Conroe, July 23 – The Citizens Budget Committee, which issued its report on Friday, July 21, 2017, has proposed Montgomery County government spending cuts of approximately $24 million mostly in the general administration departments of the County while maintaining County services at present levels. The Committee also proposed a method of resolving the failure of the County Auditor and County Treasurer Departments to meet acceptable accounting and budget practices.
A full copy of the entire Citizens Budget Committee report is at the end of this article.
General Administrative Expenses
The general administration departments of the Montgomery County government clearly suffer from the greatest mismanagement or, in many instances, lack of management. There are also some shining stars. The Citizens Budget Committee noticed, for example, that the spending of the County Clerk’s office is particularly lean in comparison to other departments. For a department with a large number of employees, the expenses for supplies, professional development, and training are quite low.
The Committee did line-by-line analyses of the salaries and benefits for every department but chose only to give total numbers for salaries and benefits in its actual recommendations in order to give department directors some room for judgment in determining how to allocate those account categories. For example, Montgomery County Judge Doyal’s current salary budget is $451,789. The Committee recommends a $384,911 budget for salaries in that department (Account 400). That would require elimination of the “ghost employee” in that department and a reduction of a portion of one other salary. Of course, the elimination of the unnecessary “chief of staff” position at more than $118,000 per year would resolve the problem entirely.
The Committee also recommends that the Risk Management department be merged back into the Human Resources department under the direction and management of the Human Resources Director, as the County previously has. The Risk Management and Purchasing Departments have significant manpower excesses. The Committee believes that the County payroll should be outsourced to a professional payroll service such as Hewitt or ADP. There are additional inefficiencies in the Treasurer and Audit departments.
The Building Maintenance Department is likely one of the most troubled of all departments. The Department is substantially top-heavy with administration and management, probably as a result of nepotistic hiring. Furthermore, the Department suffers among the non-management employees from a lack of licensed trades. There are some excellent County employees in the Building Maintenance Department, mostly below the management level. They deserve a safe workplace in a setting with licensed trades under whom they work.
The Civic Center, Fair, and Airport departments should should require County expenditures at all. They should support themselves entirely. The County Engineer requires a full-time director.
County Services Expenses
The Committee reduced County Services expenditures only with great reluctance. There were no reduction in Veterans Services and most of the mental health and welfare programs.
The Committee had some major bibliophiles. One member of the Committee is known to read so much that the person stays up most of the night doing so.
The Committee recommended that the Law Library be merged into the Memorial Library department entirely. There is no statutory requirement for a law library, but it does provide some useful information to indigent litigants involved in family law matters. The County should not bear the legal risk of having attorneys who provide even the most limited legal advice to litigants in a library setting. Harris County and virtually every other County in Texas strictly prohibit the provision of even the most “de minimis” legal advice, while Montgomery County permits that to occur regularly.
The Committee believed that the Memorial Library system faces the same sad difficulties that bookstores face. Citizens regularly use electronic books far more than previously. The Library’s children’s department enjoys substantial use during particular periods. The Library’s computer rooms also enjoy use particularly on weekends. The book collections are somewhat duplicative of those inside of school district libraries. The Committee strongly recommends that the Memorial Library system be merged into the school district libraries and possibly the community colleges rather than permitting the duplication to continue. In that merger, provision must occur so that citizens will have public use of the libraries as they do under current circumstances. At the same time, during a transition to such a situation, the County should reduce expenditures on the Library system while recognizing the alteration in use patterns.
County Auditor problem: a solution
Under legislation which Governor Greg Abbott signed in May, the County must comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, as promulgated under the “Yellow Book” standards of the United States General Accountability Office and the Government Accounting Standards Board. One of the basic Principles of the Yellow Book with which Montgomery County has abjectly failed to comply is that an auditor may not audit her own work. Presently. The County Auditor acts as the bookkeeper, the Chief Budget Officer, the accountant, and the auditor. She audits her work as bookkeeper, accountant, and Chief Budget Officer.
The Committee, therefore, made the following recommendations:
- The County Treasurer should serve as the bookkeeper and accountant for the County government, so that the County Auditor never audits her own work.
- The County Treasurer should likely utilize the services of an outside payroll service, although the transition to such a service may take a full fiscal year.
- The Board of District Judges (seven judge) should appoint a seven-person Citizens Budget Committee to act as an unpaid Budget Office for the County. Fort Bend County has a separate paid Budget Office and has removed the budget function from the County Auditor. The Citizens Budget Committee would be responsible to the Board of District Judges. The Budget Office would monitor the efficiency of County operations, provide training in zero-based budgeting methods, and prepare a proposed budget in early spring of each year.
Additionally, the Committee noted in its report that the enterprise resource planning system on which the County government intends to spend approximately $15 million is vastly over-priced. The amount set aside during Fiscal Year 2017, approximately $3.4 million, should be entirely sufficient for the system.
Full Citizens Budget Committee Report