Image: Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae (back to camera) spoke to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on Thursday, August 1, 2019, as the Commissioners Court voted to adopt a 44.75 cents per $100 valuation tax rate and set the Montgomery County Budget for Fiscal Year 2020 at $336,506,358.
Conroe, August 2 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted on Thursday, August 1, 2019, unanimously to adopt a 44.75 cents per $100 valuation tax rate and set the spending budget for Fiscal Year $336,506,358. The Budget and tax rate were the first time in recent history that the County Commissioners Court set the tax rate at the “effective tax rate,” the lowered tax rate, which, due to property tax appraisals, will not result an a tax increase for Montgomery County property taxpayers.
As the Commissioners Court spent four days, Monday through Thursday, conducting a Budget Workshop under the leadership of Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, it was very apparent that Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack had thoroughly prepared for each Departmental Budget presentation and had arrived at the Commissioners Court meetings to try to reduce County government spending to the lowest level possible. After adoption of the effective tax rate, which Noack had fought so hard to accomplish, the Commissioner said to The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, “I’m excited about the hard work of County staff. We’re doing what taxpayers elected us to do, give quality services at a reasonable price.”
Noack told this newspaper in an exclusive interview that he was “glad that Commissioner [Charlie] Riley and I worked so well together during this Budget Workshop. I think that Precincts 3 and 2 will work very well together in the future.” Noack acknowledged that, under Keough’s leadership, the Commissioners Court worked far more “cohesively and cooperatively than I’ve ever seen us work together as a Court.”
Keough certainly revealed that he is the “People’s Judge” during the final day of the Budget Workshop. Keough made an effort to allow the four Commissioners to dominate the discussion during the four days of Budget Workshop, but, when Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador suggested on Thursday that the Commissioners Court should adopt a higher tax rate than the effective tax rate, Keough was adamant that the Commissioners Court should not adopt a rate higher than 44.75 cents per $100 valuation. Keough’s strong comments in support of staying at the effective tax rate and no higher clearly caused Meador to back down from raising taxes.
Keough commented to this newspaper late last night, “After almost a week of ‘robust’ interaction, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court adopted the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget. It was an incredible team effort by our Commissioners to arrive at a unified consensus on that which is necessary to fund the operations of the County. We used new money from new growth instead of raising taxes on existing properties! I am so proud to be a part of this fiscal accomplishment!”
“We used new money from new growth instead of raising taxes on existing properties! I am so proud to be a part of this fiscal accomplishment!” – – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough
Keough had nice words for all of his colleagues. Keough said of Noack, “I want to thank Commissioner Noack for the extraordinary amount of preparation he did for the Budget Workshop. He raised a lot of particular issues that helped us eventually to arrive at good decisions.”
Commissioner James Metts of Precinct 4 said, “This is my first round as Commissioner as well. It’s been a pleasant experience. Commissioner Meador, thanks for your contributions and also Commissioner Riley. Your 26 years showed. You Commissioner Riley, it’s been a pleasure working with you as well. Judge, and Commissioner Noack, you too. You [Budget Director Amanda Carter] earn every penny you get, just dealing with Commissioner Noack alone.” Metts’ made his last comment in a friendly and jovial manner.
Riley said in reference to the Budget Workshop, “I enjoyed this year. It was certainly different.”
In past years, the Commissioners Court adopted tax rates which have consistently resulted in higher property taxes for all taxpayers as a result of property tax appraisal increases. Noack made the motion to adopt the effective tax rate of 0.4475 per $100 valuation. Amazingly, Meador, who had initially wanted a higher tax rate, second Noack’s motion. Meador had wanted a quarter cent higher tax rate.
Noack commented, “As I understand with the current budget, the .4475 will fund the budget for Fiscal Year 2020.”
The $336,506,358 Budget does not include the $30 million expenditure for the Joe Corley Detention Facility, which the Commissioners Court has shifted to an alternate fund, since those expenditures all receive equal and offsetting revenue from Geo, the private company which operates the Facility for the United States Government. In comparison to the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget of $344 million, the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget is actually higher, with comparable accounting dollars of $14.8 million for the Corley Facility, adding approximately to $351 million, for about a $7 million actual County government spending increase.
The Fiscal Year 2020 Budget:
- Pay Raise. Includes a 1.9% across-the-board pay raise for all County government employees with the exception of Keough who opted not to accept the pay raise;
- Nonprofits need to raise private community funds. Cut funding to nonprofits, about which many citizens had complained, by 50%, with the exception of Children’s Safe Harbor and Tri-County Mental Health, both of which provide services to support law enforcement;
- Veterans Memorial Commission. Did not include funding from general tax dollars for the controversial Veterans Memorial Commission, which had sought $150,000 of government funds rather than seeking those funds through private sector fundraising. Commissioner Mike Meador shifted $75,000 from his road and bridge budget to the Veterans Memorial Commission, Riley $50,000, and Metts $25,000. Those funds will come away from road and bridge dollars needed for the three Commissioner Precincts (especially Precinct 2 which is so far behind in road and bridge projects due to Riley’s and his predecessor’s poor management of those projects). While the concept of a Veterans Memorial Park is popular, many citizens object to government funding of the park in place of private donations;
- Capital Improvement Projects. Includes a $2.6 million capital improvement fund, which Noack had sponsored, as Chairman of the County Facilities Committee. Noack made clear he would not support a higher level of spending.
- Air-conditioned Animal Control trucks. The Montgomery County Animal Shelter received authorization to purchase two air-conditioned trucks for Animal Control. Noack is providing half of the funding out of his Precinct 3 Budget for one of the trucks. The remaining funds come from revenue recognized during Fiscal Year 2019.
Riley made an important point about the FY 2020 Budget, however, right at the end of the Budget Workshop. Some of the funding for FY 2020 came from sources other than FY 2020 tax collections. For example, the Commissioners Court funded new Sheriff’s Office employee positions from about $1 million of funds which Sheriff Rand Henderson didn’t spend during Fiscal Year 2019, which will end September 30, 2019. By using such funds for the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, Riley noted “we’ll have to do the next year payment” which he obviously meant would come from the taxpayers “general fund.”
Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae explained at the end of the Budget Workshop, “the average home in Montgomery County has a valuation of $274,033. With the homestead exemption, the valuation is $219,227. At the effective rate, the County taxes on that home will be $981.04, which is a savings of $42 off of our current tax rate. By adopting the effective rate, you have cut the tax rate by 1.9 cents or 4.11%.”
Noack concluded, “We’ve all worked hard to get to this point. We were able to fund essential things and do what’s right by the taxpayers.”