Montgomery County Government 401: The Golden Hammer to Implement Zero-Based Budgeting

Image: Since we’re looking for something fun to do, such as zero-based budgeting or learning about the Montgomery County government, let’s start with The Hillary Step, at 28,839 feet, Mount Everest, Nepal. The Step is a nearly vertical climb of approximately 39 feet just below the South Summit. The 2015 earthquake on Mount Everest has changed the rock face configuration.

Conroe, August 4 – The Montgomery County government desperately needs to implement zero-based budgeting. Government spending is literally out of control, because no one has attempted to control the spending. Since 2000, the County government’s spending has increased 424% while the population of Montgomery County has only increased 84%. The County government’s spending increase great exceeds the spending increases of the federal government!

Let’s make the process fun.

This photograph shows someone having fun. Of course, zero-based budgeting is an even greater blast!

Zero-based budgeting is an opportunity to get the spending under control. Citizens have asked the Commissioners Court to implement such a process, but, of course, the Commissioners and County Judge Craig Doyal don’t understand it and they certainly don’t want any process that might reduce the amount of government spending. Remember: reducing government spending might lead to the possibility that citizens would expect a tax reduction, a horror that is unimaginable to Doyal and his Commissioners Court colleagues.

Zero-based budgeting is also an opportunity for all of us – together – to learn about our County government. Now, readers of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, are likely far more discerning than most readers of tabloids such as the Courier blog. That’s why it’s appropriate to view this exercise as “Montgomery County Government 401” rather than a mere introductory course, which would be a “101” class.

Yesterday’s news article, “Montgomery County Citizens should demand, expect District Judges, Commissioners Court to reduce County Auditor’s Office Budget to reflect shift of budget functions,” (The Golden Hammer, August 3, 2017) included a tool that just might work for a zero-based budgeting exercise. That tool is examination of the Position Description Questionnaires (PDQs) for each County Department.

Many of us learned about the power of PDQs when County Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw referred to them in her February 13, 2017, letter to the Commissioners Court in response to County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport’s submission of a PDQ to the Human Resources Department that sought to give County Judge Craig Doyal’s daughter a nepotistic promotion. Of course, the rest of the story became quite ugly. Please see “Breaking News: HR Director Dodi Shaw Fears for her job, pledges loyalty in complaint letter to County Judge Craig Doyal,” The Golden Hammer, February 18, 2017.

The facts turned out to be quite a bit uglier, especially after County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport’s tearful discussion of PDQs during her March 14, 2017, presentation to the Commissioners Court.

PDQs and zero-based budgeting are major tools to rein in County government spending. There’s a limitation to them. As Assistant County Human Resources Director Kathy Flowers has explained, “If a County Department wants a new position or wants to upgrade an existing position, then they need to submit PDQs, which we’ll review, grade, and then set a pay grade and suggested title for the new position.” Flowers further explained that The Human Resources Department follows regular human resources practices for grading and finalizing PDQs.

Therefore, there won’t be a PDQ for every position in every County Department. But, as The Golden Hammer learned in reviewing the County Auditor’s PDQs for yesterday’s newspaper, PDQs provide a superb understanding for the allocation of employees for department goals and functions. They fit a zero-based budgeting effort quite nicely.

What is Zero-Based Budgeting

Sheriff Rand Henderson, Chief Ken Culbreath, and Sheriff’s Office Finance Division Director Carol Thompson have all attended training to implement “zero-based budgeting” in that Department. As Henderson explained in his April 11, 2017, “Strategic Plan 2017-2020” presentation to the Commissioners Court, “Zero-based budgeting…focuses on line-item justification during each and every budget process. Money is not allocated based on what a division, section or function received last year, but what they need this year.”

“Zero-based budgeting…focuses on line-item justification during each and every budget process. Money is not allocated based on what a division, section or function received last year, but what they need this year.”

One of the primary engines of government growth is the budget process where departments begin with their current year’s budget as a base. Contrary to that method, “zero-based budgeting” requires every County Department and program to justify every single penny they spend by explaining how each of those pennies contributes to achieving the Department’s goals.

On April 25, 2017, Doyal announced in the Commissioners Court meeting, “We have a minimal operating budget in my department.” Obviously, Doyal has no conception of what his budget is or where it fits within the context of the real world of people who don’t get nice guaranteed government paychecks but are forced to pay a portion of their earnings to support the government.

“Zero-based budgeting” requires us to justify spending in terms of the goals for each County Department.

Since Doyal and colleagues have already torpedoed the County Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 by failing to address the need for real operational spending reductions (as opposed merely to saving money by reducing the annual debt service by $22 million per year), we’ve got some time. The readers of The Golden Hammer also have a lot of ability, analytical skills, and opinions.

This process is serious. We can learn a lot about our County government. We’ll start with the County Judge’s Department and go from there.

Let’s have fun.

Alfred E. Neuman.




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