Conroe, August 9 – The budget hearing on August 8, 2017, before the Montgomery County Commissioner Court portends a scene from the classic 1969 short, “Bambi versus Godzilla.” (Video of short at bottom of this article.) During both the regular Commissioners Court meeting and the budget hearing portion of the meeting afterwards, citizens, including Alan Wells of Splendora, Bill O’Sullivan of The Woodlands, and the Publisher of this newspaper addressed detailed issues of concern regarding the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. In response, with Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack in the lead and with County Judge Craig Doyal ultimately trying to take all of the credit, the Commissioners Court made clear that they intend to pass a budget with the highest governmental operations expenditures in the history of Montgomery County regardless of taxpayer concerns.
In this instance, the citizens of Montgomery County are like Bambi in that they love their community, seek to enjoy their surroundings, and want to work hard to make the County government work better by finding efficiencies and thereby making this place a better one in which to live. Lower property taxes resulting from lower County government spending would show the leadership that one would expect from a conservative Republican county.
Instead of seeking actual spending reductions, better County government management and operations, greater efficiencies in each County Department, or the benefits of zero-based budgeting, Doyal, Noack, and their colleagues merely lowered the giant clawed foot of greater taxation and squashed the fiscal health of the citizens. With the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, despite bragging about lowering spending by 5.5%, in actuality, there is no reduction at all in the tax rate. Admittedly, the Godzilla-like Commissioners Court did ultimately flick a 20% homestead exemption over to the beleaguered Bambi-like taxpayers, but the Court had a real opportunity to find serious spending reductions which would have resulted in a substantial tax rate decrease as well.
Clearly, Godzilla sought to protect his massive salary.
Regular Commissioner Court
Splendora’s Wells told the Commissioners Court how the property taxes at his family’s residence have increased enormously almost every year, while he has not observed any increase in services over the decades he’s observed the circumstances. Wells noted that traffic congestion is as bad as it was when he was a child and that road quality has not improved.
O’Sullivan noted that there has been little to no planning for roads outside of Commissioner’s Precinct 3, as there is no countywide mobility study or plan that establishes any road and bridge priorities.
Of course, the Commissioners Court members did not respond to any of those concerns. Late in the meeting, Doyal, Noack, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley had a wonderful opportunity to discuss how the F.M. 1488 road expansion fits within a regional plan for mobility, as that road is central to much of the traffic in the south, west, and central portions of this community. Instead, the Commissioners Court engaged in no discussion whatsoever.
After the regular Court meeting, the Commissioners Court held a so-called “budget hearing.” The problem with the hearing, however, was that neither the County Auditor, who acts as the Chief Budget Officer, nor the Commissioners Court has made public its amended proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, so there was nothing for the public to see and review prior to the meeting.
The citizens of Montgomery County, especially those on fixed income, such as the elderly, veterans, and disabled individuals, see their net disposable income rapidly declining if they continue to own a home.
After deduction of federal income taxes, motor vehicle licenses, and personal property taxes (i.e., not on real estate), the net disposable income in the United States averages approximately 77%, according to the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis. In Texas, however, citizens must also pay sales taxes, real property taxes, fees, licenses, and gasoline taxes, which reduce income another approximately 19% of personal income. As a result, Texans’ net disposable income (personal income minus all taxes) averages 58%.
That means that you pay 42 cents in taxes for every dollar your family earns!
As a result, the failure of the Commissioners Court to reduce the tax rate at all, despite all of their talk about spending reductions, is a grave harm to Montgomery County taxpayers. The Citizens Budget Committee proposed $24 million of spending cuts, which would have afforded a reduction of approximately six cents per $100 valuation. That would have lowered Montgomery County citizens’ tax bills quite a bit, but the reality is that it would have sent a strong message to other taxing jurisdictions in this area – the school districts, the hospital district, MUDs, cities, and other special taxing entities – that the County was showing the leadership which the citizens are demanding.
Instead, the Commissioners Court showed no leadership at all. The only real reduction in spending was in the reduction of debt service by $21 million per year in the County’s Budget. While many Departments proposed budget reductions, in sum the Commissioners Court actually raised operational spending to $295 million, the highest level in the history of the Montgomery County government. (Operational spending does not include debt service.)
During the budget hearing, Sheriff Rand Henderson lauded the creation of a Budget Office to make the development of annual budgets a yearlong process which would proceed more smoothly and with more careful thought and planning. The Budget Office concept might be an improvement, if the Budget Office does, in fact, look for efficiencies and budget reductions.
The Publisher of this newspaper, however, brought to the Commissioners Court’s attention that Doyal and Noack had proposed spending an extra $300,000 on the new budget bureaucracy when the funds should all have come as a reduction from the County Auditor’s Department, since the Auditor currently spends at least $347,000 on the budget function of her office. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark said, “We don’t intend to double dip.” Unfortunately, Clark only spoke for himself.
Noack and Doyal were both far more focused on bragging about their claimed accomplishments: a penny rate decrease (last year, not this year), the homestead exemption, and the County’s AAA bond rating (which occurred as a result of the County’s consistent spending increases).
Bringing down Godzilla’s giant foot on the beleaguered Bambiesque taxpayers has not solved the problem. In fact, it didn’t even address the specific concern of reducing the proposed budget by the $300,000 separately set aside for the Budget Office. At this point, the Commissioners Court is far more concerned about how to spend all of the money they will take from Bambi during Fiscal Year 2018. If they’ve budgeted too much, that will give them more money to accumulate to play with in the future. Tax reductions seem out of the question.
Godzilla is far more concerned about his salary.
The following is the original film, from 1969, “Bambi Meets Godzilla.” The length is one minute, 30 seconds. It’s worth watching until the end and make sure you read all of the credits, as they’ll enrich your experience.