Image: The Montgomery County Commissioners Court decision to reward themselves five percent (5%) across-the-board pay raises for all County government employees amounts to nothing short of treason, after more than a year of the government’s destruction of lives, jobs, families, and incomes among the private citizens who suffer the local tax burden.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, July 29 – The prayer of Montgomery County Budget Director Amanda Carter – “Thank you, God, for putting our community first” – turned out to be little more than blasphemous sarcasm. Within minutes of Carter concluding that opening prayer, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court’s so-called “budget workshop” voted 4 (Noack, Riley, Walker, Metts) to 1 (Keough) to reward all Montgomery County elected officials, department heads, and employees a five percent (5%) across-the-board pay raise, while pulling the funds to pay for that pay raise directly out of road and bridge repair funds.
The $7.3 million necessary to pay for the massive salary increase for already-overpaid County employees created a shortfall of approximately $950,000 from projections for tax collections from local taxpayers. Therefore, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, the primary proponent of the massive salary increase, suggested taking $250,000 out of each of the four Commissioner Precinct budgets.
Towards the end of the discussion on the salary increase, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough asked, “What are we giving up?”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley answered, “I would have spent it on road work, equipment, road materials, and road repairs.”
In other words, knowing that they were taking huge amounts of money directly from the core services of the County government – road and bridge operations – the four County Commissioners were delighted to give themselves an enormous pay raise along with every other County government employee. Each County Commissioner currently receives $177,174.92 in annual salary, approximately $71,401.49 in benefits, and total taxpayer-funded compensation of $248,576.41. With the massive salary increase, Noack, Riley, Precinct 1 Commissioner Robert Walker, and Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts rewarded themselves $12,428.82 in additional compensation, so that their total compensation will be $261,005.23.
The County Commissioners already have the third highest County Commissioner salaries among the 254 counties of Texas.
County Judge Keough refused to vote for the salary increase and made clear that he would not accept a pay raise for himself.
Noack began the discussion, “Judge, Commissioners, this past three years our employees have been asked to do their jobs and keep their focus. They put themselves and their families at risk during COVID. In the past 3 years, our employees received 1.9% in raises. That is not acceptable. 3% is not acceptable. Montgomery Central Appraisal District gave themselves a 4% raise [which Noack and the Commissioners Court voted to approve], and we’re going to give our employees less? The City of Conroe, the ISDs are giving raises…other counties. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with department heads and elected officials. They’ve agreed to forego their department requests if we give them a 5% raise. I will settle for nothing less.”
Keough responded, “How can we give raises when we don’t know what the expenditures will be in each of the departments?…Our greatest asset is our citizens and they’ve taken it on the chin…Unemployment here is higher than the rest of the country.”
Noack responded, “I didn’t pull it out of the sky. 5% is what the inflation is. We’re trying to make sure our employees can get the same numbers of loaves of bread as they did last year.”
Carter, the praying Budget Director, explained that it will cost local taxpayers $7,010,000 for the 5% salary increases.
Walker interjected, “It’s a hard decision, but I tend to agree. If you haven’t had a raise in 3 years, it’s tough. Inflation is high. I tend to agree if we can make it happen. We know we’d like to see 5% increase and we have to work the budget around those numbers at the end.”
Metts, who has always advocated high salaries for County government employees regardless of the difficult circumstances of local taxpayers, said, “I agree, Commissioner Walker. You can feel appreciated and be appreciated all day long, but at the end of the day you have to buy groceries…Good labor is not cheap and cheap labor is not good. The job has to be done…You need quality people to do that.”
At one point during the discussion, Riley proposed giving himself and other elected officials a 4% pay raise, along with County Department heads, but only giving 2% merit raises to some County employees. Riley said, “Let me see if I can complicate this a little bit more…What if we went with 4% raise for Department heads and elected officials and 2% merit raise for employees that you don’t have to give them. How complicated is that?”
Keough responded, “We cannot forget the people of our community. They’ve been shot in the arm here.”
Metts showed no sympathy for hard working taxpayers trying to make ends meet in the private sector, after the government panic over the China Virus resulted government shutdowns of businesses and churchs. “I’m not forgetting the guys and gals in the community. If you want to go to work, you can go to work, even if it’s not the job you want,” Metts said.
Turning to Keough, Noack challenged the County Judge, “You’re the one that closed the county down. You’re the one who put the people in a bad spot.”
Walker added, “I think a merit raise will lead to fixing to have a lot of disgruntled employees.”
According to Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae, local property tax values have increase 7.92%, while the average assessed value for local privately-owned homes is 3.56%. Any tax rate above 40.83 cents per $100 valuation would constitute a tax increase by the Montgomery County government.
$264,230 is the average assessed value for homes in Montgomery County
Noack’s focus was on being “the heroes taking care of the employees.”
Walker answered, “I’m in on that.” Metts and Riley each concluded the discussion with “me too!”
Noack will be particularly heroic with at least two of his employees. At the Tuesday, July 27, 2021, Regular Commissioners Court meeting, Noack made a motion to give Andy Dubois, the former Courier blog editor who now works for Noack as a “projects manager,” a huge mid-year raise to $110,473.76, and Cody Grimes, the Precinct 3 receptionist, a gigantic raise to $89,456.14. Both Dubois and Grimes received approximately $5,000 per year raises two days ago. They, of course, will also receive the 5% across-the-board raises on their boosted salaries.
Former Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker, who resides in Conroe, told this newspaper, “How tone-deaf can these low IQ so-called ‘Republicans’ be? While the citizens are finding it hard to make ends meet, these politicians want to give a 5% raise to county employees that have never missed a paycheck. Some of which are good friends, girlfriends, wives, and relatives of these elected officials. To make matters worse, Commissioner Criley will take much-needed road and bridge money from Precinct two to fund this foolish undertaking. Honestly, I find it hard to tell the difference between tax and spend democrats and our so-called ‘Republican’ commissioners’ court. I guess this is their way of making up for the $17 million of employee benefit and self-insurance money that Criley and the ignorant four lost.”
“How tone-deaf can these low IQ so-called ‘Republicans’ be? While the citizens are finding it hard to make ends meet, these politicians want to give a 5% raise to county employees that have never missed a paycheck. Some of which are good friends, girlfriends, wives, and relatives of these elected officials. To make matters worse, Commissioner Criley will take much-needed road and bridge money from Precinct two to fund this foolish undertaking. Honestly, I find it hard to tell the difference between tax and spend democrats and our so-called ‘Republican’ commissioners’ court. I guess this is their way of making up for the $17 million of employee benefit and self-insurance money that Criley and the ignorant four lost.” – – Former Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker, July 28, 2021.
Ginger Russell, the “Quiet Lady From Magnolia,” who had warned the Commissioners Court against a pay raise back in January, said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that our County Commissioners would try to pull a fast one and take money away from road projects and put into their pockets. I was unaware that all of the roads in our County are in pristine condition and are in no need of repair, thereby freeing up that money to go somewhere else. The other horrible part of this is that it is a way from them to get their pay increase done and hide it from the taxpayers by transferring money from one pocket to the other and thereby having their pay increase grandfathered in for future budgets, so the people in general won’t realize what they have done. You just can’t keep acting like Democrats and run for office as Republicans.”
Jennifer Eckhart, the Magnolia businesswoman who has announced that she’s challenging Riley in the March 1, 2022, Republican Primary Election, told The Golden Hammer in an exclusive interview, “Once again, the issue of not having a comprehensive employee compensation plan has caused problems. The County competes for talent with other employers. We should not be competing against ourselves, because the same job with the same experience pays more in one Department or Precinct versus another. The issue of unstructured pay increases and raises are problematic as well. I understand our Commissioners having a heart for our employees and being sensitive to raises. But addressing these concerns should not take money away from fixing roads or buying equipment, as it has this time. That’s a band-aid fix to a larger issue.”
Eckhart continued, “Commissioner Noack has asked Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw to hire someone to do a study on an appropriate compensation plan for our county. I completely agree that we need this. We need to compensate the county employees relevant to their skills, workload, and experience. But also, people should not be making more income working for the government, than what they could command in the private sector. We need to compare our pay scales to other counties as well as the private sector. This should be done for all positions, including Department Heads and all Elected Officials. This allows for HR to produce an appropriate pay, pay raise, and longevity income structure. If fitting, allow Department Heads a reasonable merit pay budget that is to their discretion. A proper compensation structure allows for efficiency, better budgeting, and less guesswork.”