The Folly of Woodlands Incorporation, Part 8: Underestimating cost of road maintenance, replacing high quality with likely mediocrity

The Folly of Woodlands Incorporation, Part 8: Underestimating cost of road maintenance, replacing high quality with likely mediocrity

Image: The Woodlands currently enjoyed county-maintained roads with some of the highest quality maintenance and construction in the United States, as a result of the outstanding management of Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack. If The Woodlands were to incorporate as a city government, the city would have the responsibility for road maintenance, although the Woodlands Township has grossly underestimated the cost of assuming that function.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

The Woodlands, October 27 – The Woodlands Township has grossly underestimated the cost of maintaining roads and bridges in The Woodlands, in its incorporation plans, according to Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack. Noack is the County Commissioner who oversees road and bridge operations in Commissioner Precinct 3, forty percent (40%) of which encompasses The Woodlands.

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley maintains roads and bridges in Alden Bridge and a portion of Sterling Ridge. Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts maintains roads and bridges in Harpers Landing.

A Transition Agreement between Montgomery County and The Woodlands would have the County government continue to provide road and bridge maintenances services through September 30, 2022, if The Woodlands were to incorporate as a city government.

Noack has reviewed the scant road and bridge expense projections Novack Consulting and the Woodlands Township staff prepared. The Township hired Novack Consulting of Ohio to prepare an incorporation study and paid them $1.2 million for it. After Novack made clear that incorporation was not financially feasible without substantial tax increases, the Township Board fired them and had the Township staff provide an “update,” which shows lower expenses and much higher tax collections, so that Township Chairman Richard Finley “Gordy” Bunch, III, and his political allies could argue incorporation as a city government is feasible in the November 2 referendum.

“There are substantial unbudgeted road expenses in the Township’s incorporation planning,” Noack explained to this newspaper. “They have projected that they’ll need $5 million of capital equipment, when, in fact, they’ll likely need more than $10 million of tractors, boom mowers, Gradall excavators, dump trucks, and other machinery. It’s almost impossible to find any of that equipment right now in the world markets, because of supply chain problems.”

“A city of The Woodlands will have less equipment, less resources, and they’ll lack the expertise, the know-how, and the people to carry out road and bridge operations,” Noack said. “They would need at least twenty-five (25) new employees to do the job.”

The Township staff’s projections for road and bridge expenses appear below from a slide during the staff’s August 13, 2021, presentation:

Anticipated new taxes (shown as positive numbers) and road expenses (shown as negative numbers under “Public Works” for Woodlands incorporation, as the Woodlands Township staff has presented. Source: The Woodlands Township, August 13, 2021.

Noack said the above Public Works estimates are “not realistic. They will need $10 million per year in the city’s Public Works Department to maintain roads and bridges alone,” he further explained. “Half of my currently $10 million budget is for The Woodlands, but my precinct only covers 40% of The Woodlands. The Township financial plan for incorporation is at least $6 million short, so they’ll end up with undermaintained roads.”

“Since I’ve been the Commissioner since January 1, 2013, we’ve spent $30 million on major road projects, approved by the voters, in The Woodlands alone. The Township has failed to budget for any major road projects at all,” Noack said. “Their annual budget for pavement improvements [$1,250,000] will allow them to do about one mile of full depth repair of the roads. $212,242 for will only permit them to do about 4 streets every year.”

The Commissioner also found the $53,060 for bridge maintenance “woefully inadequate. You always have to worry about erosion and following state protocols. In my Precinct in The Woodlands alone, we spend $150,000 per year on bridge repairs and regulatory compliance.”

Noack thought it was strange that Novack Consulting never interviewed Noack or his staff about road and bridge expenditures. “The Woodlands Township and their consultant, Novack, made a big mistake assuming roads in The Woodlands will last for 75 years. There is nothing in the incorporation budget for new debt for roadway improvements nor do they have the capital to do those improvements with cash.”

“It’s a shame they rushed this risky proposition about incorporation without truly considering the real expenses for road maintenance and repairs,” Noack said.

 

 

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