The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, August 11 – After a disastrous 3 to 2 vote on July 31, 2020, at the end of a “budget workshop” by the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to raise taxes substantially on beleaguered Montgomery County taxpayers, Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, who was one of the two in the minority, will attempt to convince his colleagues to change their minds and not raise taxes during the Regular Meeting scheduled on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at 9:30 a.m.
“Individuals and families are hurting from the COVID-19 disaster. This tax increase will harm local businesses even more, because a lot of them are fighting to survive,” Noack told The Golden Hammer yesterday in an exclusive interview. “I hope to show the other Commissioners how we can move forward without a tax increase in this sensitive period.”
The agenda item, which Noack placed on the agenda towards the end of the Tuesday meeting, reads “Consider, discuss and take appropriate action on the proposed FY2021 preliminary department budget requests and tax rate.”
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador all voted for the $4 million tax hike when they set the coming year’s tax rate at 44.12 cents per $100 valuation. As County Judge Mark Keough has noted, with aggressive increases in property tax appraisals, that tax rate constitutes a “substantial tax increase that people can’t afford.”
During the 4-day budget workshop, the Commissioners Court failed to find any spending reductions at all. Even certain county departments, such as the Convention Center, which are essentially not operating at present, received no reductions in spending.
To the contrary, the Commissioners Court, under the leadership of Riley, found substantial new spending initiatives. A small surplus from the current year’s budget will go to purchase vehicles for law enforcement departments. Riley, however, insisted on spending $4 million on a new Forensics Center, which has no budget, no designs, no cost estimates, and no projected date for the commencement of construction. Sadly, Keough went along with that proposal but then realized he had made a serious error in doing so.
Keough and the Commissioners Court haphazardly chose to spend $4 million on the new Forensics Center, chose not to eliminate one single County employee position, chose not to reduce any salaries, and failed to find any cost savings at all in the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget (which starts October 1) process. Immediately after he agreed to spend the money on the forensics center, however, Keough turned to Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack and whispered loud enough for many others to hear, “Oh my God, didn’t I just give away all the money we were going to use on vehicles and so now we’re going to have to raise taxes?!” Noack nodded his head in response.
Instead, the Commissioners Court voted 3 (Commissioners Riley, Metts, and Meador) to 2 (Keough and Commissioner Noack) to raise taxes by setting the FY 2021 tax rate at 44.12 cents per $100 valuation, when the “effective tax rate” or “no new revenue tax rate” was 43.19 cents per $100 valuation. Please see “BREAKING NEWS! Montgomery County Commissioners Riley, Metts, Meador Skewer Taxpayers With Tax, Spending Increase For FY 2021 Budget, With County Judge Keough Complicit In Increased Spending,” The Golden Hammer, July 31, 2020.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough admitted the failure in budgeting at the conclusion of the Commissioners Court meeting late Friday morning, July 31, 2020: “It [the 44.12 cents per $100 valuation tax rate] doesn’t get us to where we compensate for increases in appraisals. People will be paying more money in taxes.”
Harry Hardman, a local businessman and President of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, which reduced its annual budget by 19% in the face of the taxpayer crisis, from the government shutdown mandates, commented to The Golden Hammer, in an exclusive interview: “I am extremely disappointed to hear that Commissioner’s Court not only failed to maintain the effective tax rate, but in fact raised taxes in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis that has and continues to devastate the taxpayers of Montgomery County. The same people who forced the shutdown of our economy and decimated many businesses and business owners are now doubling down with higher taxes. Our District was able to reduce our operating budget by 19% this fiscal year; it’s unconscionable to me that our county officials are so out of touch with what is happening with their constituency that they would approve this new rate. We deserve better.”
Budget Office Director Amanda Carter had presented options to the Commissioners Court which included no new taxes on County citizens. Noack moved to adopt the effective tax rate, or no new taxes rate, which such motion died on a two in favor (Noack, Keough) to three against (Riley, Metts, Meador) vote.
The lameduck Meador moved to adopt the tax increase and Riley quickly seconded that motion. The Commissioners Court voted three (Riley, Metts, Meador) to two (Noack, Keough) in favor of the tax increase.
Citizens will have the opportunity to speak at a public hearing, mandated under state law, on Friday, August 21, 2020, at 9 a.m., at the Montgomery County Commissioners Courtroom, on the fourth floor of the Sadler Administration Building, 501 North Thompson Street, Conroe, Texas 77301.