The Woodlands, April 26 – The Woodlands Township Board of Directors unanimously voted to defer consideration of a property tax homestead exemption for taxpayers in The Woodlands. The Board also voted unanimously to “oppose any development at any time of the Jones State Forest.”
Several citizens, including representatives of the Montgomery County Tea Party made comments in favor of a 20% homestead exemption from property taxes which The Woodlands Township imposes to raise approximately 34% of its total annual revenue of approximately $97 million. Campaign For Liberty County Coordinator Kelli Cook attended the meting. Local political activist and sage Bill O’Sullivan, who is also the Treasurer of the Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC, urged the Board not to adopt a homestead exemption.
“About a month ago, a homestead exemption was proposed for Montgomery County. Eventually it passed. The County historically was content to let tax rates stay flat and apply the new appraisals which in reality was a tax increase. The Commissioners defended this action by saying the tax dates didn’t go up so it was not a tax increase. Pure baloney. However, the only thing that matters is the growth of spending and the taxes are a function of that spending. Tax exemptions are only effective tools if spending is held down and the ‘effective tax rate’ is maintained.”
O’Sullivan further noted that “Because of all the things we do providing services plus amenities here while holding down tax payments, any request to lower any tax receipts should be accompanied by offsetting spending cuts. Otherwise, calling for those tax exemptions is not fiscal management but sloganeering.” O’Sullivan’s comments are consistent with his work on the Citizens Budget Committee, which is working to present a line-by-line budget for Montgomery County for Fiscal Year 2018 which will include substantial spending reductions.
The Woodlands Township has reduced its tax rate during its seven year history from 32.8 cents per $100 valuation to the current 23 cents per $100 valuation. Township Chairman Gordy Bunch noted that “the 27.5% reduction in our tax rate is the largest percentage tax rate reduction of any taxing entities in our community.”
Bunch said, “I’m still open to the idea of homestead exemptions. We can look into this proposal and see how to apply it to future budgets.”
Several members of the Township Board expressed concerned that the primary source of Township revenue, sales and hotel occupancy taxes, might actually begin to decline as a result of competition from nearby communities, such as Shenandoah and Oak Ridge North, which are rapidly constructing more hotel capacity and shopping to compete with the businesses in the Woodlands Township.
Jones State Forest
The most lively part of the Township Board meeting concerned the Jones State Forest. State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-The Woodlands) had originally introduced a bill in the State Senate, S.B. 1964, which might have allowed Texas A&M University to engage in some private commercial development of portions of the State Forest which primarily fronts F.M. 1488 and portions of State Highway 242 north of The Woodlands. Recently, Creighton has filed a substitute for his original bill which would mandate that “the Jones State Forest must remain natural, scenic, undeveloped, and open.”
All seven members of the Township Board spoke in favor of a resolution opposing development at any time of the Jones State Forest. Board member Bruce Rieser clarified that the Board is not supporting Creighton’s legislation even in its substitute form. Chairman Bunch expressed his disappointment that representatives of Texas A&M University declined to participate in any public forum to discuss future plans for the Jones State Forest. Board member Ann Snyder said, “What concerned me about the process was that there wasn’t any effort [by Texas A&M] to include the public in the process at all.”
Both Board members Bruce Rieser and Bunch noted that State Representative Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) refused to author Creighton’s original legislation (which permitted commercial development of the Forest) in the Texas House of Representatives.
Jason Millsaps, the Chief of Staff of Representative Keough, provided clarification with respect to the position of the legislator from The Woodlands in a statement to The Golden Hammer:
“Rep. Keough was only involved in discussions to file legislation that would have allowed development of the forest. He refused to file legislation that would have done that. Sen. Creighton’s bill would allow for commercial development of the forest with which Rep. Keough opposes. Today Sen. Creighton laid out a Committee Substitute to his original bill. We have not seen any of this language nor have we had discussions with his office about it. If it fully protects the forest from development now of in perpetuity, then it is a good bill. But considering the Township has adopted a resolution calling for no development Rep. Keough’s actions up to this point have been completely in line with that.”
With that clarification regarding Representative Keough’s position, hopefully the substitute Creighton bill will have a serious chance of passage, especially since the Senate Education Committee held hearings on Creighton’s proposed legislation in Austin today.