The Golden Hammer Editorial Board
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, presents the first “Golden Hammer Award” of 2020 to Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts. Metts hammered and intentionally misled Montgomery County taxpayers during the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget process of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court.
“The Golden Hammer Award” has its historic roots in the “Golden Fleece Award,” which United States Senator William Proxmire used to award to federal government agencies for wasting federal tax dollars during the 1970s and 1980s. This newspaper, which is largely devoted to fighting government waste and largesse, watches government actions and has awarded “The Golden Hammer” many times to individuals and government agencies and departments which “hammer the taxpayers.”
In 2020, few elected officials have risen to Metts’ level of deceit and antipathy towards taxpayers. During the Budget process for the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget, which begins October 1, 2020, Metts couldn’t find a spending initiative he didn’t support. He even voted for a $4 million Forensics Center expenditure without any plans, estimates, quotes, bids, or contracts for construction of any portion of such a building. The Commissioners Court and Metts literally have no idea how much the Forensics Center will cost and also have no idea when Montgomery County will reach the 1 million population level which would necessitate the hiring of a Medical Examiner under Texas law. (Montgomery County’s current population is approximately 628,000, so the community is not even close.)
Where Metts’ conduct was so genuinely harmful to a rational budget process was in his willingness to lie and deceive. During the August 11, 2020, Commissioner Court meeting, Metts lost his temper. He was furious that Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper dared to report the truth: Metts, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador voted to raise taxes substantially on the County’s beleaguered citizens in the midst of the Chinese Coronavirus economic meltdown, when they voted to set a tax rate of 44.12 cents per $100 valuation on July 31, 2020.
Metts complained that this newspaper “accused myself, Commissioner Riley, and Commissioner Meador of voting to raise taxes, when we all know that has occurred yet. That’ll be on August 21. Judge, they’re giving you a hard time for closing the county down for 5 weeks. But we don’t need that.” Metts is certainly correct that this community “didn’t need that” when Keough unilaterally shut down the economy of Montgomery County for 5 weeks, threw tens of thousands of individuals into unemployment, prevented people from having the ability to pay their rents, mortgages, and other obligations, and caused the suicide rate, family violence rate, and death rate to spike. Clearly, Montgomery County doesn’t need that.
On August 21, by the way, Metts voted along with Riley and Meador to set the tax rate at 44.12 cents per $100 valuation. Only after Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack and County Judge Mark Keough threatened to walk out of the September 8, 2020, Commissioners Court meeting did Riley, Meador, and Metts go along with a proposal to transfer $5 million of previously-taxed funds in the County government’s “fund balance” rather than raising taxes on payers already suffering from the County government’s and state government’s detrimental actions to harm the local economy during the Chinese Coronavirus panic.
Metts clearly is the smartest person on the Commissioners Court. Despite enjoying a multi-million dollar contract with the Texas Department of Transportation for logging and clearing for the TX-249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway, Metts does not own any real property in Montgomery County. Therefore, he doesn’t have to worry about paying property taxes. Despite seeking to have sex with a Montgomery County employee, Delonna Snow, in the office of the Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace, Metts never had to pay a dime to settle Snow’s lawsuit against the County government for sexual harassment. Instead, Montgomery County taxpayers paid the $45,000 settlement to bring a conclusion to the Metts case.
Thanks to Metts, County taxpayers currently pay his live-in girlfriend and business partner Dianne Rogers $115,000, plus benefits of $46,345 annually, for total compensation of $161,345 per year!
What makes matters worse is that Metts, who generally refuses to speak to his constituents, instead communicates through his paid staff members on social media, and it has become clear they don’t understand much of what’s going on either.
After Noack rightfully took credit for the hard work in getting a budget passed which didn’t raise taxes on local citizens, Metts’ Community Relations staff member Jean Ellen Mann chimed in, by attacking Noack along with the former Publisher of this newspaper (for some inexplicable reason):
Jean Ellen Mann’s comment about the “effective tax rate” constituting a tax increase doesn’t make any sense, of course. The “effective tax rate” or “no new revenue tax rate” is the tax rate at which local taxpayers’ tax bills would not increase, despite increases in home property tax valuations. That’s the reason the “effective tax rate” is usually a lower tax rate than the current tax rate, since property tax valuations always seem to increase.
Mann, a full-time County government employee who writes propaganda for Metts on the taxpayers’ dime, then added,
Checking Metts’ facts
On August 11, Metts during the Commissioners Court meeting bitterly complained that The Golden Hammer “false accused us of raising taxes.”
FACT CHECK: Metts, Riley, and Meador voted on July 31, 2020, to raise taxes for the County government’s Fiscal 2021 Budget well above the “no new revenue” tax rate, also known as the effective tax rate, when they voted to set the tax rate at 44.12 cents per $100 valuation. Only a tax rate of 43.19 cents or lower would have avoided causing a tax increase to Montgomery County individuals, families, and businesses.
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.”
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.”
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.
Metts continued, “We’re doing our very best for the people. We’re doing our best to give the tax rate that will help them.”
FACT CHECK: Noack began his remarks on Tuesday, August 11, by explaining that “I hate that we haven’t been in total agreement on the tax rate…I’ve never received as many calls at my office about the tax rate. The difference may be small for an individual or a family, but an extra $1,000 expense or more for a small business could cause them to have to close their doors.”
Noack specifically provided the following proposals at the Commissioners Court meeting to save $3.6 million for County government spending, which would not impact the provision of services one iota and would allow the Commissioners Court to avoid the tax hike altogether. Noack provided these proposals before Metts lost his control and unloaded his temper on this newspaper:
- Reducing the Animal Shelter budget by $300,000 off of its total $3 million budget, since the Animal Shelter only has a current population of 86 animals while in previous time periods it has averaged approximately 750 to 800 animals.
- Managing $200,000 in reductions of CARES Act interest payments.
- Accepting a proposal from Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae to reduce her budget for construction of a new Tax Office Building by $1.1 million during the coming Fiscal Year and defer those expenditures to future years when the economy would better support capital improvements.
- Saving $250,000 in budgeted fuel amounts.
- Taking $1.2 million in personnel vacancy savings likely to occur.
- Reducing the capital improvement fund by $1 million to defer those improvements to later years.
Metts, of course, along with Riley and Meador sought to delay any action or consideration of Noack’s proposals.
Clearly, Metts is not doing his very best “for the people” when he failed to accept Noack’s proposals and wouldn’t even consider them.
Metts’ stated that he, Riley, and Meador are giving local citizens a “tax rate that will help them.”
FACT CHECK: As Keough has noted repeatedly, local unemployment is over 12.25%. Local bars are closed. Microbreweries are struggling and many have shuttered their businesses permanently. The Woodlands Mall is more like a ghost town than a mall. As Noack noted, the tax increase which Metts and his cohorts voted to implement will likely cause many other business failures in this community.
Metts stated “Appraised values are going through the roof.”
FACT CHECK: Property tax values are going through the roof, in fact. Actual real estate values are not. Nevertheless, the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, through its unelected Board of Directors, continues to set policies to increase property taxes as rapidly as possible through the engine of property tax appraisal increases, precisely so that elected servants, such as Metts, can then deceive the public by claiming they’re trying to lower taxes, when they’re voting to increase government spending and increase citizens’ tax bills.
Metts stated that he opposes “defunding law enforcement.” Clearly, Metts’ implication is that Noack, this newspaper, and others who oppose higher taxes want to “defund law enforcement.”
FACT CHECK: There has not been a more consistent advocate for law enforcement funding on the Commissioners Court than Noack. This newspaper has advocated increasing funding for County law enforcement departments.
Noack’s proposal to save over $4 million in the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget, in order to avoid the tax hike, would do absolutely nothing to reduce funds for any law enforcement department or function in the County government.
Metts’ Bottom Line: Spend More Money!
Metts refused to consider any proposal to reduce government spending. Instead, he finally agreed to keep taxes at the previous year’s level only by moving funds already taxed in previous years into the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget. Just wait until 2022, when it’s time to pay the piper (and give Metts’ girlfriend a raise!)