Image: Four of the five members of the Commissioners Court prayed before they voted to increase taxes on the citizens of Montgomery County in the midst of the economic depression they caused in their panicked response to the Chinese Coronavirus. One of the members of the Commissioners Court stared around the room during the prayer.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, July 31 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court skewered Montgomery County taxpayers by raising taxes on beleaguered citizens, suffering from the government-mandated economic downturns which resulted when local government leaders panicked and forced businesses to shut down. The Court failed to control County government spending, actually increased spending substantially, and raised taxes by adopting a 44.12 cents per $100 valuation tax rate, which, with massive property tax appraisal increases, results in an approximately seven percent (7%) tax increase.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough admitted the failure in budgeting at the conclusion of the Commissioners Court meeting late Friday morning, July 31, 2020: “It [the 44.12 cents per $100 valuation tax rate] doesn’t get us to where we compensate for increases in appraisals. People will be paying more money in taxes.”
“It [the 44.12 cents per $100 valuation tax rate] doesn’t get us to where we compensate for increases in appraisals. People will be paying more money in taxes.” – – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, July 31, 2020, admitting the failure of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to pass a “no new taxes” tax rate, but instead raise taxes on County citizens in the middle of an enormous economic downturn.
During the July 30 session of the Budget Workshop, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley fought to spend $4 million on a brand new forensics center, which the Commissioners Court could easily have deferred to a later budget year. Keough, however, went along with the pro-spending majority of Riley, Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts, and retiring Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador. Immediately after he agreed to spending the money on the forensics center, however, Keough turned to Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack and whispered loud enough for many others to hear, “Oh my God, didn’t I just give away all the money we were going to use on vehicles and so now we’re going to have to raise taxes?!” Noack nodded his head in response.
As a result, when the Commissioners Court voted today to spend about $3.7 million on vehicles for law-enforcement, that put the Budget and County spending in a position to require that they actually raise taxes above the effective tax rate of 43.19 cents per $100 valuation, the tax rate the adoption of which would have resulted in no tax increase for County taxpayers. Even though the tax rate will be slightly lower than the current 44.75 cents tax rate, with property tax appraisal increases, the County government is actually going to collect more revenue, spend more money, and raise total taxes on County taxpayers on the average substantially, as Keough admitted.
In the midst of the COVID-19 economic crisis, which was perpetrated on County citizens when the County Judge panicked and shut down businesses and chose favorite businesses, such as liquor stores and car dealerships, which could remain open during the COVID-19 shutdown, the Commissioners Court is raising property taxes, even though the local unemployment rate exceeds 12% and the gross domestic product has fallen by 32.9% at an annual rate.
Harry Hardman, a local businessman and President of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, which reduced its annual budget by 19% in the face of the taxpayer crisis, from the government shutdown mandates, commented to The Golden Hammer, in an exclusive interview: “I am extremely disappointed to hear that Commissioner’s Court not only failed to maintain the effective tax rate, but in fact raised taxes in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis that has and continues to devastate the taxpayers of Montgomery County. The same people who forced the shutdown of our economy and decimated many businesses and business owners are now doubling down with higher taxes. Our District was able to reduce our operating budget by 19% this fiscal year; it’s unconscionable to me that our county officials are so out of touch with what is happening with their constituency that they would approve this new rate. We deserve better.”
“The same people who forced the shutdown of our economy and decimated many businesses and business owners are now doubling down with higher taxes. Our [Lone Star Groundwater Conservation] District was able to reduce our operating budget by 19% this fiscal year; it’s unconscionable to me that our county officials are so out of touch with what is happening with their constituency that they would approve this new rate. We deserve better.” – – Harry Hardman, July 31, 2020.
The Commissioners Court concluded the Budget Workshop with a decision to spend an additional $1,263,816.74 during the current Fiscal Year as well, an agenda item added for the meeting “so we can pay more bills,” as County Auditor Rakesh Pandey explained.
Budget Office Director Amanda Carter had presented options to the Commissioners Court which included no new taxes on County citizens. Noack moved to adopt the effective tax rate, or no new taxes rate, which such motion died on a two in favor (Noack, Keough) to three against (Riley, Metts, Meador) vote.
The lameduck Meador moved to adopt the tax increase and Riley quickly seconded that motion. The Commissioners Court voted three (Riley, Metts, Meador) to two (Noack, Keough) in favor of the tax increase.
The five members of the Commissioners Court failed to find any spending reductions from the previous year’s budget. They didn’t reduce staff. They didn’t reduce salaries. They didn’t reduce benefits. Meanwhile, private citizens face enormous income reductions and genuine threats to their ability to make ends meet, primarily because local governments and the state government chose to enforce a lockdown in response to the COVID-19 virus rather than follow epidemiologically-sound courses of action dependent upon voluntary citizen action.
Citizens will have the opportunity to speak at a public hearing, mandated under state law, on Friday, August 21, 2020, at 9 a.m., at the Montgomery County Commissioners Courtroom, on the fourth floor of the Sadler Administration Building, 501 North Thompson Street, Conroe, Texas 77301.