Image: Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, Republican of The Woodlands, made clear on Monday, July 29, 2019, that he sought to restrict Montgomery County government spending to “the Constitutional and statutory reasons of why the government exists” and nothing else. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” agreed with him. The other three members of the Commissioners Court – Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts – didn’t show up for the Budget Workshop meeting.
Conroe, July 30, 2019 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court began its Budget Workshop yesterday, Monday, July 29, 2019, but only two of the five members of the Commissioners Court even showed up for the meeting to set the County government’s approximately $350 million budget for Fiscal Year 2020. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” and Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack attended the meeting, but their three Commissioner colleagues Charlie Riley, James Metts, and Mike Meador failed to attend.
Approximately three dozen citizens attended the meeting to make comments about the proposed budget.
Immediately before the meeting began, Noack said, “We need to fund the budget based on what are we absolutely required to fund. If it’s not a Constitutional or statutory position, then it shouldn’t get funded.”
Judge Keough began the meeting with the statement, “We felt it was necessary that we’re interested in what you have to say in issues concerning the county budget. The budget is not carved in stone at this point. It’s a work in progess…We’re going to listen and take notes.”
Noack then said, “This is an exciting time for Montgomery County. We’re about to embark on a process on how to use taxpayer dollars to fund what the Court oversees. We have a unique oppty to use those funds for the Constitutional and statutory reasons of why the government exists. My focus will be to fund the Constitutional and statutory spending items, but anything above and beyond that will be very difficult for me to see resources devoted to that. We should be listening to you first. We have the ability and the opportunity to, at minimum, adopt the effective tax rate and go lower, but not higher. That gives us the ability to fund the same as last year but tax would not increase, except that we would collect taxes from new improvements, but not assessed value increases.
Calls for decreases in taxes and spending
The Publisher of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, informed the Commissioners Court that, based upon 2018 data, which is actually more favorable to taxpayers than preliminary 2019 data, taxpayers are in a terrible quandary because of the high property taxes, which the County government and other taxing authorities impose:
- Median family income in Montgomery County is $74,323;
- The average home value is $206,400;
- The median family size is approximately 3;
- Yearly expenses total $59,659, according to the United States Census Bureau and the MIT Wage Calculator study, among other sources of information;
- After expenses, median families in Montgomery County have $14,664 left, but…
- Property taxes from all taxing authorities total at least $4,189.48, leaving…
- $10,474,52 total for emergencies, savings, entertainment, vacations, or retirement.
Since most leading financial planners suggest that a family should save at least $1,000 per month towards retirement and emergencies, taxes are already higher than the median family in Montgomery County can afford.
Billy Graff, the President of a nonprofit foundation who is running for Precinct 1 County Commissioner in the March 3, 2019, Republican Primary Election, spoke to the Commissioners Court about high salaries and the fact that Montgomery County already employs far too many individuals for the services the County government requires. Graff noted that the Commissioners Court instituted across-the-board raises of 3% twice in the past three years even though the salaries were already too high. He compared Montgomery County’s salaries to comparable County governments.
Graff, who is a Marine, also noted that nonprofits, such as the Veteran Memorial Commission, should not seek government funding but only community funding. “Worthy nonprofits can work without government subsidy. You on the Commissioners Court should leave charity work to individuals constituents and only spend our tax dollars on core government purposes.”
John Hill Wertz, the elected Treasurer of the Montgomery County Republican Party, began his remarks by asking “Where are your colleagues?” Keough and Noack both answered that they didn’t know.
Wertz then spoke about the Montgomery County Airport, which has promised for many years that it would break even, but instead is losing over $101,000 per year. Wertz noted that it has failed an engine for economic development. He recommended that the County government lease the entire airport to a private operator on a long-term lease, so that County taxpayers no longer must bear the burden.
Jon Bouche, Chairman of the Citizens Budget Committee, noted that County spending levels are already approximately $44 million ahead of where they should be, based upon population growth and inflation rates since 2010. Bouche noted, “We’re not the fastest growing county. I work as a realtor. I hear a lot about taxes from homeowners.”
In response to Bouche’s comments, Noack said, “There are some great steps we could take, but I need three votes,” implying that there is a liberal pro-Big-Government majority on the Commissioners Court, which outvotes the conservatives Noack and Keough.
State Republican Executive Committeewoman Allison Winter, who lives with her family in The Woodlands, asked the Commissioners Court to bring salaries and employee benefits under control. She made some very specific recommendations on how to control the cost of employee benefits. Winter noted that her husband has worked for Anadarko Petroleum, which does not offer employee retiree health benefits, even though the Montgomery County government does offer that unusual and very lucrative benefit.
Bill O’Sullivan, the “Sage” of Montgomery County, echoed Winter’s comments about salaries and benefits and also offered specific recommendations how to control the costs of employee benefits. Renowed certified financial planner Jim Webb also agreed with O’Sullivan and Winter.
Mary Jo Hudnall, a conservative activist and veteran of many anti-tax campaigns, called on the Commissioners Court to allow citizen comments after Department Directors presented their budget requests but before the Commissioners Court voted on the proposed County government tax rate, which such vote they’ve currently scheduled for Thursday, August 1, 2019.
Four individuals asked for additional funding for programs related to the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.
Precinct 1 Constable Phillip Cash organized a group of citizens to appear before the Commissioners Court to ask for additional funding for five (5) more Deputy Constables in Cash’s Department to transport mental health patients and to deal with crisis intervention issues.
On a lighter note, MCP.TV President noted that his network will present a special edition of “It’s Hammer Time” on Friday, August 2, 2019, at 12 noon, to discuss the Budget Workshop.
The Budget Workshop will resume on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, after the regular meeting of the Commissioners Court adjourns.