Image: Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
Conroe, August 10 – The Board of District Judges of Montgomery County will meet today, Friday, August 10, 2018, at High Noon, in the 2nd Floor Overflow Courtroom (southeast corner) of the Main Courthouse, 301 North Thompson Street, Conroe, to review and approve a budget for the Montgomery County Auditor, Phyllis Martin, over whom they are to exercise oversight under the Texas Local Government Code. The meeting will be open to the public, although it’s unclear if the public will have any ability to participate.
Citizens should attend the meeting, if for no other reason, than to send a message to the District Judges that we expect them to fulfill the promise of the Commissioners Court from 2017 that substantial reductions in the County Auditor’s department budget would occur.
Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin’s department is one of the worst run departments in the County government. Even though her job until March, 2018, was to oversee and audit the County budget and finances, Martin has allowed the budgets to spiral out of control while violating the principles of generally accepted accounting practices and auditing standards on a regular basis.
After the Citizens Budget Committee complained in July and August of 2017 about the need to separate out the County government’s budget functions from the County Auditor, in addition to other inherent conflicts of interest in Martin’s office and procedures, County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, who were clearly already focused on getting salary increases a year later (this year), moved to create a new County government bureaucracy named the “Budget Office.”
The Citizens Budget Committee had recommended a procedure for creation of a separated budget function that would not have cost the taxpayers additional funds. Instead, Noack and Doyal created the Budget Office bureaucracy and established a $280,000 per year budget. On September 5, 2017, and again twice in early 2018, Noack and Doyal promised the citizens openly during Commissioners Court meetings that they would reduce the County Auditor’s Budget at least by that $280,000 since the Auditor was not to be involved in the budget processes in the County government.
Martin has vociferously resisted any reductions in her staff or budget to a degree that scared Noack from taking any action to reduce her budget. Instead, Noack chose to lay the blame for the failure to reduce the County Auditor’s Budget on the Board of District Judges, which Noack and Martin claim is the only governmental body that can change Martin’s budget at all. That claim, however, is patently false, because the Commissioners Court regularly considers and approves budget amendments for the County Auditor’s Department without any approval or action from the Board of District Judges.
The Golden Hammer obtained Position Description Questionnaires (PDQs) for the County Auditor’s Office to analyze how much money the move of budget functions away from the Auditor’s Office might save taxpayers. Of course, neither Doyal nor the Commissioners addressed reducing County Auditor Phyllis Martin’s proposed budget despite the reduction in her office’s functions.
Although PDQs were not available for every one of the twenty-seven (27) employees in the Auditor’s Office, several were available and provided the ability to establish a baseline of the amount of money by which the Board of District Judge and the Commissioners Court should reduce the Auditor’s Budget. The Board of District Judges must establish the Auditor’s Budget. They approved her proposed budget on June 30, 2017, but that occurred long before the Commissioners Court voted to remove a major part of her duties to another County Department.
Here’s the calculation:
First Assistant County Auditor Angela Blocker spends 20% of her time on budget matters, so her functions are reduced by $30,609.72, which includes salary and benefits.
A Budget/Financial Reporting Supervisor spends 45% of her time on budget matters, so her functions are reduced by $46,895.05, which includes salary and benefits.
A Budget Analyst spends 100% of his time on budget matters, so his or her functions are reduced by $85,263.72, which includes salary and benefits.
A Financial Reporting Analyst spends 10% of her time on budget matters, so her functions are reduced by $8,526.37, which includes salary and benefits.
A Financial Systems Specialist spends 5% of his time on budget matters, so his functions are reduced by $7,380.92.
Two Grants Accountants spend 70% of their time on budget matters, so their functions are reduced by a total of $118,427.10, which includes salaries and benefits.
The Golden Hammer estimates that County Auditor Phyllis Martin spends 25% of her time on budget matters. Therefore, reducing her functions should reduce the County Auditor’s Budget by $51,074.59, which includes salary and benefits.
Please note that all of the reductions reflect the percentage of total salary and benefits for each of the positions.
The total savings on salaries along should be $348,176.47.
On August 3, 2017, this newspaper called for reduction of the County Auditor’s budget in “Montgomery County Citizens Should Demand, Expect District Judges, Commissioners Court To Reduce County Auditor’s Office Budget To Reflect Shift Of Budget Functions,” The Golden Hammer, August 3, 2017. The Board of District Judges, according to Noack, refused to reconsider Martin’s budget, even though the Commissioners Court had not yet adopted the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget by that time. Noack and Doyal also began to take the position that the Commissioners Court could not change Martin’s budget (despite repeatedly doing so) and then even staged a presentation with Assistant County Attorney B.D. Griffin on July 10, 2018, to try to fool the public into believing that tenuous argument.
Martin has requested a substantial increase in her salary as well as the salaries of the employees in her office. She wants increases that greatly exceed even the 3% across-the-board salary increases that Noack and the remainder of the Commissioners Court voted for themselves and all County government employees on July 27, 2018.
Martin also seeks an increase in her budget, despite the reduction in her job responsibilities and the now $300,000 per year budget that the separate Budget Office will burden the taxpayers.
District Judge Jennifer Robin is the Chief Administrative Judge for Montgomery County who usually presides over the meetings of the Board of District Judges, but, with the passing of her father, the beloved attorney Grady James, it’s unclear if Robin will attend the meeting. If Robin does not attend, then previous Chief Administrative Judge Kathleen Hamilton will likely preside.