The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, August 12 – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack provided specific ways to save tax dollars and avoid a tax hike for Fiscal Year 2021 to his colleagues on the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, during a regular meeting. Nevertheless, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, who has become the liberal leader on the Commissioners Court and arguably a genuine center of power in Montgomery County, made it clear he didn’t want to discuss the issue.
Clearly, Riley was unprepared both during the July “budget workshop” and during yesterday’s Commissioners Court to discuss specific department needs and priorities or to find any methods to avoid a huge tax hike on Montgomery County individuals, families, and businesses.
After a disastrous 3 to 2 vote on July 31, 2020, at the end of a “budget workshop” by the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to raise taxes substantially on beleaguered Montgomery County taxpayers, Noack, who was one of the two in the minority, attempted to convince his colleagues to change their minds and not raise taxes on Montgomery County citizens reeling from the disastrous economic fallout arising from the government panic in response to the Chinese Coronavirus scare.
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador all voted for the $4 million tax hike when they set the coming year’s tax rate at 44.12 cents per $100 valuation. As County Judge Mark Keough has noted, with aggressive increases in property tax appraisals, that tax rate constitutes a “substantial tax increase that people can’t afford.”
During the 4-day budget workshop, the Commissioners Court failed to find any spending reductions at all. Even certain county departments, such as the Convention Center, which are essentially not operating at present, received no reductions in spending.
To the contrary, the Commissioners Court, under the leadership of Riley, found substantial new spending initiatives. A small surplus from the current year’s budget will go to purchase vehicles for law enforcement departments. Riley, however, insisted on spending $4 million on a new Forensics Center, which has no budget, no designs, no cost estimates, and no projected date for the commencement of construction. Sadly, Keough went along with that proposal but then realized he had made a serious error in doing so.
Noack began his remarks on Tuesday 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 to save $3.6 million for County government spending, which would not impact the provision of services one iota:
- 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.
Those reductions would allow the Commissioners Court to avoid the tax hike altogether.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador concluded the discussion with the statement “Today is not the time to make a decision.”
The lameduck Meador moved to adopt the tax increase on July 31, and Riley quickly seconded that motion. The Commissioners Court voted three (Riley, Metts, Meador) to two (Noack, Keough) in favor of the tax increase.
Citizens will have the opportunity to speak at a public hearing, mandated under state law, on Friday, August 21, 2020, at 9 a.m., at the Montgomery County Commissioners Courtroom, on the fourth floor of the Sadler Administration Building, 501 North Thompson Street, Conroe, Texas 77301.