Montgomery County Commissioners Court to vote on $336.6 Million Budget for Fiscal Year 2020 on Wednesday

Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack.

Conroe, September 2 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, formally to adopt the Fiscal Year 2020 Tax Rate and to adopt the Budget. The meeting will begin with a public hearing affording citizens the opportunity to comment on the proposed budget, which Budget Director Amanda Carter filed officially with Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

The Commissioners Court will then adopt the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget and the Ad Valorem Property Tax Rate in that order. For the first time, the Montgomery County Budget Office has provided the Proposed Budget on the Office’s website. In previous years, the County Auditor had provided that service. It’s an important improvement and has afforded citizens a better opportunity to review the budget through the budget process, an important transparency initiative in popular Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough’s “Contract with Montgomery County.”

The Commissioners Court will lower the Tax Rate to $0.4475 per $100 valuation from the current $0.4667 per $100 valuation rate during Fiscal Year 2019. The Debt Service portion of the tax rate will be $0.0660 per $100 valuation which is markedly down from $0.0758 per $100 valuation, thanks to the creative debt defeasance work of Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack. The total debt service, which property taxes secure, which will fall within the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget will be $35,572,609. The County government’s total debt include $522 million in bond indebtedness and $13 million in capital leases. The maintenance and operations portion of the tax rate will be $0.3815 per $100 valuation.

The Proposed Budget contains an organizational chart which reflects the “Voters” at the top of the Montgomery County government, a restoration necessary after disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal and terminated County Auditor Phyllis Martin had removed the “Voters” or the “Citizens” from the organizational chart of government altogether during the past year’s budget cycle as a slam towards citizen activists seeking budget and ethics reform.

The total actual Fiscal Year 2020 Budget will total $336,572,225 in expenditures, which is down from $344,381,573 in expenditures from the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget. Readers should view those numbers with great care, because the Commissioners Court has changed some accounting methods. Those changes actually make the Budget more transparent over the long-term, but they provide a bit of a misleading view that the Commissioners Court reduced spending substantially when that, in fact, did not occur.

There is no question, however, that three members of the Commissioners Court, in particular, worked very hard to get the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget to the “effective tax rate” or less. The “effective tax rate” is the tax rate at which average property taxpayers will pay the same amount of taxes or less, despite an increase in property tax valuations.

Several months before the County government’s “budget hearings,” Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack made clear they wanted the “effective tax rate” to be the highest budget for the County government to adopt. Throughout the budget process, they’ve had an important and clearly committed ally: Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts. Commissioner Metts very carefully watched for the interests of Precinct 4, especially with respect to road and bridge funds, during the “budget hearing,” but he also made clear that he also wanted to ensure that taxpayers would not suffer a greater burden. Metts showed the right balance in the budget process and was an essential ally to Keough and Noack to get the job done to protect the taxpayers.

Several months before the County government’s “budget hearings,” Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack made clear they wanted the “effective tax rate” to be the highest budget for the County government to adopt. Throughout the budget process, they’ve had an important and clearly committed ally: Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts. Commissioner Metts very carefully watched for the interests of Precinct 4, especially with respect to road and bridge funds, during the “budget hearing,” but he also made clear that he also wanted to ensure that taxpayers would not suffer a greater burden. Metts showed the right balance in the budget process and was an essential ally to Keough and Noack to get the job done to protect the taxpayers.

Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts.

The County government still has not moved to true zero-based budgeting. That’s the important next step they need to take.

Nevertheless, the Proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Budget is a marked improvement for which Keough (the “People’s Judge”), Noack, Metts, and Carter should receive accolades. Citizen activists must keep the pressure on the County government to reduce spending. There are very real opportunities in that regard, especially with Commissioners Court members who are openly willing to express concerns about spending and tax levels.

There were some spending reductions. Additionally, some of the Commissioners, such as Metts, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador agreed to spend some of their road and bridge budget funds for County spending projects which do not enjoy universal support, such as funding of nonprofit organizations.

The Board of District Judges and 410th District Judge Jennifer Robin, in particular, should receive credit for the appointment of Rakesh Pandey, the new Montgomery County Auditor who took office on January 1, 2019. Pandey’s extraordinary work as County Auditor and his breadth of knowledge as a Certified Public Accountant have provided accounting and financial expertise which have mightily assisted the County government in preparing one of the strongest budgets in the history of the County.

Readers should not get carried away in the euphoria. There’s much work remaining to do.

 

 

 

 

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