Volcano of tax dollar spending erupts during judges’ request to Commissioners Court for two new courts

Volcano of tax dollar spending erupts during judges’ request to Commissioners Court for two new courts

Image: Just as a small eruption broke open an enormous volcanic fissure in Kilauea during the past month in Hawaii, an approximately $1.1 million spending request from the Montgomery County Board of Judges opened a gigantic tax-dollar spending fissure in the Montgomery County Commissioners Court during the Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Regular Meeting of the Court. The Board of Judges and Commissioners Court created a far more dangerous eruption than did Kilauea.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, January 20 – A tax dollar spending fissure burst open when the Montgomery County Board of Judges appeared before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court’s first regular meeting of the year on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. While the judges claimed their request would “only” cost local taxpayers about $1.1 million per year, or $550,000 per court, the spending proposals rapidly erupted into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Do the Commissioners Court and the Board of Judges not understand the economic hardship they’ve imposed on Montgomery County taxpayers during 2020, while they’ve shut down businesses through unconstitutional and illegal mandates as they continued to collect their government paychecks?

418th District Judge Tracy Gilbert argued vehemently for approval from the Commissioners Court for two new county courts at law on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

418th District Judge Tracy Gilbert and County Court at Law Number Two Judge Claudia Laird presented the argument for the two new county courts at law, in addition to the five already in existence. Laird told the Commissioners that the cost per court would be $550,000. When pressed, Laird and Chad Peace, the Director of the Montgomery County Office of Court Administration, admitted that the cost per court could go up to $750,000, or even $950,000, depending upon the amount of staff in the court.

Even those cost projections, however, didn’t include the cost of employee benefits, the cost of information technology support, the expense for a law library and keeping that library up-to-date, and the cost of other support personnel who would have to help run the new courts.

When Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack asked where the two new courts would reside, Laird and Peace admitted that there was only room for one new court in the current CPS Cluster Courtroom in the James Keeshan Administration Building across Thompson Street from the Main Courthouse. That one available courtroom would require remodeling to accommodate the new county court at law.

Laird and Gilbert noted that Montgomery County has a need for new court offices. At that point, Noack suggested waiting to make any decision on the new courts, even though the Board of Judges had asked the Commissioners Court to ask the current Texas Legislature, in its 87th Session, to authorize creation of the two new courts.

Noack argued against the creation of any new courts. “We pulled some numbers of our own on court operations,” Noack said. “There were 11,282 pending criminal cases in 2007 in Montgomery County, but, in 2019, we’re way down to 8,924 cases.” Gilbert tried to challenge those statistics, but Noack held fast to his analysis and urged the Commissioners Court to table the pending request for greater expenditures of taxpayer funds on county courts at law.

County court at law judges in Montgomery County are among the highest paid elected officials in Texas, making $190,000 in salary per year, plus benefits which exceed $76,570, for total annual compensation of $266,570.

After Laird and Gilbert mentioned the need for a new courtroom building, which could easily cost taxpayers $30 million or more, the talk of spending tax dollars got even wilder.

Noack commented that “we have a lot of associate judges. Maybe we should make use of them.” But then he dropped the biggest spending proposal of all.

Noack suggested that Montgomery County government employees need a pay raise, which, he said, would be his highest spending priority for the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget. “Our employees have worked hard and long hours and not received any pay raises; we need to fix that,” Noack said.

Employee compensation in Montgomery County’s government is among the highest in any county in Texas and comprises over 68% of the $345 million annual budget.

The Commissioners Court voted 4 (Noack, Riley, Walker, Metts) to 1 (Keough) to defer a decision on the county courts at law for at least another two weeks. Keough wanted to proceed with approving one new county court at law, as he explained when he voted against Noack’s motion to defer.

Taxpayers, who have suffered paycheck and work interruptions during the government’s panicked Chinese Virus response, will have to carry the results of the spending eruption on their backs as their elected “representatives” look for ways to spend more and more.

 

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