Conroe, May 12 – The May 9, 2017, Montgomery Commissioners Court meeting revealed the willingness of County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley to spend money on just about anything. The spending nightmares they’re planning for taxpayers in the near future will likely meet Doyal’s stated goal of doubling the County expenditure budget. Riley is always a reliable vote for Doyal’s spending proposals. Meador is also a reliable vote for those proposals when he is conscious.
At the August 9, 2016, Commissioners Court meeting, Doyal stated “the county could double the budget and still not meet all the needs in the county.” Soon after that, the Publisher of Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, The Golden Hammer, began to present “The Golden Hammer Award” for wasteful County government spending that “hammers the taxpayers.” Thinking that the criminal prosecution against him for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act is somehow behind him, even though the State of Texas is appealing the highly questionable dismissal of the charges last month, Doyal is proceeding with massive spending plans to achieve that doubling of the budget about which he openly dreamed.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) bureaucracy authored its so-called “Regional Transportation Plan” which, as of the January 23, 2017, update of its study, projects that Montgomery County will require $1.913 billion of road construction through 2040. That’s billion, not million. But that’s also over the next 23 years with projections for population growth and development.
Doyal, however, recently told Houston Public Media that he is “hoping to go back to voters for additional bonds, in order to meet mobility needs estimated at around $6 billion”!!! Doyal wants to spend and incur debt more than three (3) times than what even the bloated HGAC bureaucracy projects for the next quarter century!
Citizens should realize what Doyal’s $6 billion of debt would mean. Currently, Montgomery County has a bloated annual budget of $377 million of which $55 million is for debt service and the remaining $322 million is for County government operations. Doyal’s $6 billion of debt would require approximately $622.314 million of annual debt service alone. In other words, the $6 Billion Man wants the County’s debt service to increase to a level twice the entire annual expenditure budget of Montgomery County.
The Nightmares springing forth from Doyal’s and Riley’s spending imaginations
Local sage and political activist Bill O’Sullivan said of the May 9, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, “Famously at Spring Training in 1962 seven time World Champion Yankee Manager Casey Stengel looked out at his fledgling Mets on the field during their first Spring Training Camp and asked, ‘Can anybody here play this game?’ I got the same sense in Commissioners Court the other day. The unreadiness of all was breathtaking. Totally unprofessional. We deserve a lot better than this. We already know they’re overpaid versus other Counties but you should get some level of competence for all that money.”
After the May 9 Commissioners Court meeting, here are but a few of Doyal’s spending plans on the horizon of taxpayers’ nightmares:
Decimation of Hope Highway. Estimated Cost: $73 million. Doyal and Riley have pushed a $73 million 3.6 mile toll road at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County as a connector between another toll road that their buddy Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle is building and a road the Texas Department of Transportation (“TxDOT”) is construction. The $73 million project will make this 3.6 mile stretch of road one of the most expensive highway projects in American history at more than $20 million per mile.
It’s entirely unnecessary. TxDOT already has funds available for construction of the road and it might not even be a toll road at all if the state agency utilizing federal and state gasoline tax funds (we’ve already paid) builds the road. Doyal and Riley are excited about the idea of building the road and then continuing to toll users in perpetuity. In other words, Montgomery County citizens, especially those folks in Precinct 2, will be paying taxes for this road forever in the imaginative minds of Doyal and Riley. Amazingly, the only justification Riley can give for the road is that the Renaissance Festival is planning to open two weeks longer each year and there’s a weekend festival coming to the City of Magnolia. In order to accommodate out-of-county drivers coming into Montgomery County to add to our congestion, Riley proposes to punish taxpayers with a $73 million unnecessary expenditure.
County citizens have begun to refer to the insane road project – with which Doyal and Riley have already funneled $12.6 million of County tax dollars to their favorite political supporters and legal defense fund contributors – as the “Decimation of Hope Highway.”
Enterprise Resource Planning (“ERP”) system. Estimated Cost: $16 to 25 million. Several people in the County government have completely lost their minds and probably need some of that mental health treatment that our County Jail is going to start to provide. At the May 9 Commissioners Court meeting, County Auditor Phyllis Martin and a consultant whose received over $149,000 for a completely worthless collection of euphemisms which Martin and the consultant called a “report,” provided an “update” about the Enterprise Resource Planning system they and Doyal propose for the Montgomery County government.
ERPs are often utilized in business enterprises – ones seeking “profits” unlike the government which just spends – to bring together different financial functions, such as payroll, contracting, purchasing, and insurance, so that the various users of such information are able to communicate with each other online easily. The Golden Hammer spoke with Mark Ward, a renowned business and technical consultant from the Tampa, Florida, area, who reviewed the ERP presentation of the County as well as its operations and budget and provided this newspaper with two major conclusions. First, Ward noted that a governmental entity should only implement an ERP “if it can reduce employee staffing needs by 10% or more.” Second, Ward estimated that the high end of an ERP’s annual cost for use by an approximately 2300 employee County government should be in the range of $90,000 per year for licensing fees with no up-front costs other than ensuring network compatibility (such as implementing a Windows or other appropriate operating system).
Unfortunately, with the out of touch bureaucrats studying the County’s proposed ERP and with Plante Moran, a consulting firm greatly profiting from making the process of purchasing an ERP as complex as possible to gin more consulting fees, the cost estimates which Martin provided the Commissioners Court were through the stratosphere.
Martin and Plante Moran estimated that the up-front costs of purchasing an ERP for the County would be between $6 and 10 million with licensing fees costing the County between $10 and 15 million over the next 20 years!
Despite all of that money Doyal, Riley, and Martin want the County to shell out, Martin admitted that there would be no savings whatsoever in the number of employee salaries necessary in the County government. Therefore, Ward’s first goal for an ERP will fail. Second, the cost of this ridiculous ERP system will be approximately 8 times the annual cost it should be as well as an infinite times the startup cost (which should be 0). Finally, as crazy as this proposal seems, it’s even worse. Martin told the Commissioners Court that it will take 2 years to implement the system!
The Commissioners Court should fire Plante Moran immediately and ask for a return of the $149,000 paid to them for a pointless PowerPoint presentation that didn’t even explain what an ERP is, but which did include a nice 2 minute advertisement at the beginning for Plante Moran’s consulting services.
Even with the $3,331,029, which Doyal and colleagues budgeted during this Fiscal Year for this giant expenditure, the taxpayers are in for several major punches to their financial guts.
Doyal’s New Tax Office. Estimated Cost: $4 to 7 million. Doyal obviously wants some nice big structures on which the County could place the letters “C-R-A-I-G-D-O-Y-A-L” so that all taxpayers may remember the avid spender forever. Doyal wants to build a new County Tax Office across Phillips Street from the present location of the Tax Office where the old Stewart & Stewart law firm used to be. Two sources inside the County government – one in the County Engineer’s Office and one in the Building Maintenance Department – have each estimated the cost of construction of Doyal’s new office for collecting taxes from citizens to be in the range of $4 to 7 million.
The current Tax Office seems sufficient. In fact, it’s actually too big as there is substantial empty space inside of it. The park outside of the current Tax Office is also moving, so there will be more opportunities to increase the number of parking spaces for citizens happily coming in to pay the massive tax levies Doyal will need to impose in order to pay for all of his spending ambitions.
Airport. Estimated Cost over 5 years: $10 million. The so-called “Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport” is a money pit. It does little more than reduce opportunities for development of residential areas nearby. The County should lease it to Black Forest Ventures or some other interested commercial developer and let the developer bear the ridiculous financial risk.
Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department is fighting to keep its budget at the level of Fiscal Year 2017. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of pressure on that budget. First, the Montgomery County community clearly needs more “boots on the ground” because the County is way behind the FBI national average for the number of peace officers for the size of the County’s population.
Second, thanks to the completely inept leadership of Doyal on any financial matter, the Sheriff’s Department is struggling with the possibility that Jail inmate healthcare costs may rise by as much as $3.5 million during the coming Fiscal Year. Sheriff Rand Henderson and Jail Administrator and Captain Oliver Coward are struggling to keep those costs down. With no assistance from a competent financial and strategic planner outside of the Sheriff’s Department – there are a number of competent people inside the Sheriff’s Department – Montgomery County is failing to allocate planning resources to this important issue. Frankly, however, the Jail faces the terrible situation that county jails have become the 21st century’s mental health care facilities. These problems require the creative leadership of Henderson and Coward, but also some creative leadership from the County Commissioners Court, a tall order considering the conduct the public witnessed at the May 9 Commissioners Court meeting and the years and years of merely throwing money at problems as the only solution Doyal, Riley, and Meador seem ever to understand.
Third, Sheriff Henderson has made clear he needs to build a new facility for the Forensics Department.
Fourth, but certainly not last or least, Montgomery County continues to suffer from Doyal’s, Riley’s and Meador’s failure to make regional road plans and to implement plans already in place.
Doyal and Riley have put the County fisc in a mess.