Image: Fester Bestertester would fit right in with the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, which passed a $328 million budget for Fiscal Year 2018 without meaningful review and without a public hearing. (Fester Bestertester was one of the great characters of MAD Magazine’s Don Martin.)
Conroe, September 6 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a $328 million budget, on a 4 to 1 vote, in the middle of the Tropical Storm Harvey disaster, without meaningful review and without a fair chance for the public to participate in a public hearing with the proposed budget before them. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark took the heroic step of voting against the County Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
The September 5, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting exhibited a strenuous effort by four of the five Commissioners Court members to exclude the public from participation in the budget process. Worse yet, since County Auditor Phyllis Martin had only filed the “Proposed Budget” on August 31, 2017, less than two business days prior to the meeting, it was apparent that the Commissioners Court members had little understanding of the content of the 365-page document on which they voted.
Pandemonium in the Commissioners Court
The purpose of the Commissioners Court meeting was to hold a public hearing where the members of the Commissioners Court could discuss the “Proposed Budget” with members of the public. The Commissioners Court never made the “Proposed Budget” available to the public until approximately 10 a.m., Thursday, August 31, 2017, even though County Judge Craig Doyal made clear that the budget was available to him and to County Auditor Phyllis Martin since early August.
The first citizen who attempted to speak was Bob Holden of Willis whom Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley treated with the utmost rudeness.
Holden commented that the “budget was not cut sufficiently…only 1 commissioner has been able to reduce his budget.” Holden further said, “there was actually a budget and tax increase, because property appraisals have gone up significantly.”
When Holden dared to speak about the massive amount of general revenue funds that the Commissioners Court has voted to spend Doyal’s and Riley’s pet $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 Tollway at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County planned to go into vacant pastureland which some of their favored political contributors happen to own, Doyal and Riley couldn’t sit still.
Doyal interrupted Holden, “This hearing is about the tax rate and budget, not roads.”
Riley then interrupted with the comment, “Jesus Christ, this is so sad.”
Holden kept his composure, even though Riley and Doyal did not, and continued, “You know who pays the revenue bonds, we do? By the way, I’d like to make an offer on your [Doyal’s] house at county appraised value.”
Riley then used the Lord’s name in vain again, “Jesus, this is so sad.”
Doyal then agreed with Riley’s invocation of the Lord’s name in vain, “It is sad.” Apparently, Doyal and Riley believe that it is “sad” when citizens dare come to speak to them and challenge their elite decisions.
The loss of all sense of propriety among Doyal, Riley, and the Commissioners Court continued.
Doyal then said, “That appraisal on my house was just the lot value.” (Of course, Doyal didn’t mention that he had moved into the completed palace of a home prior to the beginning of the calendar year, so the full home value should have been in the appraisal.)
Riley agreed with himself, “So pitiful.”
The next speaker was Eric Yollick, the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, who merely asked some questions to the Commissioners Court. Here are the questions Yollick dared to ask the great and power members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court:
“Account 496 Budget Office”
“How can you establish a budget for this department without establishing any of the department’s goals or purposes first?
“Why can’t you establish a 0 dollar budget for this department and pull its necessary operating funds out of the County Auditor’s budget by budget amendments with the Board of District Judges approval?
“Why does the budget office require three employees?
“Could you please explain why the budget office requires a water cooler?
“Why does the budget office need $6718 for travel expense and professional development when it doesn’t even have goals or a purpose yet?
“How could you know that budget office requires $1000 for business cards and forms without establishing its purpose?
“What association dues does the budget office need that don’t directly overlap with the County Auditor’s budget?
“Aren’t you double-dipping from the County Auditor’s budget?
Sheriff’s Deputies make below average salary, while County Judge and Commissioners make far above normal
“Account 400 County Judge
“The counties to which we often compare ourselves are Collin, Fort Bend, Denton, and Williamson. Our County Judge earns almost $30,000 per year more in salary than the closest of those counties’ judge. The average of those four County Judges makes $126,000 per year. Our County Commissioners earn $47,000 more per year in salary than the highest of those four comparable counties.
“Meanwhile, our Sheriff’s Deputies make less than the average of those four counties.
“Could you please explain why the County Judge and County Commissioners salaries are so high and why have you not addressed that problem in this year’s budget?
“Does the County Judge Department consisting of 4 people two of whom are secretaries really need a $2,297 cell phone budget?
“Could you please explain why we have $500 budgeted for printing when the actual expenditures under that category are 0?
“Account 4011 Civil Service
“Why is $3,300 budgeted for professional expenses when the last actual expenditure amount was $1,082?
“What precisely are the supplies to which you’ve budget $1,000?
“Account 402 Risk Management
“Why do we have $3,000 budgeted more than we’ve actually spent on blood borne pathogen compliance?
“Precisely what is the capital outlay budget for in this department that is precisely the same to the dollar what last year’s budget was for the same sub-account.
“The Risk Management Department head make $21,674.32 than the national average for a risk management director in private industry; why are we not addressing that overpayment in the budget?
“There are four employees within this department who perform identical functions – risk analysts. Their duties are all identical and basically in writing are required to ‘ensure productive results’ according to the PDQs. Why do we need four people performing exactly the same function?
“Have you analyzed the “situation” numbers to determine if there is a necessity for this much overlap of duties?
“Why cannot these functions fall within the HR department as most Fortune 500 companies keep the HR and Risk Management functions together?
“Account 404 Court Collections
“By continuing to allow Graves Humphries to collect JP assessments, the county is losing over $755,651 per year that could offset the tax rate and tax assessments instead. Why does the Commissioners Court not step in and unify the four JP courts into the County computer system and collection system?
“Are you aware that the county has spent over $130,000 on network problems arising from the use of NetData as well? Would you consider saving those funds?
“Account 407 Purchasing
“The Purchasing Department head makes $71,998 more than the average purchasing director for a Fortune 500 company. Has he assured the County that we’ll have more than that in savings in comparison to his predecessor?
“What precisely is the $4,500 budgeted for travel expenses for the purchasing department?
“Has anyone on the Commissioners Court examined why our county purchasing department has a budget $195,000 more per year than Fort Bend County’s?
“Account 409 Non-Departmental
“In 2016, the County spent $661,658 in postage which was $90,000 less than budgeted. Why are we budgeting more than that amount this year, $712,000, when the use of postal services is rapidly declining?
“The Commissioners Court never voted to approve the MCAD budget. In fact, the motion failed for lack of a quorum. Wouldn’t it be helpful to the citizens of Montgomery County for you to vote to disapprove the budget
- since that meeting two months ago, have you closely examined the MCAD budget which includes a major increase in salaries and personnel?
- Why would you vote to approve those increases?
“You have budgeted $100,000 even for ‘professional services’ while the last actual expenditure in that category was $42,379 (FY 2016). Why are you budgeting that higher amount and what is it for?
“The $60,000 in association dues includes a substantial payment to the Texas Association of Counties which has lobbied against property tax reform. Why are we continuing to pay those association dues contrary to the citizens and to the resolutions this Commissioners Court passed earlier this year?
“We’re paying $3,458,000 in retiree health benefits, even though less than 9% of Fortune 500 companies provide for such benefits and a much lower percentage of all private companies provide them. Have you considered phasing out those benefits and why not?
“Account 503 Information Technology
“What efforts have you made to determine whether the 30 people in this department do not have functions that overlap more than they should?
“Why is the software budget (73911) more than twice what actual expenditures have been?
“Why does an IT department need a $86,820 professional services budget, particularly since it only spends about half that amount actually?
“Account 50313 Information Technology-Renewal and Replacement
“On the enterprise software, what efforts have you made to price the software competitively and why is it costing approximately 12 times the same system would cost for private companies, including Fortune 500 companies?
“Account 497 County Treasurer
“Why does this department have employees whose functions duplicate each other by 4 times? Have any of the members of the Court examined the PDQs for this department?
“Why does the County Treasurer need $3,500 in travel expense?
“Why does the County Treasurer need $750 in association dues? Does the association support the goals of taxpayers to reduce government spending and increase efficiency?
“Why is the supplies budget for the County Treasurer more than the actual expenditures have ever been?
“Account 4995 Tax Assessor/Collector-Economic Development
“Why are we paying $3,000 for “economic development” through the tax collector’s budget? Traditionally, that’s been a payment to a chamber of commerce for a program sponsorship. Why would the government pay for such an expenditure?
“Account 665 Extension Office
“The Extension Office has 11 employees. Has the Commissioners Court examined what the functions are of those employees and whether there are too many?
“Account 509 Building Custodial Services
“During the week of the budget workshop, this department head made clear that she didn’t believe her department could afford to reduce services at all for fear of public health hazards. But immediately after the workshops ended, she actually reduced services throughout the county. Has the commissioners court examined whether the taxpayers could therefore receive a substantial salary reduction in this department?
“The director of this department receives a salary of $107,962, which is $42,961.43 above the national average for this position. Why is the Commissioners Court paying such an exorbitantly high salary for this position?
“Why are janitor supplies budgeted more than $20,000 higher than actual expenditures?
“Why are we paying $52,400 for professional services in this department?
“What sort of association do we need to pay dues for for this department?
“Has the Commissioners Court examined why we’re paying almost twice for janitorial services than comparable counties including Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and Williamson?
“Account 510 Building Maintenance Services
“This department has more nepotism in it than any other. Has the Commissioners Court as a whole taken a hard look at whether the nepotistic employees – Angela Ford, Bill Meador, Craig Case, and the Wright family – perform actual functions that contribute productively to the county in excess of their high salary amounts?
“Since Craig Case works as a welder directly for his father, why have you assigned his salary to the County Engineer?
“Account 513 Civic Center
“When the Commissioners Court conducted a study whether to build the Civic Center, you concluded that you’d build the Center based upon the assumption that it would pay for itself. Now the taxpayers are losing about $450,000 per year on the civic center. Have you considered either shutting it down or allowing a private company to run it entirely, while zeroing out the taxpayers’ budget for this department? Why or why not?
“Account 5131 Fairgrounds
“Since the last actual expenditure was 0, why does this account have a budget of $50,000 per year for “contract services”?
“Account 6511 Memorial Library
“Since usage of the Library has gone down dramatically, why has the budget of this department steadily gone up?
“Why has staffing actually increased to 120 FTEs and 19 part-timers?
“Why does the Library require $15,499 for travel expense?
“Account 661 Historical Commission
“Why do you not require that the Historical Commission be self-sufficient from charitable donations?
“Accounts 612 to 615 Commissioners
“Why was the Commissioner Precinct 4 able to reduce his budget when no other Commissioner did so?
“Account 6291 Airport Maintenance
“Why does the County continue to subsidize the Airport at all?
“Why can we not use some of the land to store materials and debris from the flood, as they’ve used IAH previously?
“Why can we not privatize the Airport entirely by leasing the entire operation out?
“Why can’t we insist that it break even immediately?
The Commissioners Court’s answers?
Doyal, Riley, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack ignored every single question.
Interestingly, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark did not ignore the questions.
Republican Precinct Chair Ginger Russell of Magnolia explained to the Commissioners Court that she had had very little sleep the night before the meeting, because she was helping as a volunteer to assist flood victims.
Russell noted that predictions that the Commissioners Court would only allow publication of the “Proposed Budget” a few days before the actual public hearing and vote were correct.
Russell told Doyal, Riley, Meador, and Noack, “It’s despicable and deceitful. That’s why I have such a disdain for government. We’re in the midst of the worst disaster in U.S. history right here in this county and I have to be here this morning. You should put off this budget hearing for 2 weeks. It’s very’d deceitful to bring this hearing today.”
“It’s despicable and deceitful. That’s why I have such a disdain for government. We’re in the midst of the worst disaster in U.S. history right here in this county and I have to be here this morning. You should put off this budget hearing for 2 weeks. It’s very’d deceitful to bring this hearing today.” – – – Ginger Russell, GOP Precinct Chair.
Pandemonium broke out
Noack asked County Attorney J.D. Lambright, “Can you address when the budget has to be adopted?”
County Auditor Phyllis Martin interjected, “Before October 1…you’re following a calendar proposed since March.
For some reason, Noack was unwilling to take a stand on deferring the budget vote until a later date. Instead, he merely asked, “Knowing there’s some interest by members of community to defer, is there any interest among members of court to do so?”
County Auditor Martin, who shifted her tone from informative to dictatorial, responded, “We filed proposed budget by August 31. We can’t wait 2 weeks.”
Clark noted that, since he’s been working on disaster recovery operations in East Montgomery County, he hadn’t even had an opportunity to review the “Proposed Budget.” In response, Doyal chided Clark, “You sat through the budget workshops. You know what’s in the budget.”
Riley chimed in, “You don’t have a couple of weeks to work on this. Jesus!”
Meador then added, “This has been a several month long process. We’ve been through workshops.” (Of course, Meador didn’t mention that Doyal barred the public from participating in the “budget workshops.”) Meador added, “I’d just as soon vote on the budget today.”
Clark held his ground, “I’ve heard some valid concerns [from the citizens]. It doesn’t look good for budgeting $100,000 for something when we’ve been spending $20,000 for that account every year.”
Riley responded, “You should have brought that up during the budget workshop if we’re overspending.” (Of course, the citizens weren’t allowed to raise these issues before September 5, because (1) Doyal barred the citizens from the budget workshop, and (2) Doyal, Martin, Riley, Meador, and Noack hid the “Proposed Budget” from the public until August 31.)
Meador moved to adopt the budget and the current tax rate (which means citizens will suffer a tax increase as a result of increases in property tax appraisals). Riley seconded the motion.
The precipitous vote on the single most important matter before the Commissioners Court during the entire year was 4 to 1:
Noack YES (disappointing and shocking)
Since Doyal, Martin, Riley, Meador, and Noack won’t listen to anyone but themselves, and since they purposefully work to exclude citizen participation in a process where only the citizens seem to pay attention to the details of the information, the Commissioners Court simply has no ability to reduce spending.
Here are the numbers which reveal that Doyal, Riley, Meador, and Noack voted for the HIGHEST OPERATIONAL EXPENDITURE BUDGET FOR THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY GOVERNMENT IN ITS HISTORY: