Image: Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack engages the political advice and policy counsel of his senior advisor, Maverick Noack.
Conroe and The Woodlands, July 18 – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack is spending long hours with his policy staff in his Precinct 3 Office preparing for the budget hearings for the County government’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, which the Commissioners Court will begin on Monday, July 29, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. with a day set aside for citizen comments before the Commissioners Court. “When you look at the budget and you look a County spending, you have to remember it’s not your money. It’s the taxpayers’ hard-earned money that we’re spending,” the conservative leader on the Montgomery County Commissioners Court told The Golden Hammer in an exclusive interview yesterday.
“My approach to the budget follows this thinking,” Noack said. “You have to look at what services, we have to provide and the appropriate level of those services. Once we know these are the services we have to provide and others are services we’ve traditionally provided, then we have to examine what is required for departments to provide those services. We add in debt service and employee benefits obligations and we should have a lean budget.”
The approach Noack described is certainly the ideal methodology behind zero-based budgeting. As Noack has bemoaned recently and in the past, however, the County government follows a “baseline budgeting” approach instead in which the County government merely adds to previous year’s budgets as a baseline.
Worse yet, the County government has addictively budgeted based upon tax revenue the County government brings in after the Montgomery Central Appraisal District has raised property tax valuations in order to inject the largest method of increased taxation in Texas local governance.
“We should set the budget based upon actual needs, not wants. We should absolutely not budget based upon how much money we’re bringing in,” Noack adamantly said.
Commissioner Noack has expressed some disappointment over the proposed budget he and the citizens heard on July 9, 2019, from Budget Director Amanda Carter, who has proposed increasing the adopted budget to $366 million from $344 million adopted in Fiscal Year 2019.
“I kickstarted our ability for us to come in with a lower budget by doing a defeasance that allowed debt service funding requirements to go down by $5.1 million. We should come much closer to the effective rate,” Noack said, referring to a budget in the range of $361 million which would not result in any increased taxation to the average Montgomery County taxpaying family by bringing the tax rate down to 44.18 cents per $100 valuation rather than the 44.57 cents per $100 valuation Carter proposed with her substantially higher budget.
“Our Republican-controlled Legislature just adopted property tax reform in Senate Bill 2. Next year, local governments will not be able to increase spending more than 3.5% over the effective rate. According to [Tax Assessor-Collector] Tammy McRae’s calculations, the proposed budget is actually over the 3.5 % increase over the effective rate,” Noack complained. “While I want to make sure departments have the tools and resources they need to serve the public and do their jobs, we need to remember that the taxpayers are struggling to pay us with their hard-earned family dollars.”
“While I want to make sure departments have the tools and resources they need to serve the public and do their jobs, we need to remember that the taxpayers are struggling to pay us with their hard-earned family dollars.” – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, July 17, 2019.
Noack has also criticized the Budget Director, Carter, for recommending a 1.9% across-the-board raise for County employees. “No raises should have been recommended at this point. That’s something the Commissioners Court needs to address at the appropriate time,” Noack said.
The Commissioner did, however, compliment Carter and new Montgomery County Auditor Rakesh Pandey for “trying to fix some problems we haven’t addressed in the past as far as accounting and budget transparency.”
“We also need to look and see if we can save tax dollars by consolidating some departments. We also need to evaluate whether there are unspent funds from the Fiscal Year 2019 budget which we can use rather than funding purchases from new tax dollars which we force citizens to pay in,” Noack suggested.
There is an opportunity for the Commissioners Court to create real tax savings,” he said.