Conroe, September 2 – The long-awaited “proposed budget” for Fiscal Year 2017 finally appeared for public view on Thursday, August 31, 2017, around 10 a.m. in the morning. That means that citizens, members of the Commissioners Court, and any other interested parties will have less than five days to review a $358 million budget, which spends citizens’ tax dollars and includes the highest operational expenditure budget in the history of Montgomery County, Texas.
In actuality, County Auditor Phyllis Martin filed the “Proposed Budget” on July 14, 2017, as has been the practice of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court for at least three decades, so that the Court could conduct a “public hearing” on the budget during a weeklong meeting in which County Department heads and citizens could participate.
In 2016, however, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador changed the policy of three decades and disallowed citizens from participating in the “public hearing” on the proposed budget. The County Commissioners Court voted to pass its budget on July 27, 2016, without ever conducting a public hearing.
This year, County Judge Craig Doyal took strenuous actions to disallow the public from participating in what he dubbed a “budget workshop” during the last week of July. Martin filed the “Proposed Budget” on July 14 which triggered the necessity of a “public hearing” with full citizen participation within ten days of that filing. Instead, Doyal and Martin pretended that the document she had filed was only a “recommended budget,” even though Martin and filed it has her official “Proposed Budget.”
Instead, the Commissioners Court contrived a new procedure where Martin filed the “proposed budget” five days before the hearing on September 5, 2017, at 9 a.m. (notice the different time, also apparently to create confusion for citizens wishing to participate in the hearing). Doyal will conduct a “public hearing” on September 5 and then ask the Commissioners Court to vote on the entire budget and approve keeping the tax rate at the same level it was during the previous fiscal year.
Members of the Commissioners Court will vote – likely unanimously – to approve a $358 million budget that is several hundred pages long with little review, analysis, or public discussion.
The County government operational spending budget (governmental expenditures minus debt service) of $293,342,535 for Fiscal Year 2018 is the highest in history.
The expenditure reduction from Fiscal Year 2017 was almost entirely from a reduction in debt service, although some County departments did heed Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack’s and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark’s call for 5% budget reductions. Sadly, the departments that reduced their budgets by 5% achieved little for the taxpayers, since Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Meador found new ways to spend the savings.
Even more amazing is the fact that Montgomery County’s spending increases have topped those of the federal government of the United States, often considered the most out-of-control budget of them all, by five times over the past twelve years.
Since Fiscal Year 2006, Montgomery County’s government budget has increased by 241% under the leadership of Doyal, Riley, and Meador, while the federal government, which even Doyal has derided for uncontrolled spending, has only increased its spending growth by 54%.
There are numerous problems with the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget.
Citizens who have concerns should arrive early to the Sadler Administration Building, 501 North Thompson, 4th Floor, Suite 402, Conroe, Texas 77301, so that they may attempt to have their views heard at the 9 a.m. budget hearing. Citizens should anticipate that Doyal will not permit much, if any, discussion of the budget. It will be interesting to see if other members of the Commissioners Court are willing to answer questions and engage with respect to this single most important decision they will make for the entire year.