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Township picks options for police, covenants under preliminary incorporation plan

January 31, 2019

The Woodlands Township continued its analysis and planning of the incorporation financial model during a Jan. 23 meeting that was marked by hours of discussion, vigorous debate between some members of the township’s board, hundreds of pages of documents and occasional shouts from public attendees that they were unable to hear the discussions underway.

Among the actions taken during the meeting were the selection of various options by the township board — labeled as “incorporation initiatives” by officials with the Novak Consulting Group — including choosing the hybrid model of law enforcement, not absorbing the 11 municipal utility districts in the community and maintaining the current covenant system.

The meeting was the first incorporation planning session of 2019, and was focused solely on the proposed financial model for The Woodlands in the event the community does eventually incorporate and become a city. The presentation was done over more than three hours in two segments: one, an internal township review of the incorporation planning initiatives, was done by township employee Monique Sharp — the assistant general manager for finance and administration. A second presentation was given by a trio of officials from The Novak Consulting Group of Cincinnati, Ohio, which is the sole remaining consulting group being used for the study.

Sharp used a 40-page packet, which had been printed out in limited numbers, to guide the seven members of the board through the various 15 initiatives and the six consultant studies done by both the Novak group as well as former consulting group, The Matrix Consulting Group.

After her presentation, representatives from the Novak group also did a nearly-equal length presentation on the various financial elements of incorporation, including options for choosing three different projections for revenue and expenses for numerous elements and categories, including property tax, sales and use tax, hotel occupancy tax and supplemental hotel occupancy tax; franchise fees; the Texas mixed beverage tax; sanitation fees; municipal court fine and forfeiture revenue; a property tax freeze for senior citizens older than 65; and potential public works expenses.

Incorporation website goes live

An official with the Novak Consulting Group presented the new website that residents and other interested parties can get data and review documents about the incorporation process.

The website — www.thewoodlandsincorporationstudy.com — has been live online since Jan. 24, and has dozens of documents, files and other material compiled during the past 13 months. There is also a link to video of the Sept. 25, 2018, incorporation forum as well as a list of frequently asked questions about incorporation.

This is a much, much bigger improvement over the prior incorporation site,” said township board Chairman Gordy Bunch. “You guys have done a great job refreshing the site.”

Law enforcement model debated

The most contentious part of the incorporation presentation was the debate about what law enforcement model the township should explore under the proposed financial models, with township Director John McMullan enagaging in a lengthy, complicated debate over the issue with Bunch. The two board members had a back and forth discussion of the law enforcement report created by officials with the Matrix Consulting Group, which has been called incomplete by some members of the public.

The Matrix firm had its contract with the township for incorporation planning services terminated in early December and is no longer taking part in the process, although their documents and reports are still being used by township officials as reliable data for their incorporation financial analysis.

McMullan said while he believes the proposed costs and details of the hybrid model will most likely work out as township officials expect, he still feels it is critical to get more data and information and alternate models to ensure the township is making the right decision on incorporation issues of such high importance as law enforcement responsibilities.

“What I’d like…is some of that granular detail. I want to sort of dig a little deeper into Matrix’s numbers regarding the number of officers,” McMullan said. “I hope that is an action item that will be brought back before us. What I am trying to do is prove out the accuracy of Matrix’s numbers.”

Julie Novak, of the Novak Consulting Group, told McMullan the law enforcement report was compiled by Matrix officials and was complete.

“We weren’t contracted to do the police study,” Novak admitted.

Bunch disagreed with McMullan’s assessment, explaining that because all contracts for potential law enforcement services will be negotiated before a potential decision by the board on whether or not to put incorporation on the ballot, officials will see all the real costs via the contract.

“The hybrid gives us the best outcome, you have continuity of service,” Bunch said. “To me, it makes the most economic sense to leverage that larger force where we get the economies of scale.”

jeff.forward@chron.com

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