Image: The citizens of Montgomery County face terrible perils as the lame duck County Judge Craig Doyal makes major decisions that could greatly harm taxpayers for many years to come.
Conroe, March 16 – As lame duck Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal sends the County Commissioners Court into the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget process, the citizens face terrible perils. The voters repudiated Doyal’s policies soundly in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election when Doyal only received 42.17% of the vote and didn’t win the vote in any of the four Commissioners Precincts, not even Precinct 2 which Doyal had represented as a County Commissioner for twelve years before he became the County Judge in 2015.
State Representative Mark Keough, the Republican nominee, will face democrat Jay Stittleburg in the November General Election. Keough, of course, should handily defeat the democrat, although Keough has made clear that he’s taking nothing for granted in this election.
Meanwhile, Doyal appears to be approaching the County government as though it’s business as usual for his failed regime. During the last two Commissioners Court meetings – both held before the election – Doyal led secret executive sessions in which the Commissioners Court decided to hire a Budget Office Director. Apparently, Doyal intends to foist that person on Keough rather than allow the incoming County Judge to choose a Budget Office Director himself. Of course, there’s also a question whether the County government should even have a new Budget Office Director at all. The County Auditor, Phyllis Martin, already has over $600,000 allocated in her department budget. The Commissioners Court has failed to remove those funds from her budget at all.
Therefore, under Doyal’s approach, the citizens will suffer the ironic fate of having to squander almost $1 million on budget office functions where it’s not clear that the County government needs a budget office at all.
The biggest problem with Doyal’s approach to the Montgomery County government budget is that he’s a committed big spender when it comes to government spending. During the last ten years, Doyal has overseen growth of property taxes by 133% as a result of his ambitious spending programs.
Doyal has admitted that government spending, under a conservative approach, would never grow more than the rate of inflation plus the rate of population growth. Nevertheless, Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull provided data at the budget hearings during 2017 that showed the enormous growth in government spending during the past ten years.
As Turnbull showed in the chart above, the County Budget has grown from approximately $140 million in 2006 to more than $350 million just 12 years later. Since 2000, County government spending has grown over 428% while the population growth during that time period in Montgomery County has only been 84%.
The fundamental problem with Doyal’s approach to budgeting is that he refuses to engage in zero-based budgeting in which County departments and functions must justify each of their expenditures measured against their specific program goals. In other words, each County function should ask, “What specific resources do we need in order to meet the specific goals of this program?” Instead, Doyal merely takes each County Department’s budget from the previous year as a baseline and has enlarged spending off of that.
Montgomery County’s explosive spending growth compared to comparable counties
The Montgomery County government has shown no fiscal restraint whatsoever. A comparison to Collin County (County Seat: McKinney), Denton County (County Seat: Denton), Fort Bend County (County Seat: Rosenberg), and Williamson County (County Seat: Georgetown) reveals striking differences between Montgomery County on the one hand and the others as a group. Montgomery County’s government spending pattern since 2010 has been abysmal.
“Montgomery County’s spending pattern since 2010 has been abysmal.”
Since Fiscal Year 2010, Montgomery County’s government spending has grown by 77.2%. In Fiscal Year 2010, Montgomery County’s Budget was $213.0 million. In Fiscal year 2017, Montgomery County’s Budget was $377.4 million. The growth in dollars of each of the five counties follows:
The population growth rates follow:
Clearly, population growth rates do not justify the explosion of Montgomery County spending growth. During the study period, 2010 to 2017, Montgomery County’s population has grown 22.0%, while County government spending grew 77.2%. Inflation isn’t the excuse either for Montgomery County’s nuclear spending growth. The United States Consumer Price Index (CPI), which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles and publishes, follows for the relevant periods:
2013 1.5 %
2017 2.1% (extrapolated from 6 months of data).
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2010, in a nonbonding referendum, the Republican voters of Montgomery County placed a ceiling on County government spending growth equal to the rate of population growth plus the rate of inflation. Adding those numbers together for the relevant period, spending in Montgomery County should not have exceeded a 33.9% growth between Fiscal Year 2010 and Fiscal Year 2017. Since the County’s spending budget was $213.0 million in Fiscal Year 2010, its spending budget should not have been more than $285.2 million in Fiscal Year 2017. Instead, Montgomery County’s Budget for FY 2017 is $377.4 million, or $92.2 million over what it should be. Interestingly, even the outlandish spender County Judge Craig Doyal has defined “fiscal conservative” as meaning someone who restricts the growth of government spending to population growth and inflation. Therefore, by his own definition, Craig Doyal is an extreme “fiscal liberal.” (The Golden Hammerrespectfully believes that Doyal’s definition of “fiscal conservative” is in and of itself far too liberal.)
Interestingly, even the outlandish spender County Judge Craig Doyal has defined “fiscal conservative” as meaning someone who restricts the growth of government spending to population growth and inflation. Therefore, by his own definition, Craig Doyal is an extreme “fiscal liberal.”
Montgomery County’s population growth rate provides Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador no cover whatsoever for the outrageous growth in County government spending. It’s important to recall that, before he became County Judge on January 1, 2015, Doyal worked closely with Meador to ensure the growth of the County’s spending as the Precinct 2 County Commissioner with the help of his then-Operations Manager Charlie Riley.
Doyal has another excuse with which he has attempted to rationalize the spending explosion under his direction and tenure: the amount of unincorporated area in Montgomery County.
Analysis of Doyal’s excuse
Montgomery County’s population growth rate obviously is not an excuse. Does the amount of unincorporated area inside of Montgomery County rationalize the County’s explosion of government spending during the past seven years?
No, it does not.
Doyal’s argument is that 82% of Montgomery County’s population lives outside of cities or towns, so the County government has far more responsibility than other counties. The basis behind that argument is that a city such as Conroe or Willis takes responsibility for their roads, law enforcement, and infrastructure, while unincorporated areas of Montgomery County rely on the County government for those services. It’s a particularly significant point, if it were true, because the most heavily concentrated center of population in the entire County happens to be in The Woodlands, an area which remains unincorporated.
First, let’s look at the facts, i.e., the statistics, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 official Census. Please note that the population numbers reflect the 2010 data, not the more recent population data shown above.
First, let’s note that there’s no particular reason that a larger unincorporated area population would lead to higher spending growth (as opposed to a higher base level of spending). In fact, Montgomery County didn’t have spending that was particularly out of sync with comparable counties in 2010. Since 2010, Montgomery County caught up and exceeded the other counties in this comparison in government expenditures of tax dollars.
Second, and importantly, one of the comparable counties is Collin County, which bears 63.3% of its population in unincorporated areas, and Collin County has the lowest spending growth rate of all, at 21.7% for the seven-year period!
Third, and arguably most important of all, one must analyze how The Woodlands Township (or subdivision) fits into the analysis. The Woodlands pays for almost all of its law enforcement from the Sheriff’s Office under a substantial contract requiring Township payments to the Montgomery County government each year. Additionally, as much as readers of The Golden Hammer may dislike the entity, The Woodlands does have The Woodlands Road Utility District #1, another governmental entity which built many of the roads inside of The Woodlands. Perhaps, most poignant of all, the developer of The Woodlands built the vast majority of the roads inside of The Woodlands and used higher quality road designs and materials than the typical Montgomery County road project. Therefore, the burden of the two largest County responsibilities, public safety and roads, is quite a bit less on the shoulders of the County government as a result of a full 91,485 people in the 2010 Census who lived in The Woodlands at that time.
As a result, the “Unincorporated Population” table above has two rows for Montgomery County, one including The Woodlands population and one excluding The Woodlands population. That analysis also reveals that the unincorporated population burden on the Montgomery County government is actually comparable to that of Collin County and it’s not too far off of Fort Bend County.
Clearly, the unincorporated population in Montgomery County does not provide the excuse for the massive County government spending growth.
For comparable size counties to Montgomery County, the percentage of unincorporated population bears no relationship to the growth rate of County government spending.
Additionally, it’s important to note that Collin County has approximately 125,000 more people living in unincorporated areas than does Montgomery County but that has little bearing on the growth rate of Collin County’s government spending.
The bottom line
There’s no rational basis for the Montgomery County government’s spending growth during the last seven years. The County government’s current budget is $92.2 million over what it should be. Doyal, Riley, and Meador have spun out of control.