Image: While Huell Babineaux enjoyed lying down on “other people’s money,” Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and the Commissioners Court love spending yours.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, July 20 – On Friday, July 16, 2021, Montgomery County Budget Director Amanda Carter released the Fiscal Year 2022 Preliminary Budget, which revealed the abject failure of County Judge Mark Keough to reduce any spending whatsoever or to keep spending of tax dollars within the core functions of the County government. Both of those promises – to reduce wasteful spending and to restrict spending to core County government functions – were portions of Keough’s 2018 “Contract with Montgomery County” on which he ran for election to the job.
Instead, the Preliminary Budget reveals that, during the past year ,when many County government functions ceased as a result of the China Virus pandemic and Keough’s mandated shutdowns of businesses and churches, neither the County Judge nor the Commissioners took that time as an opportunity to address wasteful spending, to implement “zero-based budgeting,” or to look for ways to reduce County government spending at all.
In fact, in sharp contrast to any oversight efforts, Keough, Precinct 1 Commissioner Robert Walker, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, and Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts looked the other way, as the County government frittered away a $17.5 million employee benefit and self-insurance fund, which became insolvent by May 12, 2021. The disappearance of those $17.5 million of “internal service funds” were a complete surprise to County Auditor Rakesh Pandey, former County Auditor Phyllis Martin, Keough, Walker, Riley, Noack, and Metts, as well as to local taxpayers whom they kept in the dark (as always).
Shockingly, despite the massive fiscal blindness the Commissioners Court has practiced and the failure of the employees of the County government to find any relief for local taxpayers during a year when many County Departments, such as the Convention Center and the Library, operated at far less than service capacity. One Commissioner has even suggested that he wants all County government employees, including himself, to receive a huge pay raise.
What is clear is that, despite massive local unemployment, little population growth, and fears of hyperinflation largely from worries about government spending, the Montgomery County government will continue to ignore local taxpayers and spend money as the tone deaf Commissioners Court chooses.
The General Fund spending increases show the complete disinterest in controlling County government spending, as Carter revealed in her presentation of the Departmental requests on Tuesday, July 13.
Leading the Departmental spending increases is a $97,977 spending increase from Keough for an “operations deputy,” even though the Montgomery County Judge does not conduct any operations whatsoever under the Texas Local Government Code or the Texas Constitution.
The $6,874,278 of additional spending shown under “funding factor” at the top of the list (above) reflects money necessary to shore up the “internal service fund” which disappeared under the absent oversight of this Commissioners Court. The Community Development Department seeks an additional $27,239, even though local taxpayers cannot afford such faceless increases.
Meanwhile, the “Office of Emergency Management” under Keough and Jason Millsaps seeks another new position in the form of a Logistics Specialist Position to cost the taxpayers $70,639. Additionally, the Information Technology Department, which appears always to lack spending control,” is seeking another $537,161.
Those spending increases from the General Fund alone total $13,495,803, and reflect a 5.95% increase over the current spending budget, substantially above the rate of inflation plus the population growth rate. As part of those massive budget increases, Keough and the general administration of the County government seek twenty (20) new employee positions.
Carter separated out General Fund Contracts for the upcoming Budget Year. Without any backup or explanation, the County government seeks a 15.95% spending increase on vendor contracts, other than road and bridge funds, from $16,144,729 in the current Fiscal Year to $18,721,111 in Fiscal Year 2022, which will begin September 1, 2021.
In total, the County government seeks to increase spending to $376,209,564 in Fiscal Year 2022 from $350,555,386 presently, which represents a whopping 7.3% increase in spending.
The Commissioners Court will conduct its so-called “budget hearing” after the conclusion of the July 27 Regular Commissioners Court meeting. The “hearing” usually begins with citizen comments carefully placed at the beginning of the hearing when none of the County Departments have made any of their presentations yet. That procedure effectively prevents citizens from commenting with full information.
The “budget hearing” will undoubtedly conclude with Keough and the members of the Commissioners Court congratulating themselves for a “job well done” spending “other people’s money.” Huell Babineaux would be jealous.