Capital projects include parks, paths improvements
Aided by significant and unexpected increases in sales and hotel occupancy tax revenues in 2012, The Woodlands Township lowered its property tax rate for the third consecutive year while approving its $101.7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2012-13.
Township directors approved a 2012 property tax rate of 31.73 cents per $100 of valuation, down .77 cents from the 2011 rate of 32.50. According to Houston Area Realtors, the average home value in The Woodlands is $290,960. Based on the approved rate, the average township tax bill for Woodlands homeowners in 2013 will be $923.22.
“We run the city like a business,” said Bruce Tough, chairman of the township board of directors. “We look at every expense. We start with a zero-based budget, and we build from scratch. No department is given a pass.”
The township began implementing property tax rates under its current form of government in 2010. The rates have dropped each year.
The 2012-13 budget projects $93.6 million in revenues, an increase of 9.8 percent over the 2011-12 budget. The budget includes a negative fund balance of $8.1 million, which will be made up through bond proceeds from the previous budget year, as well as through the capital reserve fund.
The township’s general fund is primarily financed through sales, hotel occupancy and property taxes. Township Financial Director Monique Sharp said higher revenues through those funds allowed the township to decrease its reliance on property taxes.
For fiscal year 2011-12, the township projected $33.6 million in sales tax revenue. The actual amount will be about $4 million, or nearly 12 percent, more than that, thanks to unexpected revenue streams.
“What we did not anticipate was the large increase, particularly in oil and gas and the telecommunications industry,” Sharp said.
The township is projecting a 4 percent increase in sales tax revenue in 2013 of $39 million.
“Everyone is saying 2012 was a remarkable year and no one should expect that again in 2013, so we came down to a 4 percent increase,” Sharp said.
The township is also expected to receive $1 million more in hotel occupancy tax revenue in 2012 than it planned for a total of about $6 million. For 2013, the township projects to earn $6.3 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue.
Sales tax, hotel occupancy tax and other revenue sources such as township programs combine to make up 56 percent of all revenues, meaning property taxes funds less than half of the township’s general fund.
While revenues for the township are markedly up, expenditures are down. The 2012-13 budget calls for $101.7 million in expenses, about $1.3 million less than last year’s budget. Although Sharp attributed increases in spending in areas such as law enforcement, fire department and solid waste services to normal population growth, the township will spend $3.8 million less in capital projects than it did in 2012.
Among the capital projects the township will be funding in 2013 are $15.9 million worth of parks and recreation improvements.
Of that amount, $8.9 million will be spent on an accelerated plan to build and upgrade multipurpose athletic fields, and the conversion of fields at the Bear Branch and Alden Bridge sports parks to all-weather turf. The township will also spend about $4.1 million on parks and pathways improvements in the Village of Creekside Park and throughout Town Center.
“Based on items residents indicated in our survey and resident comments, [sports fields] seemed to be an amenity that was lacking and the board has responded to that,” Sharp said.
In the 2012 township survey, residents identified as their top concerns safety and traffic issues.
Chris Nunes, township director of parks and recreation, said the township is working with The Woodlands Development Company to construct new parks and pathways throughout Creekside Park and Town Center.
Among the parks planned for Creekside Park are Rockwell Square and Liberty Square Park, which Nunes said will open either by the end of this year or early next year.
Also in the works is The Woodlands’ 14th village park, this one for Creekside Park, which will feature tennis and basketball courts, a swimming pool, a playground, open play fields and picnic areas.