Conroe, October 29 – On the anniversary of the stock market collapse in 1929 (October 29, 1929) and the centenary of the Communist “October Revolution” in Russia (October 25, 1917), it seems appropriate to discuss the Montgomery County Tax Office’s misleading “Budget Highlights” document (shown below at bottom of article), which Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae sent along with the tax bills that will ruin many family’s holidays and threaten others with the forced sale of their homes. Sending out a “Budget Highlights” page that fails to tell County citizens the truth about government spending is not helpful, especially when people receive a bill in the mail that is one of the largest they’ll receive all year. McRae, whom citizens have known for her transparency and helpfulness, should have sent a plain “tell all” document.
The Tax Office mailed approximately 311,850 tax statements on October 23 and 24, 2017. The “Budget Highlights” documents went with each statement. McRae explained, “Statements are a couple of weeks later than normal this year due to delays in the tax rate process created by Hurricane Harvey.”
In response to The Golden Hammer‘s inquiry, McRae responded, “I did draft the budget highlights. It is intended to be a snapshot of the current year budget only. The insert isn’t required to be sent, but I include one each year in an effort to keep taxpayers better informed. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on how to improve the insert. Thanks!”
What McRae should have told the citizens
A fully truthful “Montgomery County 2017/2018 Budget Highlights” document would have told the taxpayers:
- The Fiscal Year 2018 County government Budget contains the highest government expenditure (total spending minus debt service) amount in the history of Montgomery County, $293.34 million.
- County Judge Craig Doyal and the County Commissioners Court did nothing to reduce the massive growth rate of government spending. The only reason the budget is lower overall than in Fiscal Year 2017 is that Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack showed County Auditor Phyllis Martin a method of defeasing substantial portions of the County’s debt service, thereby saving almost $23 million on debt service alone for the Fiscal Year.
- The County’s spending growth remains out of control, because no one in the County government has addressed wasteful spending, implemented zero-based budgeting, or even reviewed every line of the County’s budget. At the same time, the auditor, Martin, refuses to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in her audit work, even though Texas law requires that she do so.
- As County Clerk Mark Turnbull showed during the County’s August 25 to 28 budget workshop, which Doyal closed to citizen participation, the County government’s spending growth since 2006 has been 156% while the growth of population and inflation combined was only 49.7% during the same period. During that time period, the federal government’s expenditure growth, usually considered the most out-of-control of all, was actually “only” 29.4%.
- There were so many problems in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget that one of the members of the Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, voted against the entire Budget.
Why the “Budget Highlights” are misleading
The Tax Office’s propaganda piece attempted to emphasize all of the services that County citizens receive for their payments. It requires substantial investigation for citizens to note the truth: the two County services that citizens actually want, public safety and roads, are actually quite a bit less than 48.98% of the Budget. Without touching the courts which provide law enforcement, the Citizens Budget Committee report presented to the Commissioners Court on August 25, 2017, revealed that there is easily enough waste in the County’s government spending that $100 million in spending reductions could occur without any reduction in services by 2021 along with a substantial increase in public safety spending.
The “expenditures” in the Tax Office “Budget Highlights” show $33.825 million for “transportation.” That number is very misleading, because it includes $896,460 for the largely-unused airport tucked away in Commissioners Precinct 1 that is little more than a spending boondoggle benefitting a tiny few. Most County residents don’t even know there is an airport in Montgomery County, and they most certainly have never used it since there are no public flights. Of the remaining funds in the so-called “transportation” budget, large portions go unspent, get moved over to the County Commissioner “slush funds” where they use the monies for employee raises, flowers, a “truck for Gerald,” parks that are little more than a tribute to themselves, and non-road uses. The waste in payments for “professional services” to engineering firms (also known as major political contributors) is a gigantic budget sinkhole that Doyal and the Commissioners have refused to address.
Of the “law enforcement” budget, there is no question that the full $128.645 million shown should go to public safety, but, in fact, the real number is $127.993 million.
The Tax Office failed to address the real reason that government spending in the County government, in the school districts, and in the other taxing authories has soared: the complicity of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District’s Board of Directors (largely controlled by the County Commissioners Court) in raising property tax appraisals far above market prices and often so far above the price which people paid for their homes that people on fixed incomes must sell their homes rather than lose them.
A glaring failure in the “Budget Highlights” is McRae’s omission that the County Commissioners Court salaries are enormous in comparison to other counties and probably require at least a ten year freeze if not outright reductions in those amounts.
On a case-by-case basis, McRae seems very helpful to Montgomery County citizens. She should not have allowed the “Budget Highlights” to go with the tax statements out of her office, however. They attempt to make a somewhat obtuse argument to justify the failure of Doyal and his colleagues to address County government spending. An appropriate title would have been “Montgomery County 2017/2018 Budget Excuses.”