Image: The three “Giant Golden Penny” Awards which went to Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, and citizen Kelli Cook, for achieving substantial savings to the taxpayers with respect to the Montgomery County government, in spite of efforts by County Judge Craig Doyal (“Hammer to the Citizens”) and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley who have fought for higher government spending. The LEGO figure of conservative political activist Annell Simcoe is for scale.
Conroe, December 25 – In an effort to end the last calendar year Commissioners Court meeting on a positive note, The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper was to award “Giant Golden Penny” Awards to three public officials for fighting for substantial savings in the Montgomery County government. The Awards did not proceed in the meeting, because Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal changed changed the rules for citizen comments on a whim at the end of the meeting in order to prevent this newspaper from making the presentation.
Three public officials received the “Giant Golden Penny” Awards.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark.
Clark received a “Giant Golden Penny Award” for his outstanding work during the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget process. Clark called for 5% across the board spending reductions in all non-law-enforcement County Departments. Approximately ten County Departments, including Clark’s own Commissioners Precinct, heeded the call and actually reduced spending by five percent.
Clark also consistently voted to provide greater financial support for law enforcement. In fact, Clark has the strongest voting record on the Commissioners Court in favor of law enforcement.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Clark is the sole member of the Commissioners Court who had the courage to vote against the entire Budget on September 5, 2017. It had become apparent that Doyal had failed to follow Texas law with respect to the requirement to hold public hearings after publication of the proposed budget under Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code.
The Citizens Budget Committee had provided detailed objections to the hastily-prepared budget which Doyal had made available only five days prior to the actual vote. Several citizens lodged details objections to the proposed budget during the September 5 Commissioners Court meeting. Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley angrily accused Clark and the citizens of failing to raise the objections to the budget previously, but, of course, Riley and Doyal had failed to make the budget available to the public at any earlier Commissioners Court meeting.
Therefore, Clark expressed his opposition to the proposed budget which had serious problems with it. Since Fiscal Year 2018 began on October 1, 2017, the Commissioners Court has already had to make more than sixty (60) budget amendments to clean up many of the problems with the proposed budget that citizens had raised and to which Clark had objected.
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack
Noack joined with Clark to call for 5% across-the-board spending reductions in all non-law-enforcement County Departments prior to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget process. Like Clark, Noack also reduced his Commissioners Precinct budget spending by 5% for the current Fiscal Year.
Despite the spending reductions in ten County departments, overall governmental expenditures of the Montgomery County government actually increased to the highest level in history.Comparison Chart showing where the Fiscal Year 2018 budget in comparison to the current County budget and the Citizens Budget Committee proposal.
Doyal is a major proponent and booster of tax dollar spending. Doyal has made clear that he believes government should become involved in centralized planning and economic development rather than allow private businesses and free markets to lead in those areas. As a result, despite a significant reduction in debt service for the coming fiscal year, Doyal and Riley spearheaded a budget which will ultimately cost taxpayers more money, since the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (under Riley’s and Commissioner Mike Meador’s direction) has inflicted gigantic property tax appraisal increases on Montgomery County citizens during the past three years.Comparison between Montgomery County government and the federal government, the latter of which is (amazingly) more fiscally prudent than the crazed County.
After the Citizens Budget Committee began its work with the goal of reducing County government spending by $100 million over four years with an increase in law enforcement spending and a capital projects budget for roads and bridges in the range of $40 million, for a net spending reduction of $60 million per year, Noack and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark proposed a 5% across-the-board spending reduction for all county departments on February 7 and 8, 2017.
Clark’s and Noack’s call for spending reductions contradicted the suggestions of County Judge Doyal who wanted increased spending in the Montgomery County budget at the rate of the growth in population and inflation. Doyal has made clear that be believes “fiscal conservatism” is a term to describe spending and tax increases.
Clark and Noack met with several County department heads during the budget period to discuss methods by which they might reduce their budgets. Upon the suggestion of the Citizens Budget Committee, Clark and Noack clarified that their call for across-the-board spending cuts only applied to non-law-enforcement departments.
The Golden Hammer confirmed that every single County Department that proposed 5% spending reductions had conducted meetings directly with Noack and his Precinct 3 staff before submitting their budget proposal to the Montgomery County Auditor.
Noack and Clark encountered significant resistance during the budget process from Doyal.
As Noack told The Golden Hammer during the budget process on May 4, 2017, “Doyal is telling Department heads they don’t need to cut their budgets and he’ll take the money out of road and bridge funds from the Commissioners Precincts, if necessary. Doyal and some of my Commissioners Court colleagues have family members in the County government who they’re trying to protect, so they won’t cut budgets.”
Noack: “Doyal is telling Department heads they don’t need to cut their budgets and he’ll take the money out of road and bridge funds from the Commissioners Precincts, if necessary. Doyal and some of my Commissioners Court colleagues have family members in the County government who they’re trying to protect, so they won’t cut budgets.”
Since Doyal worked very hard behind-the-scenes to undercut Noack’s attempts to reduce County government spending with Department-by-Department budget reductions, Noack had to show heroic leadership with another methodology. He searched vociferously for ways to reduce the County’s massive debt service, which exceeded $55 million during Fiscal Year 2017.
Noack was reviewing a report detailing the County’s bond exposure and payment schedules. He looked for opportunities to take advantage of the lower interest rates the market offered during early 2017. Having spent 18 years in the financial services industry working with bonds and securities he was familiar with restructuring debt to save money.
Noack visited with the County’s financial advisor to see if they could put together a plan to defease some of the bond debt after noticing the county had excess funds in their debt service fund. The financial advisor wanted simply to refinance the debt, but Noack wanted to pay it off and looked into options to eliminate any potential penalties by placing the proceeds into an escrow account to use an escrow agent to pay the debt and avoid a prepayment penalty. Overall this move saved the County between 8 and 9 million dollars off of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. With the retirement of other debt, Noack successfully reduced the County’s annual debt service by approximately $21.8 million from Fiscal Year 2017 to Fiscal Year 2018.
Noack’s debt reduction work saved the taxpayers from the tax rate increase about which Doyal and Meador dreamed. There was no need for it.
Noack and Clark saved the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget and helped to maintain the hopes of thousands of taxpayers alive that the County government would actually reduce spending some day.
Citizen Kelli Cook
Of the three recipients of the “Gigantic Golden Penny” Awards, Kelli Cook holds the highest public office. Cook is a citizen.
Cook works tirelessly for County government spending reductions, ethics reform, and reduced taxes. She is the Montgomery County Coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty, the organization which former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul leaders.
In the early spring, Cook began to urge the Commissioners Court to adopt a 20% homestead exemption, which is the maximum amount allowed under Texas law. Montgomery County was one of the few counties among the 254 in Texas which did not permit taxpayers any homestead exemption for their County government taxes.
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal opposed any homestead exemption from the beginning of the discussion after Cook raised the issue, because Doyal supports spending and taxation growth as rapidly as possible. Doyal calls himself a “conservative.” (Apparently, in Doyal’s world, up is down, open is closed, and conservative is wild-eyed liberal.)
Cook provided a detailed explanation of Texas Tax law to the members of the Commissioners Court. She didn’t let up on citizen comments on the issue and enlisted numerous other political activists to support her efforts.
The Montgomery County Republican Party Executive Committee, Precinct 3 County Commissioner Noack, and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Clark all endorsed Cook’s efforts for the 20% homestead exemption.
On March 28, 2017, the Commissioners Court finally approved the 20% homestead exemption on a 4 to 1 vote. Cook’s intense lobbying paid off.
Without question, Kelli Cook had a greater positive impact on Montgomery County taxpayers than any other public official during 2017.