OCA’s Jensen, courts make budget presentation, show earnest desire for fiscal economy

Montgomery County Office of Court Administration Director Nathan Jensen, before the Commissioners Court during the Budget Workshop, July 26, 2017.

Conroe, July 26 – Montgomery County Director of the Office of Court Administration Nathan Jensen presented his Department’s proposed budget along with the proposed budgets of the seven District Court and five County Courts at Law to the Commissioners Court Budget Workshop on July 26, 2017. Jensen’s brief presentation, with 9th District Judge Phil Grant and 284th District Judge Cara Wood at his side, was brief, excellent, and to the point.

As a group, the Court Operations Department, District Courts, and County Courts at Law presented proposed budgets with a total spending reduction of $100,200, even though neither Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack nor the Citizens Budget Committee requested that they reduce their spending at all.

Budget presentation slide showing that Judge Claudia Laird reduced her budget by $733, Judge Patrice McDonald reduced her budget by $1,075, Judge Phil Grant reduced his budget by $1,004, and Judge Patty Maginnis reduced her budget by $39,678.

The budget reductions consisted of the following:

  • Jensen’s Office of Court Administration reduced the Court Operations budget by $57,710
  • County Court at Law Number 2 Judge Claudia Laird reduced her budget by $733
  • County Court at Law Number 3 Judge Patrice McDonald reduced her budget by $1,075
  • 9th District Judge Phil Grant reduced his budget by $1,004
  • 435th District Judge Patty Maginnis reduced herbudget by $39,678.

Transparency and Efficiency

Jensen explained to the Commissioners Court that the District Court and County Courts at Law are making a big push towards transparency in the Court system, so that the public and litigants may judge the fiscal economy and case disposition efficiency of each of the courts and all of the courts as a group.

He explained that between October 1, 2016, the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017, and May 31, 2017, the courts disposed of 103% of the felony cases filed. An important benchmark for the criminal justice system in this community is that the jail population, which Jensen explained is largely driven by felony pretrial defendants awaiting trial, is now in the low 70% range of the Jail’s maximum population. Misdemeanor dispositions have been 101% during the same period. What that means is that the courts are disposing of cases faster than new cares are filed.

Jensen told the Commissioners Court that he and the judges believe that the move towards specialization among the courts has aided the move towards efficiency.

As far as budgeting, Jensen and the District Judges are considering moving towards zero-based budgeting, which the Citizens Budget Committee and many others have advocated. The Sheriff’s Office, under Sheriff Rand Henderson, is moving towards a zero-based budget approach. As Jensen explained, “Funding should be tied to mission objectives and performance associated with those objectives. Government performance measures should inform budget decisions.”

Jensen concluded his presentation by quoting Alexander Hamilton who said, the judicial is the “branch of government without the sword or the purse.” Fortunately, the Board of District Judges is slowly moving towards fulfilling their statutory duty to oversee the auditing function of the County government. The judges and Jensen are doing a superb job managing their own budgets and operational efficiency.

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