Back in December, a deal was struck between the Woodlands and the city of Houston to take future annexation off the table in return for financial considerations. That deal depended on the Lege passing bills to make it happen. That hurdle has now been cleared.
Lawmakers on Tuesday approved the last bill necessary for the master-planned community north of Houston to pursue a new form of governance.
The bill enables The Woodlands to expand the boundaries of its existing special district to collect sales and property taxes throughout the entire community -- a move that could possibly lessen the property tax burden on residents down the road.
Another bill signed last week by Gov. Rick Perry enables The Woodlands to enter into a groundbreaking regional partnership agreement with Houston, giving the community of more than 85,000 an opportunity to incorporate in 2014, if it choses.
Together, the legislation pushed by The Woodlands lawmakers, Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Rob Eissler, both Republicans, will give residents what they have desired for a long time: The right to determine their own future without fear of annexation.
The Woodlands still must wait for a couple of more steps before moving ahead full throttle.
The bill that unanimously passed the Senate Tuesday, with minor amendments, must go back to the House before being sent to the governor for his signature. The Houston City Council must first approve the regional agreement drafted in December by Williams and Houston Mayor Bill White. Also, The Woodlands residents must approve the special district expansion in a November election.
If the expansion gets the green light, the new district called The Woodlands District would replace the Town Center Improvement District and serve as an interim form of governance until 2014, the year the community would be released from Houston's boundaries.
The district also would have an elected board and would execute the regional partnership agreement with Houston.
Williams and White secretly crafted the deal to avoid a nasty boundary war similar to the one Houston had with Kingwood more than 10 years ago. Houston's future boundaries extend into Montgomery County and cover the majority of The Woodlands.
Under the draft agreement, Houston would agree to release the community from the city's future boundaries in 2014 and, in exchange, The Woodlands would pay make an intial payment of $16 million and estimated total of $29 million over 30 years to help fund regional transportation and park projects.
The 2014 date is when a 1999 moratorium agreement between Houston and Woodlands officials expires. The pact protected The Woodlands from annexation.