Image: The Montgomery County Forensics Center on Hilbig Street in Conroe.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, August 7 – The two more conservative members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack and County Judge Mark Keough, both voted to set the County government’s tax rate for Fiscal Year 2021 at 43.19 cents per $100 valuation, rather than the higher tax rate of 44.12 cents per $100 valuation, which resulted in a tax increase that Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlier Riley, Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador imposed on beleaguered local taxpayers.
The difference in the two tax rates is approximately $4.1 million. Since Noack and Keough voted for the lower tax rate and seem poised to skip the meeting on August 21, 2020, at which the Court would take a final vote to adopt the tax rate, in order to force the lower tax rate’s adoption automatically by state law, the question rises “what would they cut to get the lower $4.1 million in spending for the lower tax rate?”
The answer is actually very straightforward. They’d cut $4 million, which Riley, Metts, and Meador irresponsibly set aside for a new Forensics Center.
Riley said during the “budget workshop” that he believes a new Forensics Center will cost County taxpayers $18 million. Nevertheless, Riley and Metts oversee the Capital Improvements Committee of the County government, which has failed to get any cost estimates at all.
During Craig Doyal’s tenure as County Judge, Doyal repeatedly announced during Commissioners Court meetings that the Forensics Center would “cost between 6 and 8 million to build.” Doyal always qualified that statement that “I’m just guesstimating, because we’ve never actually had a formal study or cost estimate given to us.”
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper has confirmed, through interviews with four County employees in the Forensics Department, Sheriff’s Office, County Judge’s Office, and Precinct 3 Commissioner’s Office, all of whom requested anonymity, some important facts about the proposed Forensics Center:
- First, and foremost, no one in the County government, including, without limitation, Riley, Metts, or the Capital Projects Committee, has obtained any cost estimate or study for a new Forensics Center;
- Second, while the current Forensics Center is not “state of the art,” it is functioning appropriately;
- Third, Montgomery County, which currently has a population of 593,000 people approximately, would likely need a full Forensics Center and a new facility, if the County’s population were to reach 1 million, which would necessitate appointment of a Medical Examiner. The County is not close to that population threshold, so construction of a new facility is not necessary for many years to come;
- Fourth, Sheriff Rand Henderson has not been a part of the process to decide whether construction of new Forensics Center should occur, what features it should have, and how much it would cost.
This newspaper has confirmed that, if the Commissioners Court adopts the “no new tax rate” on August 21, then it would merely delay the commencement of construction of the Forensics Center by a few months. There are no construction drawings or plans for a new Center, so the design work would likely take most of Fiscal Year 2021 to complete anyway. As a result, setting aside $4 million for initial construction of the Forensics Center doesn’t make much sense at this point in time. No one has any idea how much the facility would cost.
The bottom line is that adoption of the “effective tax rate” or “no new tax rate” of 43.19 cents per $100 valuation would give local taxpayers and much-needed break, in the midst of the COVID-19 economic downturn, in the form of no tax increase (but no reduction either), while delaying setting aside $4 million for the theoretical Forensics Center would be meaningless, as well as a smart business decision.