ERIC YOLLICK, The Golden Hammer
The Woodlands, May 16 – Well-run government should be boring and should stay out of the headlines. Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack’s budget numbers are pretty boring with two exceptions. This article is the third of a 4-part series on each of the Commissioner Precincts based upon the documents The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, obtained from a public information request.
The Success: Careful use of engineers, road planning, technology
Noack has the intelligence and personality to be a great project manager. As Precinct 3 County Commissioner, that’s precisely what he does. He and his Operations Manager, the soft-spoken yet keenly intelligent Matt Beasley, manage projects in a quiet, unassuming, yet very effective manner.
The Rayford Road expansion was a $60 million 2015 road bond project, the largest of all of the road projects in that referendum. Through Noack’s careful management, the construction contract is $9 million under budget, the purchase of rights of way came in at $3 million under budget, and the engineering design services came in at $7 million under budget. Those numbers add up to almost $20 million of savings.
Noack explained to The Golden Hammer in an exclusive interview that “Because of the success we enjoyed in Precinct 3 from our careful use of engineers on the Rayford Road project, we’re starting to engineer projects very differently, especially on the east side of Interstate 45. We set an aggressive schedule for our engineered projects. That’s why you see that I’ve already spent 98% of my professional services budget. Everything is on a carefully-planned schedule.” That’s, indeed, one of the two exceptions to Noack’s Precinct 3 numbers where he’s far ahead in spending what should only be 61% of the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, at least in the number of chronological days through May 11, 2017, the date of the documents this newspaper obtained.
Almost all of Noack’s other budget numbers are close to approximately 60 to 61% of the Fiscal Year Budget.
Noack’s Precinct 3 office has the feel of walking into a 22nd century building, because of his aggressive use of computer screens to monitor traffic patterns throughout the entire Precinct. Noack has the ability to watch traffic flow and patterns at almost any location in south Montgomery County. His Precinct 3 operation has one of the cleanest and most well maintained construction offices you’ll ever see. The garage where Noack repairs Precinct 3 vehicles is so clean you could almost eat off of the floor. Noack has a state-of-the art sign construction shop inside of his Precinct 3 barn. His road crews also build traffic signals from scratch, an immensely high-level technological challenge involving the use of microprocessors and specialized sensing equipment. One almost expects that Cody Grimes, the person who greets guests, is actually a robot because of the high-technology flare to the Precinct 3 office.
The full budget
The one legitimate criticism of Noack’s budget is his use, like the other County Commissioners, of a “slush fund” of carryover funds that fall outside of the County’s annual Budget. The County and the County Auditor should include those “carryover” funds in the current Fiscal Year Budget, so that taxpayers get a complete understanding of how much money the government actually spends. For Noack, this year’s actual budget is quite different from the originally-adopted budget. Noack’s original road and bridge budget was $5,559,780. His actual road and bridge budget, as amended, is now $9,805,460.34. The available funds should have come within the adopted budget whether they are carryover funds or not, especially for a Precinct operation that is as carefully operated as is Noack’s. In other words, Noack should know the amount of his projected carryover of funds at the time the Fiscal Year Budget is adopted.
Other than that one issue, however, Noack’s road and bridge budget appears quite well managed. His total salaries are 49% of the budgeted amount. Noack has only used 18% of his overtime budget, which such small use reveals careful budgeting and management of employee time. Noack has only used 24% of his supplies budget, although a large portion of those savings come from his use of carryover funds for road materials. Similarly, Noack’s use of his services budget is very close to “on target” for this point in the Fiscal Year. Noack has also saved the taxpayers considerable funds on capital outlays and major projects.
Noack’s very careful management and the discipline and confidence he instills in Precinct 3 operations workers have paid off. Precinct 3 is clean, efficient, and very responsive to residents’ needs.