Image: Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
Conroe, June 29 – If there’s any County Department director who should have the ability to reduce her departmental budget for Fiscal Year 2019, it’s Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin. Incredibly, however, Martin has not reduced any of her proposed operational expenses and is seeking a salary increase for herself and her departmental employees.
Martin is very much a County Auditor who is out of control in the most literal sense. Her failures to comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, as the United States General Accountability Office has promulgated in its “Yellow Book” of government accounting and auditing standards, are legion.
Fundamentally, Martin’s problems are two-fold. First, in violation of the Yellow Book principles and in violation of Texas law which the Texas Legislature enacted and the Governor signed into law in May, 2017, Martin continues to audit her own bookkeeping and accounting performance. Martin acts as the bookkeeper-accountant who then audits her own work.
Second, as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, the Commissioners Court created a Budget Office which removed the “chief budget officer” function from Martin. Since Martin’s Department Budget includes budget services totaling at least $348,000 (after a close examination of the Personnel Description Questionnaires for the County Auditor’s Department reveals), and since Martin is no longer the County’s budget officer, then Martin’s County Auditor budget should drastically decline for Fiscal Year 2019.
Despite the clear opportunities for immense cost savings from the County Auditor’s budget with the removal of the budget function from her responsibilities, Martin has proposed no budget reductions at all. Martin’s expenses for supplies and services total $74,870 in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. Martin has proposed an identical $74,870 for supplies and services for Fiscal Year 2019 and is actually requesting an increase in the County Auditor’s salaries and employee benefits expenditures.
Both on September 5, 2017, and on March 20, 2018, Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack assured the citizens of Montgomery County that the Commissioners Court agenda in a future meeting would include a proposal to reduce the budget of the County Auditor’s Office, since she will no longer be the County government’s “chief budget officer” after the Commissioners Court voted in a secret meeting to hire Amanda Carter for that position.
Noack spoke with The Golden Hammer on March 21, 2018, about the delays in getting the reduction in the County Auditor’s Budget accomplished. “The budget officer is just getting in place. County Auditor Phyllis Martin was out all last week. There is concern that the Commissioners Court doesn’t have the ability to reduce the auditor’s budget. We need to get clarification from the District Judges and the County Attorney.”
Noack was unequivocal with respect to his position on this issue: “I believe all expenses associated with budget should be stripped from budget of the County Auditor,” Noack told this newspaper.
Carter’s new County bureaucracy, called the “Budget Office,” has a price tag over $280,000, which County taxpayers had to pay as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. Noack said on March 20 that he “hoped” the reduction in the County Auditor’s Budget would be on either the March 27 or April 10 meeting agendas. It’s not there. Noack’s comments on September 5, 2017, were stronger. He assured the citizens that the Commissioners Court would include that action on an upcoming agenda.
The citizens have waited nine months. The reduction in the County Auditor’s budget is not even under consideration, even though the calculation for how much to reduce her bloated department would be an easy calculation.
The County Commissioners Court has altered the budget of the County Auditor on many occasions through budget amendments without seeking District Judge approval. If they can alter that budget with budget amendments, there should be no reason they can’t take those funds away from the County Auditor at this point in time. If nothing else, the County Commissioners Court could sequester the funds so that the County Auditor could not spent them.
Montgomery County citizens should demand and expect that the Montgomery County Commissioners Court reduce the County Auditor’s Office Budget by at least $348,176.47 to reflect the decision of the Commissioners Court to move the Auditor’s budget function to a separate “Budget Office.” At the conclusion of the “budget workshop” on Friday, July 28, 2017, the Commissioners Court decided to set up a separate Budget Office to permit the County Auditor to focus on her audit duties.
County Judge Craig Doyal proposed taking the savings from the County’s payment to the Montgomery Central Appraisal – reduced as a result of the 20% homestead exemption the Commissioners Court approved in March – and approximately $50,000 from Doyal’s County Judge Department to defray the cost of what the Commissioners Court has estimated would be a $300,000 per year separate Budget Office.
The Golden Hammer obtained Position Description Questionnaires (PDQs) for the County Auditor’s Office to analyze how much money the move of budget functions away from the Auditor’s Office might save taxpayers. Of course, neither Doyal nor the Commissioners addressed reducing County Auditor Phyllis Martin’s proposed budget despite the reduction in her office’s functions during the July, 2017, budget “public hearing” when Doyal would not permit regular citizens to speak.
Although PDQs were not available for every one of the twenty-seven (27) employees in the Auditor’s Office, several were available and provided the ability to establish a base of the amount of money by which the Commissioners Court should reduce the Auditor’s Budget. The Board of District Judges must establish the Auditor’s Budget. They approved her proposed budget on June 30, 2017, but that occurred long before the Commissioners Court voted to remove a major part of her duties to another County Department. The Commissioners Court passes budget amendments routinely, including amendments to the County Auditor’s Budget.
Here’s the calculation of how much of a reduction should occur in the County Auditor’s Budget:
First Assistant County Auditor Angela Blocker spends 20% of her time on budget matters, so her functions are reduced by $30,609.72, which includes salary and benefits.
A Budget/Financial Reporting Supervisor spends 45% of her time on budget matters, so her functions are reduced by $46,895.05, which includes salary and benefits.
A Budget Analyst spends 100% of his time on budget matters, so his or her functions are reduced by $85,263.72, which includes salary and benefits.
A Financial Reporting Analyst spends 10% of her time on budget matters, so her functions are reduced by $8,526.37, which includes salary and benefits.
A Financial Systems Specialist spends 5% of his time on budget matters, so his functions are reduced by $7,380.92.
Two Grants Accountants spend 70% of their time on budget matters, so their functions are reduced by a total of $118,427.10, which includes salaries and benefits.
The Golden Hammer estimates that County Auditor Phyllis Martin spends 25% of her time on budget matters. Therefore, reducing her functions should reduce the County Auditor’s Budget by $51,074.59, which includes salary and benefits.
Please note that all of the reductions reflect the percentage of total salary and benefits for each of the positions.
The total savings on salaries along should be $348,176.47.
It’s beginning to look more and more as though the so-called “Budget Office” was little more than a pretext to spend tax dollars inadvertently saved when the citizens demanded a 20% homestead exemption.