New Caney, May 17 – Montgomery County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark’s Department has some spending issues, including enormous “slush fund” expenditures, but Clark has explained many of those issues. This article is the final of a 4-part series on the spending of the four County Commissioners, Mike Meador, Charlie Riley, James Noack, and Jim Clark. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has obtained accounting documents through a public information request that have revealed many of the spending habits of the four Montgomery County Commissioners.
Big Problems in all four Precincts
There are at least two major problems with respect to the spending methods of all of the four Commissioners. First, all of them do not publicly account for their real budgets during the budget process that supposedly culminates in the annual Fiscal Year Budget for the Montgomery County government, because there are millions of dollars of “carryover” funds that the Commissioners hold off-budget and the County Auditor permits them to get away with that practice.
Second, despite moving funds around the Commissioners Precinct budgets to give them additional room in which to operate, the County Auditor Phyllis Martin permits the Commissioners to exceed their budgeted allocations for specific accounts within their Precinct budgets. With the hundreds of “emergency” and “grave public necessity” budget amendments that Martin and the Commissioners Court have approved, you’d think they could operate within their budgets. They can’t.
Clark’s Precinct 4 Commissioner’s Budget
The Commissioners Court approved an $8,205,970 budget for Commissioners Precinct 4 for Fiscal Year 2017. With secretive budget amendments moving additional funds into Clark’s budget from the carryover “slush fund,” the real Commissioners Precinct 4 budget is now $10,971,894.39, a $2.7 million middle-of-the-year increase. Under the provisions of the Texas Local Government Code, that’s completely unacceptable. By moving those funds through the “consent agenda” under the bogus claim of “emergencies,” the Commissioners Court and Martin are circumventing the accounting checks and balances which the Texas Legislature established for County citizens under Texas law.
Clark said of the carryover, “The total budget for Fiscal Year 2017 includes a $2.6 million carryover from Fiscal Year 2016 that has been allocated to the asphalt budget for 21 projects, 18 of which our crews will complete in-house. As of today [May 15], we should be at 63% of the annual budget used, but we’re currently at 53%.”
On May 11, 2017, the date when the County government released the accounting information for the Precinct 4 budget to The Golden Hammer, 61% of the Fiscal Year had elapsed, so you’d expect that expenditures through that point in time should be approximately 61%. Salaries and related expenses under Clark’s management are generally right on target. Actually, Clark’s salaries for his 58 employees (including himself) have expended 60% of his salary budget through May 11.
Clark has only spent 44% of his $3.5 million asphalt and road material budget. Clark and the Precinct 4 Facility Coordinator James Robey explained to The Golden Hammer that “not much roadwork goes on during winter months…due to weather.” (Robey prepared a memorandum which Clark asked him to prepare and then Clark provided the memorandum concerning the budget concerns to this newspaper.) Precinct 4 has spent only 48% of its total “supplies” budget of $4.839 million, but it did spend 171% of its insecticides budget. Clark said, “We did additional mosquito spraying this year, but we offset that expenditure by using less herbicides.” Clark’s comment is accurate. While the insecticide expenses are $11,321.30 over budget, the herbicide expenses are $16,035.00 under budget. Still, the County Auditor should not have allowed any account within a Precinct Budget to exceed the budgeted amount. Clark may have prudently managed the Precinct but both Clark and the County Auditor should keep their eyes on the Budget.
In some ways, Clark got a bit of an advantage over his Commissioners Court colleagues, because this newspaper covered his Precinct last. Clark provided an explanation in advance of this publication why he has already expended 91% of his striping/sealant services budget for the full year. Clark explained, “We were attending to requests by constituents for increased visibility on roads.” Clark spent 151% of his “professional services” budget, which he explained, “I provide my constituents with heavy trash collection twice annually which Waste Management had previously sponsored pro bono. Now my Precinct Office is providing those services through a contracted vendor at County pricing.” Clark exceeded that $50,000.00 budget for professional services by $25,355.70.
In fairness, Clark’s budget shows an acceptable modicum of prudence in his fiscal management, although the responsibility for the failure to budget carryover funds should fall on the shoulders of all involved, the County Auditor and all five members of the Commissioners Court.