Montgomery County Commissioners Court awards themselves salary boosts, passes gigantically wasteful $344 million budget

The fat and waste of the gigantic self-awarded salary increases and $344 million Fiscal Year 2019 Budget under discussion before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on September 5, 2018, made the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, feel thin in comparison, as he spoke to the members of the Commissioners Court, from left to right, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador. It’s significant to notice that not one person in the meeting looked up at the citizen while he spoke, as the entire Commissioners Court clearly felt shame for the harm they were inflicting upon Montgomery County citizens. The Commissioners Court passed the Proposed Budget on a 4 to 0 vote with little discussion.

Conroe, September 5 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted 4 to 0 to increase government spending 4.83% for Fiscal Year 2018 and increase property taxes as well, thanks to the lock-step property tax appraisal increases from the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, which feed more tax dollars to the hungry spenders each year. The budget the Montgomery County government approved will spend $344,381,573 during 2018.

There was no “budget process” for the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget. Literally, no one inside of the Montgomery County government, with one exception, took a hard look at spending within any County Department. Rather, each Department Director appeared before the Commissioners Court with requests for increases in spending, which the Commissioners Court then approved or rejected on an item-by-item basis. The one exception was the Sheriff’s Office, which conducted zero-based budgeting under the leadership of Sheriff Rand Henderson.

The lazy Commissioners Court utilized true baseline budgeting to ensure that government spending increases into the next fiscal year, the same procedure the Montgomery County Commissioners Court has inflicted for at least a decade to cause Montgomery County government spending to be among the fastest growing government budgets in the United States. Even the federal government has not increase spending at a pace close to the Montgomery County government’s during the past 18 years.

The three County Commissioners and County Judge Doyal weren’t lazy about one thing, however. They exercised great care to award themselves a 3% raise over and above their already bloated salaries. The Citizens Budget Committee report on May 8, 2018, revealed that Montgomery County Commissioners Court salaries were already $48,000 per year too high for each member of the Court.

Despite the tough times that private employees are facing as far as wages and compensation at the present time, the Commissioners Court awarded themselves each $5,064 raises to salaries of $173,872 per year. With benefits, each County Commissioner will force the taxpayers to pay them $243,942.42 in total compensation annually. They raised their salaries simply because they had the power to do so.

Practiced Opacity and Deceit

The new Budget Office Director, Amanda Carter, came to work in the Montgomery County government in March, 2018. Under the tutelage of Doyal’s “chief of staff,” jim fredricks, Carter has learned the ways of opacity and hiding information from the citizens.

Carter, Doyal, and the Commissioners Court refused citizen participation during the July “budget workshops.” They failed to conduct any public hearings on the Proposed Budget until September 5, only 6 days after they had made the 300-page budget document available online. The Commissioners Court never conducted any public discussion or deliberations about the Proposed Budget other than brief comments during the meeting yesterday about one particular County Department.

Rather than making the Proposed Budget available to the public well in advance of the September 5 hearing, Carter delayed the public release as long as possible.

Carter also attempted to try to justify the increased spending during a brief presentation she made at the meeting. Nevertheless, the Budget Director had to admit that the Fiscal Year 2019 spending is increasing 4.83%. There were no efforts to reduce spending whatsoever throughout the entire budget process.

Carter made in interest comment during her brief propaganda presentation wherein she attempted to justify confiscation through taxation: “57.4% of the budget is personnel and benefits. So obviously, that’s where the money goes for the citizens,” Carter stated (with emphasis added). Apparently, Carter needs to examine her use of propositions. That’s where the money goes FROM the citizens.

Carter mis-spoke several times and referred to her hard work for the “citizens budget” in a veiled reference to the ignored Citizens Budget Committee report. Carter then corrected herself and said that she meant to say “for the citizens.”

Noack attempted to give Carter an opening to brag further about the County budget the Commissioners Court was about to pass, but Carter showed some integrity instead. Noack asked Carter, “When you look at our proposed budget and you compare it…from other areas and how we are performing against our peer group?”

Carter avoided answering the question but pointed out that a county government in west Texas increased elected officials salaries there as a result of the increase in oil prices.

Sadly, the “peer group” with which Noack and Carter failed to concern themselves are called “citizens.”

Citizen comment

During the public hearing, the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, provided the following comments about the Proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Montgomery County Budget:

“Commish Noack, when your youngest son is qualified to run for President of the US, at current rates of growth rates, Montgomery County will have 1.3 million people but the budget of the Montgomery County government will be more than $2 billion. The portion of our disposable income going to taxes has quadrupled in my lifetime.

“Parents can’t afford to spend time at home with their children during their formative years, because they have to work to pay taxes to maintain some standard of living. That places all the more pressure on our schools to take the place of parents.

“I’m glad you recognized the important leadership role of this Commissioners Court in our community in a resolution last week. You may not have the biggest budget, but you are whom the people watch.

“In a community of conservative Republicans, you should show the world what true budget-cutting government is all about.

“This $344,381,573 proposed budget is a failure. Only one department engaged in zero-based budgeting, the Sheriff’s Office, but you rejected their proposal.

“Instead, you excluded citizen participation in a process that was little more than the process Santa uses at the department store to listen to wish lists, grant some, and deny others. It’s the worst of baseline budgeting. You’ve built in spending increases every year. A friend suggested to me this morning that I should be giving you the golden rubber stamp. What’s remarkable to me is that none of you, with the exception of Commissioner Clark, will even discuss zero-based budgeting.

“As to the County Judge’s budget:

  • There needs to be a reduction in salaries. Only one admin is necessary.
  • The “chief of staff” shouldn’t be making $100,000 per year.

“As to Human Resources and Risk Management:

  • Like most Fortune 500 companies, you should merge Risk Management into Human Resources and economize both departments.
  • Salaries are too high in both departments.
  • Our current HR Director, Ms. Shaw, has the training to run risk management, while it’s apparent that our four manager top managers in Risk Management, don’t have the background or training that she has.

“With respect to the Purchasing Department:

  • The employees are overpaid and undertrained.
  • They lack independence.
  • There are too many employees with overlapping functions.
  • Engineering and construction contracts receive no oversight and, due to political favoritism, often have pricing three to four times fair market prices for the services involved.

“As to Information Technology:

  • That department requires deep reform.
  • There are too many employees.
  • There are numerous overlapping cost centers.

“The County Auditor’s office is one of the most troubled departments in our County government, because it’s so central to the waste and financial mismanagement inflicted on the taxpayers:

  • Outside of the audit function, which the Board of District Judge supervises, this Court should oversee that office under Harris County Commissioners Court versus Fullerton, an appellate opinion out of the Houston Court of Appeals.
  • There are 20 people in the Auditor’s office performing the functions of about 6 people, based upon the Personnel Description Questionnaires.
  • The County Auditor should never audit her own work and should never come close to the political or policy process.
  • Her accounting functions should move to the County Treasurer, so the Auditor never is in the position of auditing her own work.

“Building Maintenance has approximately four times the number of managers that it needs.

  • That department needs at least two additional licensed trades: one more electrician, and one licensed HVAC technician.
  • The nepotism and politics in that department needs to go away now.

“Janitorial, also called Custodial Maintenance, is top heavy with too many manager.

  • It should be outsourced with likely savings of about 60% of the budget.

“The Airport, Civic Center, and Fair Complex should support themselves, but instead are losing millions of dollars.

“The Memorial Library:

  • reflects 1970s library methodology and usage
  • is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on periodical subscriptions which are totally unnecessary and could instead cost us around $15,000 per year as electronic subscriptions through JSTOR and Ebsco Host.

“Budget Office Director should follow her direction only from the entire Court, but has instead become the whipping boy for jim fredricks. She’s a very talented lady with no authority whatsoever.

“Welfare is not a department but, instead, where politically favored charities get payback for political favors.

  • Non-Governmental organizations should support themselves.

“The Commissioners Precincts are a genuine a problem.

  • The hiding must stop.
  • Hiding slush funds, which you refer to as “carryover” funds should end and you should include all of those funds in this year’s budget.
  • You must stop hiding employees, who should appear in the light of day before they’re hired or given raises.
  • You’re hiding miscellaneous expenditures.
  • When one Commissioner has $3.38 million in salaries and another has $1.5 million in salaries, that’s obviously an indication of poor management and budgeting.
  • How can Commissioner Noack just pull $70,000 from a hidden account for an animal control truck?
  • How can Commissioners pull $48,000 from hidden accounts to hire a taxpayer-funded lobbyist?

“The Animal Shelter:

  • It’s a real mess inside there.
  • Costs are soaring, because they’re refusing to take simple actions to move animals out the front door.

“County employee benefits tell a sad story:

  • Back in the olden days, giving great government benefits was the ‘thank you” to government employees who earned below market wages during their careers as public servants.
  • Now, in the Montgomery County government, they’re all earning MUCH higher than they would in the private sector.
  • Therefore, the government benefits are outrageous.
  • The retirement contribution is enormous.
  • We should phase out retiree health care coverage altogether.

“I’m prepare to go line-by-line through every departmental budget and explain where there is waste and inefficiency. I won’t do that today, because YOU are the ones whose should do that today and in a real budget workshop.

“If you pass this budget, you’ll embarrass yourselves and the citizens you represent again. We’ll have hundreds of budget amendments again during the coming year. You’ll circumvent the entire legal process for budgeting again.

“The $300,000 in savings, you, Commissioner Noack and Judge Doyal, promised us as savings from the County Auditor’s Budget went up the air. No one believes you as you try to blame the Board of District Judges. YOU made that promise, not the Judges!

“Finally, giving a modest salary increase based upon a true cost of living adjustment might have been acceptable for lower civil service tier employees, an increase even the Citizens Budget Committee supported, even though private companies can’t afford to do that right now because of the uncertain nature of the economy, BUT…a 3% across-the-board increase is nothing less than pure greed and the exercise of power, just because you have it rather than because it’s the right thing to do.

“No one who ever votes for a budget that includes a disgusting salary increase for yourselves should ever receive one vote again.

“It’s the five of you, or rather the four of you since Commissioner Clark is ill, versus the 575,000 citizens of our community. You’re clinging to baseline budgeting. In reality, I don’t think any of you even know what’s in this budget.

“While my primary suggestion is that you just vote ‘no’ on the budget, you could follow your own policy analytical approach from last week to appoint someone to one of the most important offices in our community. There could be 575,000 slips of paper for the Citizens Budget Committee budget and 5 slips of paper for your budget. But I am willing to make the odds better for you. Two pieces of paper. One for the CBC Budget and one for the anti-citizen budget which is what you call the ‘proposed budget.’ Why don’t you take a chance and do the right thing?

“It’s only 50-50.”

A proposal to pull the budget out of a bag in honor of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court’s main methodology for policy analysis.

 

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