Conroe, September 14 – Leveraging the words out of the mouth of Assistant County Attorney B.D. Griffin, who will say just about whatever Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal wants him to say as a legal opinion, four members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted to do precisely what Griffin told them on August 22, 2017, they couldn’t do, as a rationale for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a “budget office.” Doyal, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador received “The Golden Hammer Award” on September 12, 2017.
At the conclusion of the so-called “budget workshop” on July 28, 2017, Doyal and Noack agreed to spend $300,000 on creation of a new “budget office” which, to date, has no goals, purpose, or employees. In actuality, the new budget office bureaucracy is just a placeholder for spending taxpayer dollars, so the Commissioners Court would not have fallen into the unfortunate position of having unspent funds with which they could have lowered the tax rate.
“In actuality, the new budget office bureaucracy is just a placeholder for spending taxpayer dollars, so the Commissioners Court would not have fallen into the unfortunate position of having unspent funds with which they could have lowered the tax rate.”
During the Commissioners Court meeting on September 12, the Court also voted to carryover unspent funds from two departments which had not spent their full budgets during Fiscal Year 2017 into Fiscal Year 2018. The Court could easily have reduced total spending by the amount of the carryovers, plus the $300,000 for the new “budget office.” That would have permitted the Commissioners Court to reduce the tax rate.
Information Technology Director Marshall Shirley admitted that $372,000 of carryover funds were for consultant services which have not yet begun but which the Court had budgeted Fiscal Year 2017.
During the August 22 “budget hearing” (an interesting appellation given the fact that the Commissioners Court had failed to disclose to the public what the “proposed budget” even was at the time), Noack raised the question whether the Commissioners Court could pull the funds for the “budget office” now also known as the “Spending Increase Bureau” out of the County Auditor’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget through a “budget amendment” as opposed to spending new funds out of the general tax funds.
Such a budget amendment would make a lot of sense, because the County Auditor already spends approximately $500,000 per year within her budget for the department’s duties in helping to set the budget. Since there would be a new and separate budget office, it would be logical merely to take the funds for the new bureaucracy out of the County Auditor’s Budget.
Assistant County Attorney B.D. Griffin told the Commissioners Court on August 22, however, “I don’t believe the Commissioners Court has the authority to amend the budget of the County Auditor” since the Board of District Judges initially sets her budget.
Nevertheless, on September 12, 2017, the Commissioners Court did precisely what Griffin told Noack and the others that they couldn’t do: they passed a budget amendment, took money from the County Auditor’s departmental budget, and moved some funds into the Information Technology Department budget instead, all without the approval of the Board of District Judges!
The Commissioners Court has recently supported budget placeholders that increase the level of taxes by millions of dollars, to support salary increases mid-year which he has always opposed, and to support massive overtime payments to salaried (exempt) employees.
The carryover of funds without reductions in the departmental budgets that didn’t spend those funds makes the tax rate higher for Montgomery County citizens. Between Fiscal Year 2016 and Fiscal Year 2017, the carryover funds exceeded $14 million. Those carryovers are the ones that were not for work-in-progress.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark expressed substantial concerns during the September 5, 2017, “budget hearing” and requested a delay in the final vote on the budget. When Doyal, Noack, Riley, and Meador refused to wait to spend the tax dollars, Clark voted against the entire Fiscal Year 2018 Budget.
The new “budget office” which has no goals or purpose and is entirely repetitive of spending and duties within the County Auditor’s Office should have come into existence during Fiscal Year 2018 through budget amendments reducing the amounts contemporaneously in the County Auditor’s budget. Instead, Doyal, Noack, Riley, and Meador have taxed the citizens of Montgomery County twice for the $287,000 of “budget office” funds and have over-taxed by millions of dollars for the funds that are “carryovers” of unspent funds budgeted during Fiscal Year 2017.
Those budget placeholders hammer Montgomery County citizens with a higher tax burden. Doyal, Noack, Riley, and Meador ought to focus on giving the citizens some financial relief. Despite the 20% homestead exemption which some Montgomery County citizens will receive during Fiscal Year 2018, largely thanks to the efforts of private citizens led by Kelli Cook, who supported the exemption, the Commissioners Court could easily have reduced the tax rate and lowered the tax burden substantially.