Image: The Budget Office of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is little more than a political tool for the government to attempt to fool the citizens into believing that the government’s officials care about their use of public funds. Sadly, Montgomery County’s “budget office” appears headed towards the same pattern.
Conroe, August 2 – There aren’t many certainties in the slimy world of the Montgomery County government, but there’s one near-certainty: Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador are constantly searching for new ways to spend government money, more affectionally known as “tax dollars.” Last Friday, July 28, 2017, Doyal proposed a new County Department, a “Budget Office,” which may have sounded like a good idea, but it’s fraught with perils.
In all fairness to Doyal, the Citizens Budget Committee made a recommendation for a “budget office” but it was quite different from the one Doyal has described. The Committee proposed in its Final Report that the County should establish an official citizens budget committee, which the Board of District Judges would appoint, and which would work – without payment – to study the efficiency of County Departments and to propose a full and detailed budget for the next fiscal year to the Commissioners Court in late spring of each year.
Doyal’s “Budget Office” proposal would be quite costly to County taxpayers. More significantly, the “Budget Office” would become another County Department. Under the current arrangement wherein the four County Commissioners have shifted away all of their duties to oversee the management and operation of the County government to the County Judge, the “Budget Office” would just become another political tool for Doyal to manipulate.
If this newspaper’s discussion of the proposal sounds cynical, that’s only because of the history of Montgomery County’s utilization of a “Budget Office” concept and because of the history of Doyal’s complete lack of work or attention to the County’s Budget of proper management of County Departments. Doyal is an absent County Judge. He contributed nothing to the Budget process other than mismanaging the four-day “budget workshop” and then attempting to take the credit for the spending reductions almost all of which came from Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack’s work to reduce the County’s debt service (by $22 million) and Noack’s and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark’s work to reduce the spending within non-law enforcement County Departments.
Frighteningly, Doyal was instrumental in the termination of previous Budget Office Director Julane Tolbert in 2007 when Doyal (then Precinct 2 County Commissioner) and Meador didn’t like Tolbert’s proposals to reduce County government spending. By running a Budget Office under Doyal’s direction or even under the direction of the Commissioners Court, citizens will suffer another politically-charged department which will render opinions regarding spending, County management, County operations, and County efficiency that are little more than propaganda. For a comparison, look at the United States Congressional Budget Office, which is very much the same type of institution.
Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code places the budgeting function under the auspices of the Board of District Judges who appoint a County Auditor as the Chief Budget Officer. While the Commissioners Court can segregate out the budget function from the Auditor – and should do so – it would be far more prudent for the budget to remain under the independent oversight of the Board of District Judges who are not as directly-involved in County politics.
Doyal’s effort to spend saved money on his “Budget Office”
The very creation of Doyal’s “Budget Office” is troubling. On Friday morning, Doyal announced to the Commissioners Court during the “budget workshop” that the Montgomery County government’s portion of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (“MCAD”) Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 would go down from $2,293,255 (Fiscal Year 2017) to $2,184,000 (Fiscal Year 2018), a $109,255 savings, as a result of the County’s passage of a 20% homestead exemption, the passage for which Noack and local political activist Kelli Cook are primarily responsible. MCAD charges its budget based upon tax collections for each governmental entity. Since the County’s property tax collections will go down a small amount as a result of the 20% homestead exemption, MCAD’s charge to the County government will decline during the coming Fiscal Year.
Doyal has also had a $50,120.52 vacancy on his County Judge’s payroll for three years, although Doyal has taxed Montgomery County citizens for that amount each fiscal year. Doyal “contributed” those funds to the “Budget Office” as well.
Doyal told the Commissioners Court that the new County “Budget Office” would have a budget of $300,000 per year. Therefore, the Commissioners Court had to move another approximately $140,000 into the new bureaucratic political office Doyal has created.
Doyal told the Commissioners Court that he hoped that moving the “budget function” away from County Auditor Phyllis Martin will “allow her to do her auditor’s job,” but it will be interesting to see whether the Commissioners Court reduces the County Auditor’s Office’s budget by $300,000 to reflect its diminished responsibilities.