Montgomery County Commissioners Court to begin Fiscal Year 2020 Budget hearings with tax increase likely

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough.

Conroe, July 29 – No matter how you try to slice it, the reality is that the Montgomery County Commissioners Court and the County Budget Director Amanda Carter have utterly failed to reduce spending during Fiscal Year 2019. To be fair, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” has only been in office half a year, so he inherited a mess which the previous Commissioners Court and terminated former Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin created.

The Commissioners Court will conduct a hearing for citizens to speak at 9:30 a.m., Monday, July 29, 2019, in the Commissioners Courtroom, 501 North Thompson, Fourth Floor, Conroe, Texas. The remainder of the Budget workshops will resume on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, after the regular Commissioners Court meeting adjourns.

The Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, which the Commissioners Court passed on September 5, 2018, had a total of $344,381,573. The big trick, however, is that with so-called “budget amendments” or “line item transfers,” which the Commissioners Court illegally adopted without proper notice and hearing to the citizens under the Texas Local Government Code, the Commissioners Court actually increased the County Budget to $363,761,096, a 5.63% increase in the middle of the Fiscal Year! Carter’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Budget is $366,703,812, an additional increase over last year, meaning that the Budget Director and Commissioners Court are presently on track to increase spending from last by 6.48%.

[Budget Director] Carter’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Budget is $366,703,812, an additional increase over last year, meaning that the Budget Director and Commissioners Court are presently on track to increase spending from last by 6.48%.

By present calculations and numbers, which Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae and County Budget Director Carter presented on June 25, 2019, if the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget for the Montgomery County Government is higher than $361,106,553.17, then Mark Keough, Charlie Riley, James Noack, James Metts, and Mike Meador have imposed a TAX INCREASE on Montgomery County citizens, regardless of whatever deceptive terminology they may choose about “tax rates” or “tax decrease.”

Unfortunately, the preliminary budget, which Budget Director Carter has proposed is $5,547,258.83 higher than that number.

What the number, $361,106,553.17, represents is the “effective tax rate,” which is the tax rate multiplied by the average property tax appraisal increase on existing Montgomery County property subject to property taxes to yield the same amount of taxes which the average Montgomery County taxpayer has paid under the current budget. In other words, that budget amount is the amount the County government could spend which would require you to pay no more than your current County government tax bill, if you are the average taxpayer in our community.

Here’s how one gets to that number. First, Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae had to provide a preliminary evaluation of how high property tax appraisals increased on properties other than new properties. There’s no question that new properties help all of us, because they contribute to the collection of taxes and reduce the burden on the already existing properties subject to tax. It’s critical to note that Carter made clear on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, during a Commissioners Court meeting, that during the past year, the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (MCAD), under the leadership of pro-tax Commissioner Meador, focused the property tax appraisal increases on residential property and personal property rather than on business properties.

Since Meador and MCAD have aggressively raised property tax appraisals during the past year, Carter’s preliminary budget of $366,653,812 is $5,547,258.83 higher than the number which represents an identical amount of taxes for the average Montgomery County citizen. Carter called the lower tax rate in her preliminary budget, 44.57 cents per $100 valuation, a “tax decrease,” but, in fact, it’s actually a tax increase due to property tax appraisal increases.

Now, it’s important to remember that Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, “The People’s Judge,” repeatedly promised during his campaign for County Judge in 2018 that he would never allow County government spending to increase above “the effective rate.” As Keough explained with charts, graphs, and advertisements during his campaign, he wanted to keep the amount of taxes which the average taxpayer pays at par without greater increases.

The true test of whether Keough is actually “The People’s Judge” will come when we see whether he votes for spending above $361,106,553.17. In other terminology, the true test of whether Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack votes for a liberal pro-spending budget will come when we see whether he votes for spending above $361,106,553.17. It’s important to note that citizens must assess their individuals votes, because the vast likelihood is that Riley, Metts, and Meador will shove through a budget with a tax increase with their three votes, although there’s one very interesting catch!

As long as the Commissioners Court fails to conduct zero-based budgeting but continues to do baseline budgeting, and as long as the Commissioners Court sits back and entirely relies upon Carter, a government bureaucrat, to handle the entire detailed examination of the budget, Mark Keough, Charlie Riley, James Noack, James Metts, and Mike Meador will abjectly fail to fulfill their duty to the citizens. In reality, they’ve seemed to have shown little “expertise” in anything but obfuscation and propaganda.

Of course, to be fair to Mark Keough, this budget is his first. Let’s see if he is “The People’s Judge” or someone else’s. The number, $361,106,553.17, or whatever Tax Assessor-Collector McRae certifies is the effective tax rate is certainly the first level of the test, even if it still represents a failure in reducing spending or getting a genuine handle on the County government Budget.

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