The closing argument, part 2: why Montgomery County voters should elect candidates who’ll reform the County government

State Representative Mark Keough, who is running for Montgomery County Judge in the 2018 Republican Primary Election, makes a point about the lack of ethics in the County government on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

Conroe, February 22 – Montgomery County taxpayers suffer from some of the highest property taxes in all of Texas. They’ve gotten so high that people in the residential and commercial real estate business have noticed problems with sales due to wary buyers. State Representative Mark Keough, who is running for Montgomery County Judge against incumbent Craig Doyal, has likened the massively rising property taxes to “punishing the people who built this community into the great place it is.”

Politicians love to point the finger to others, often in distant lands, when it comes to discussions of problem with high taxes. Of course, it’s easy to point the finger at the federal government, because it’s run in far off Washington, D.C. In actuality, the rate of spending growth of the federal government since 2000 has been less than the rate of spending growth of the Montgomery County government.

Perhaps more relevant at the present moment is the fact that Mark Keough is like an honest “breath of fresh air.” Rather than seeking to blame others for high local property taxes and the out-of-control spending of the Montgomery County government, Keough has included in his “Contract with Montgomery County”:

  • “County Governance will always function as fiscally responsible and accountable to the citizens of Montgomery County.”
  • “I will work to reduce the tax rate of the County to account for increases in total property values throughout the County. Appraisal goes up, rate should come down!”
  • “I will eliminate wasteful spending in our budget…”

That final point is particularly remarkable, because Doyal and Commissioner Charlie Riley refuse even to acknowledge that there is any wasteful spending in the County government even though hundreds of County employees have suggested cost savings.

Keough has assured Montgomery County citizens that the era of “slush funds” has come to an end: “I will return any funds that are non-contingency related or are not carried over for unfinished projects to the taxpayers via reduction in tax rates.”

On the other hand, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal lobbied against statewide property tax reform in Austin even after the Montgomery County Commissioners Court had voted unanimously to support the legislative reform. Doyal met privately with Keough on February 7, 2017, to ask him to vote against property tax reform and to state that he opposed a 20% homestead exemption for Montgomery County taxpayers. Keough, of course, turned Doyal’s request down.

Montgomery County government’s actual growth

Since Fiscal Year 2010, the County government has increased spending more than $50 million above the ceilings which Republican Primary voters approved at the ballot box.

In Fiscal Year 2017, the County government’s Official Budget includes $377 million of expenditures. In actuality, the amount spent will be approximately $50 million more from “slush fund” expenditures. In Fiscal Year 2000, Montgomery County’s Budget was $89 million. That’s a 424% increase! During the same time period, the County’s population only grew 84%. As Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack has noted, one would expect economies of scale during growth like that. Instead, under County Judge Craig Doyal, there actually have been the inverse of economies of scale, because neither Doyal nor his allies, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, have taken any action to manage the County’s government operations.

There are several criteria by which one could measure the spending growth of Montgomery County. All reveal the disastrous nature of the uncontrolled government spending. Two of the criteria come from the mouth of Doyal. Three come from the Republican Party, an organization apparently offensive to Doyal and his cohorts. One of the sets of criteria come from a group of local conservative activists who formed a Citizens Budget Committee in January, 2017, and will present a detailed report over the next few weeks.

In a campaign advertisement during the 2014 Republican Primary Election, Doyal complained “spending in Washington is out of control; in Texas we do things differently.” Sadly, Doyal is right on both counts. Spending in Washington, D.C., for the federal government is completely out of control. In Fiscal Year 2000, the United States Government Budget included expenditures of $1.789 trillion dollars. The Fiscal Year 2017 Budget for the United States Government is $4.147 trillion dollars. That’s a 232% increase in spending in only 17 years!

The problem, however, is that Doyal is correct. Montgomery County under Doyal’s leadership is even more “out of control” than federal government spending. During the same time period when the federal budget increased 232%, Montgomery County’s budget increased 424%. In other words, we do, indeed, do things differently. The Montgomery County government’s spending increases have been far worse than those of the federal government.

Montgomery County spending (red line) versus population growth (blue line) since 2000. Source: Yollick Law Firm.

Turnbull presented a similar finding in a slightly different way. He presented a bar chart to the Commissioners Court showing that County government spending grew above the green line, which represented the “Noack Yardstick” for maximum County government growth each year.

A slide which County Clerk Mark Turnbull presented showing the growth of the Montgomery County Budget has exceeded the “Noack Yardstick” almost every year.

Turnbull’s message with the foregoing bar table was that County government spending has grown 156% during the past 11 years, while under the Noack Yardstick it should only have grown a maximum of 49.7%.

Turnbull then proceeded to examine his own budget in the County Clerk’s Office. One point the County Clerk noted was that in 1995, when he took the oath of office, the County Clerk had 35 employees. In 22 year’s time, the Clerk’s Office has only grown to 36 employees, which is the number it has today.

The Citizens Budget Committee noted in its Report, presented to the Commissioners Court on July 25, that Turnbull’s County Clerk’s Office is one of the leanest County Departments among all. Not only are salaries under control but also Turnbull and his team’s use of supplies and other expenditures is well below the average for the Montgomery County government. Turnbull, as County Clerk, has run a lean and efficient operation.

Turnbull showed how the spending of his County Clerk’s Office compared to the Noack Yardstick putting a ceiling on government spending growth at the rate of population growth plus the rate of inflation. His bar table comparing the Clerk’s Office with the Yardstick follows:

Turnbull’s comparison of his County Clerk’s Budget with the Noack Yardstick. In other words, Turnbull has controlled the spending growth of his department to be far below the rate of inflation and the growth in population.

Turnbull noted during his presentation that despite the growth of the population of Montgomery County over the past 22 years, he has carefully managed his office staff so that the number of employees working for the County Clerk would hardly increase.

Doyal’s definition of “fiscal conservative”: spending increases under a ceiling of population growth plus inflation

Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal issued a directive on February 6, 2017, to all Montgomery County elected officials and department heads to “keep our county budget growth in line with the growth of the county’s population and inflation.” The written directive also mentioned that Doyal personally was offering taxpayers property tax relief “to assist as they struggle with rising property values on their homes.” Doyal claimed that the definition of a “fiscal conservative” was someone who held the growth of government spending to the rate of population growth plus inflation.

By Doyal’s definition of a “fiscal conservative,” Craig Doyal must be a screaming Marxist.

In order to ascertain inflation, the most commonly accepted source is the United States Consumer Price Index, or CPI, which the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics promulgates monthly and annually. In order to ascertain population growth (“Pop Growth”), the United States Bureau of the Census publishes annual numbers for the population of Montgomery County. The Government Growth Delta (“GGD”) is the CPI plus the Pop Growth:

CPI + Pop Growth = GGD.

GGD should reflect the maximum growth of the Montgomery County government.

Here are the numbers:

YearCPI (%)Pop Growth (%)GGD (%)PopulationSpending($ millions)Actual Spending Increase (%)What SpendingShould Be ($ millions)*
20101.63.04.6459,018$233.996
20113.22.86.0471,734$271.91016.20$248.036
20122.12.84.9484,790$276.0461.52$260.190
20131.53.04.5499,137$290.7795.34$271.898
20141.64.05.6518,947$321.5637.49$287.125
20150.13.63.7537,559$326,3024.40$297.748
20161.33.85.1$369,91210.61$312.933
20170.13.83.9$381,2695.64$327.015

*The “What Spending Should Be” column only represents what the spending should have been under the maximum growth formula acceptable to Republican voters. In other words, if a County government were to increase its spending by the maximum amount allowable under the Republican Proposition #2, the maximum County Budget would have been that amount. (The reader should not that the County Information Technology Department and County Auditor made a substantial mistake in calculating the total Fiscal Year 2017 expenditure budget, which The Golden Hammer caught in an earlier edition. In actuality, total Fiscal Year 2017 spending is $377 million.)

The table reveals that during the last seven fiscal years, from 2011 to 2017, Montgomery County government spending has increased $54 million more than the maximum growth that Doyal stated in his own definition. For Fiscal Year 2016, County Judge Craig Doyal and the County Commissioners grew spending at more than double the maximum acceptable rate.

The bottom line is that Montgomery County taxpayers will only get relief from high property taxes if reform candidates, such as Mark Keough (County Judge) or Mark Turnbull (incumbent County Clerk), look inward at the wasteful spending within the Montgomery County government rather than trying to point their fingers at others as Doyal, Riley, and the political establishment constantly do.

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