woodlands as a Township and as a City.

Based on The Woodlands Township’s budgetary projections, the tax rate for residents of The Woodlands is set at “not to exceed $0.2231 per $100 of home valuation” on the ballot, remaining the same tax rate as the current property tax rate of $0.2231.

On September 15th, 2021, at 4:00 p.m., The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting a second Incorporation Education Session featuring Woodlands Township Director Gordy Bunch, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, and Howard Hughes Houston-region president Jim Carman. The meeting will be held at The Woodlands Resort in the Grand Ballroom on 2301 N. Millbend Drive. The session will be moderated by Nicole Preston, General Manager for Community Impact Newspaper from 4:00 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

From the Publisher: Budgets and projections are subject to change as future events impact future income and expenses. While The Woodlands Township intends to present a set of facts and circumstances based on conservative estimates, other entities are presenting projections based on their own definition of “conservative.” So, the messaging varies on all spectrums of conservative. Many entities also have financial motivation to vote against incorporation, therefore, we urge residents to understand the messenger’s motives and weigh them against the effects incorporation will have on individual residents and the community as a whole.

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