Montgomery County Commissioner Noack seeks to streamline budget amendment process while maintaining transparency

Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack.

Conroe, July 10 – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack seeks to streamline the County government budget amendment process, one of the worst of any local government in Texas, with an item he’s placed on the agenda for the Tuesday, July 10, 2018, Commissioners Court meeting. “I want to seek some clarity in terms of budget amendments and determine what are the best practices with can implement after consulting with our County Attorney,” Noack told The Golden Hammer yesterday afternoon.

Currently, after a hasty budget process in which Montgomery County Judge has purposefully excluded citizen participation, with Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley openly discouraging citizen input, the Commissioners Court passes poorly-crafted budgets which they must amend hundreds of times during every fiscal year. On September 5, 2017, three citizens raised dozens of problems, internal contradictions, typographical errors, and miscalculations in the proposed budget, but, after Riley leveled profanities at one of the citizens, the Commissioners Court passed the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget on a 4 to 1 vote.

Some governmental entities, that actually take care during their budget process, don’t have to confront hundreds of budget amendment. During the entire nine month Fiscal Year 2018 so far, the City of Conroe has only adopted four budget amendments in order to address disaster circumstances related to Tropical Storm Harvey. Meanwhile, the Montgomery County government has adopted more than 300 budget amendments during the same time period.

Noack’s agenda item for the July 10 meeting reads:

“CONSIDER AND DISCUSS CONDITIONS, DIRECTIONS AND/OR DESIGNATION OF COUNTY BUDGET OFFICER OR OTHER APPROPRIATE COUNTY OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE TO AMEND BUDGETS BY TRANSFERRING AMOUNTS BUDGETED FOR CERTAIN ITEMS TO OTHER BUDGETED ITEMS PURSUANT TO TEXAS LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE SEC. 111.070(C)(2).”

Section 111.070(c)(2) of the Local Government Code permits a Commissioners Court by order to (1) amend the budget to transfer an amount budgeted for one item to another budgeted item without authorizing an emergency expenditure; or (2) designate the county budget officer or another officer or employee of the county who may, as appropriate and subject to conditions and directions provided by the court, amend the budget by transferring amounts budgeted for certain items to other budgeted items.

Noack seeks to streamline budget amendments that don’t change the overall budget by permitting the Budget Officer, Amanda Carter, or some other County employee to amend the budget by transferring amounts budgeted for certain items to other budgeted items, without the Commissioners Court’s approval. Noack has suggested that budget amendments of $5,000 or less would be appropriate for such a process. He also expressed a concern about the current procedure of allowing the County Auditor, Phyllis Martin, to “move money from one category to another, post the transaction and then audit her own trail.”

“We need clarity on who can do these smaller budget amendments, so I want the County Attorney’s Office to explain that to us in open Commissioners Court,” Noack explained.

Some elected servants, particularly Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, regularly move millions of dollars each year by budget amendments from “carryover” accounts into their current year’s operating budget in transactions which enjoy little, if any, oversight by the remainder of the Commissioners Court or the citizens.

“I’ll be happy with a process to allow for smaller budget amendments where there is good transparency to what has occurred,” Noack said.

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