The ugly ratings of the County government through the budget process

Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack only has ten fingers to plug the County overspending dike.

Conroe, July 30 – On Friday, July 28, 2017, the Commissioners Court completed a four-day “budget workshop” at the end of which they approved a $328,751,430 budget which includes higher County spending (other than debt service) than ever before in the history of the Montgomery County government. The only reason the Commissioners Court was able to keep the tax rate at $0.4667 per $100 valuation is because Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack had led County Auditor Phyllis Martin through the methodology to reduce the County’s annual debt service by $21,828,273. That along with Department heads who agreed to lower their annual expenses, in response to a request by Noack and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, lowered spending enough to enable the Commissioners Court to provide for 53.5 law enforcement personnel while staying at the same tax rate.

In other words, Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador burned through all of the savings that Noack and Clark had spurred by increases in spending in other areas.

Some Montgomery County citizens will enjoy some additional protection from the 20% homestead exemption, but Doyal and Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae just gave some very bad news to senior citizens: seniors will not enjoy the homestead exemption but will only receive the senior citizen exemption.

The bottom line is that the Montgomery County government has not reduced spending at all, despite contrary propaganda spewing out of Doyal’s office.

Here are the grades of the County as a whole during the budget process as well as the members of the Commissioners Court, the County Auditor, and the Department heads.

Montgomery County Government: F. Citizens have had enough of high taxes and the high government spending that causes it. The County government had a wonderful opportunity to reduce spending. Doyal, Riley, and Meador ignored the Citizens Budget Committee report, which proposed more than $24 million of spending cuts. They didn’t take one suggestion. In fact, they didn’t even accept an increase in spending in the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office in order to give him additional manpower to fight the drug trade along the Highway 59 corridor.

County Judge Craig Doyal: F. Doyal did absolutely nothing to contribute to the budget process. He coasted on the wave of the Noack debt service reductions and the Departmental reductions which Noack and Clark had led. At the end of the process, Doyal tried to shift the responsibility for the budget on a new bureaucracy: a budget office. It turns out that the budget office concept is not new at all. In 2007, Montgomery County shuttered its Budget Office when Doyal (then Precinct 2 Commissioner) and Meador didn’t like Director Julane Tolbert’s proposals to reduce County government spending.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador: F-. Meador seemed genuinely lost through the entire process. He seemed to react to most of the Department presentations as though he had never even heard of the existence of the Department until the “budget workshop.” Meador repeatedly called every Department head “amazing,” “wonderful,” or “great,” even though he knows nothing about County operations.

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley: D-. Riley offered nothing during four days of “budget workshop.” He’s furniture.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack: A. Noack saved the entire process. His debt service reduction ($21.8 million) and his leadership to help County Departments reduce their spending proposals ultimately saved the taxpayers from a tax rate increase, despite Doyal’s and Meador’s push to increase government spending. Noack showed substantial interest in the Citizens Budget Committee report, but with three (Doyal, Meador, Riley) not the least bit interested in reducing government spending, there was only so much Noack could do. Noack and Clark need some help from the voters to add a conservative majority on the Commissioners Court.

Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark: B. Clark is not as knowledgeable as Noack with respect to County finances. Nevertheless, Clark asked some excellent questions during the workshop. He also joined Noack’s call for a 5% across-the-board spending reduction (other than for law enforcement). Like Noack, however, there’s only so much he could do without a conservative majority on the Commissioners Court.

County Auditor Phyllis Martin: D. Martin is very knowledgeable and seems very factual when members of the Court ask her questions about the budget. Nevertheless, she is the County’s Chief Budget Officer and showed no leadership whatsoever to reduce spending. To the contrary, the $300,000 Doyal wants to spend on a new bureaucracy, a “budget office,” ought to come out of Martin’s paycheck and should certainly constitute a reduction from her Auditor Department budget. Martin fought transparency in the budget process at every turn. Someone should introduce her to the Texas Open Records Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act as well as the state policies those statutes entail.

The law enforcement community: B+. Under the leadership of Sheriff Rand Henderson, the law enforcement departments of Montgomery County are moving towards zero-based budgeting. Henderson and his Finance Director Carol Thompson did an outstanding job making positive strides on better budget methods for law enforcement and on providing better service to the community for public safety. Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden made a superb presentation. Precinct 5 Constable’s Chief Deputy Chris Jones also did a great job in his presentation before the Commissioners Court. The law enforcement departments only get a B+ rather than an A, because (1) they haven’t fully coordinated their budget efforts yet and (2) they haven’t all moved towards a zero-based budgeting methodology. Our community is fortunate to have such strong law enforcement leadership. Remember, Sheriff Henderson has been in office only for seven months. It will be fun watching what he’ll bring to the budget process next time.

Airport Director Scott Smith: C-. Proposed 5% reduction in operating expense, but failed to address salaries.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Director: C. No reduction proposed but it’s a fixed contract.

Building Custodial Services Director Lorena Garcia: F.  Garcia showed an anti-citizen attitude, complete lack of understanding of management leadership, and complete lack of understanding of custodial methods. She did propose a 5% reduction in operating expenses but failed to address the top-heavy salaries and benefits in her mess of a department.

Building Maintenance Director Paul Case: F. Case actually proposed increased spending for this department, which is the most troubled and nepotism-ridden department in the entire County government.

Civic Center Director Don Carpenter: D. Reduced budget substantially but fought a proposal to reduce his budget by $300,000 which his department regularly did not spend year-to-year.

County Attorney J.D. Lambright: A+. Lambright did a super job reducing his entire departmental budget by 5%. His Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham did superb work providing legal advice to the band of jackals, also known as the Commissioners Court.

County Clerk Mark Turnbull: A+++.   The County ought to save $300,000 on a Budget Office. Instead, they ought to add the Budget Office responsibilities to Turnbull. His presentation was positively brilliant. He also reduced his entire department budget by slightly more than 5%.

Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull appears in the video which he presented to the Commissioners Court Budget Workshop on July 25, 2017.

County Engineer Mark Mooney: F. Mooney is a mess. He’s an absent County Engineer, probably on the golf course with Doyal.

County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport: D+. Failed to reduce her budget by 5%. Her presentation revealed her misunderstanding of how County finances work.

District Clerk Barbara Gladden Adamick: C. Adamick had some difficulty during her presentation, but she did propose a 2.3% reduction in her budget. Unfortunately, she sought to wipe that reduction out when she asked for a pay raise for her entire department.

Elections Administrator Suzie Harvey: C-. Failed to reduce spending 5% and failed to address salaries in this poorly-managed department.

Emergency Management Director Darren Hess: C. Failed to address salaries. This department should be merged into the Sheriff’s Office.

Environmental Health Director Scott Nichols: C+. Did a fine presentation but failed to address department salaries.

Extension Service Agents: C-. Reduced operating expenses but failed to address salaries.

Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams: A+. It’s a law enforcement department, but this newspaper wants to mention him anyway. He did a superb job with his budget all the way around.

Historical Commission Chairman Larry Foerster: F. Private donations aren’t feasible?

Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw: B. Shaw didn’t do much to reduce her department’s budget, although she did reduce the operating expenses by $20,000. Shaw and her Assistant Director Kathy Flowers did an outstanding job supporting the budget process. They are first-class professionals at what they do.

Information Technology Director Marshall Shirley: C+. Shirley’s presentation showed his extensive knowledge. Nevertheless, he failed to address salaries and capital expenditures. Of course, there’s a limit to what Shirley can do when Marc Davenport and jim fredricks control the IT decision making for the County government.

Library Director Jerilynn Williams: F. Williams presented a 1971 budget for 2017. She’s out of touch with the reality of library use.

Permits Director Phil Jones: C. Failed to address salaries in his department.

Purchasing Acting Director Jorge Ardines: B+. Ardines, who has left the County government, did a good job with his budget.

Risk Management Director Virginia Little: B. While this department has numerous problems which the Commissioners Court should have addressed, Little did a 5% reduction in spending.

Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae: A-. McRae is an excellent manager of people and money. Her heart is with the taxpayers (mostly).

Veterans Services Director Kay Lynn Lee: B-. Lee reduced her operating expenses. She didn’t address salaries.

 

 

 

 

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