Image: Always immensely prepared, Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae presented the certified appraisal numbers to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to begin the second day of the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Workshop. The three members of the Commissioners Court who missed the first day of the Budget Workshop were able to find their way to their seats for the second day.
Conroe, July 31 – Montgomery County Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” did a superb job running an efficient and swift meeting for the first Budget Workshop over which he presided. The Commissioners Court members worked very cohesively during the second day of the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Workshop, which began with a presentation from the immensely prepared Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae.
McRae explained that the critical number about which the Commissioners Court should be aware is the “effective tax rate” of 0.4475 per $100 valuation, meaning that the County government would assess 44.75 cents of property taxes per $100 valuation. The effective tax rate would generate the same amount of revenue from the same properties from the previous year, Fiscal Year 2019, meaning that it reflects increases in property tax appraisals. Since the current tax rate is 0.4667, the effective tax rate reveals that property tax appraisals jumped on existing properties approximately 4.3% thanks to the aggressive property tax appraisal increases of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, the primary tax-producing engine in Montgomery County.
McRae noted that, under the provisions of Senate Bill 2, the property tax reform measure the 86th Texas Legislature passed in May, the County government’s tax rate would have reached its maximum at 45.40 cents per $100 valuation. Senate Bill 2 limits spending increases for counties and municipalities to 3.5% per year without a citizen referendum.
McRae also explained that this Budget Workshop was the first in Montgomery County history when the Commissioners Court had certified tax appraisal values before they began their budget work, because the Keough Court chose to move the Budget Workshop back by one week.
Budget Director Amanda Carter told the Commissioners Court that the updated Preliminary Budget she has proposed is $365,063,261, which exceeds the adopted Fiscal Year 2019 Budget of $344,604,268 by $20,457.993. Most of those increases occurred – in violation of the Texas Local Government Code – in the middle of the Fiscal Year without proper notice and hearings, when the Commissioners Court adopted more than 250 “budget amendments” bringing the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget to $363,761,096. Most of those budget amendments occurred during the secretive government period of disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal and terminated County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
Carter’s Preliminary Budget includes the following increases over 2019, among others, which she has proposed for Fiscal Year 2020:
- There were 15 positions funded in the middle of the Fiscal Year;
- Carter is proposing a 1.9% across-the-board pay raise for herself, the members of the Commissioners Court, and all County employees, which will cost taxpayers $2.7 million;
- The County government in increasing employer contributions to health insurance by $1,636,471;
- The County is increasing its workers compensation payments by $265,000;
- The County must pay an additional $284,460 for retiree health insurance, an employee benefit almost no major private company in the United States offers;
- The County is increasing its general liability insurance by $502,600;
- The Woodlands Township is increasing its contract by $400,000;
- The County is increasing by $1.6 million the amount the government is setting aside for capital improvements; and
- The County has budgeted $30 million for the Corley Detention Facility, which such funds pass through under a contract with GEO, the private prison company utilizing the Corley Facility.
Additionally, the Commissioners Court has approved a case manager for Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Matt Masden and a part-time records management clerk.
The budget currently has approximately $75 million of pass-through contract items for which the County government receives equal revenue for expenditures. County Auditor Rakesh Pandey has recommended removing the Corley $30 million pass-through expenditure from the budget entirely and creating a separate “agency fund”, which Government Accounts Standards permit.
Commissioners Court approved $260K of extra expenditures during Tuesday afternoon
During Tuesday afternoon’s session, the Commissioners Court, which clearly has trouble saying “no,” approved approximately $260,455 in additional expenditures.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Meador commented, “We’re up about $150,000.” He was off by $110,000.
In response to Meador’s comment, however, Noack said, “We can make up for it when we don’t fund the nonprofits; that will cover everything.”
The Commissioners Court also agreed to fund $2,500 for Montgomery County District Attorney to receive a “no refusal” grant as the County government portion for that grant. Additionally, the Commissioners Court agreed to allow Ligon to hire two new employees which will cost $183,000. Ligon will fund $100,000 from forfeiture funds, but, of course, future County Budgets will face the funding requirements for those positions in their entirety.
The Commissioners agreed to give Judge Masden an additional $3,199 for his budget so that he could upgrade a position to Case Manager. They also gave $30,245 for a grant match for the Sheriff’s Office.
Additionally, the politicians approved $131,911 for two new position and $9,600 for printing in Tax Assessor Collector Tammy McRae’s Office.
Commissioners treated each other nicely with respect to their own budgets
The road and bridge budgets for the four Commissioners were the source of the greatest unity and cohesion among the five members of the Commissioners Court. Basically, each Commissioner will receive about $8.6 million for his respective budget. Noack and Riley, who utilize the services of Noack’s traffic signal team and the North Star traffic monitoring system mostly, will split the costs of that system 75% and 25% each. The North Star System costs taxpayers approximately $175,000 to operate.
Riley mentioned, “We’re headed that way to having a general department for traffic signals.” Currently, the County government’s traffic signals are split: 75% in Precinct 3 (Noack), 22% in Precinct 2 (Riley), 2% in Precinct 4 (Metts), and 1% in Precinct 1 (Meador.)
Metts explained his spending approach: “”I want to support law enforcement and I want to support everybody and I want to have a decent road for everybody to ride on, and I don’t want them to run out of bullets.”
Noack noted that he has the “least amount of money to spend on roads and bridges, because I have recycle operations to fund as well.”
The Commissioners Court will begin with Constable budget requests at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Each of the Constables seeks to grow his respective department substantially.