Zero-based budgeting for the Montgomery County government: a brief workshop in how it works

“Food, fun, and friendship” having steaks at the Leona General Store, Friday, April 28, 2017, 6:48 p.m. County Judge Craig Doyal, far left, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador (in back in black shirt).

Conroe, April 30 – It’s important for the Montgomery County government and its Department directors, in particular, to understand what “zero-based budgeting” is and how it works. Obviously, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal doesn’t understand it. That’s because he’s never tried to learn about the budgeting method, even when citizens have offered to teach the methodology to the Commissioners Court.

In fact, the only member of the Commissioners Court who has shown any willingness to learn about the method of “zero-based budgeting” was Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley. Of course, that was before The Golden Hammer criticized Riley for the “Riley 2-step” of nepotistic hiring of his own wife for a Constable’s position Riley created by his own motion in the Commissioners Court. Now, Riley has apparently decided to close communication with those who seek to reduce County spending.

It’s a shame. Montgomery County’s government is bloated, wasteful, and inefficient. They’ve misallocated resources and, quite frankly, spent way too much money. Since 2000, when Doyal came to the Commissioners Court, the Commissioners Court has grown County spending by 428% while population growth has only been 84% during the same time period.

What is Zero-Based Budgeting

Sheriff Rand Henderson, Chief Ken Culbreath, and Sheriff’s Office Finance Division Director Carol Thompson have all attended training to implement “zero-based budgeting” in that Department. As Henderson explained in his April 11, 2017, “Strategic Plan 2017-2020” presentation to the Commissioners Court, “Zero-based budgeting…focuses on line-item justification during each and every budget process. Money is not allocated based on what a division, section or function received last year, but what they need this year.”

“Zero-based budgeting…focuses on line-item justification during each and every budget process. Money is not allocated based on what a division, section or function received last year, but what they need this year.”

One of the primary engines of government growth is the budget process where departments begin with their current year’s budget as a base. Contrary to that method, “zero-based budgeting” requires every County Department and program to justify every single penny they spend by explaining how each of those pennies contributes to achieving the Department’s goals.

Welcome to the Zero-Based Budgeting Workshop! Let’s budget a County Department: Department 400 County Judge.

On April 25, 2017, Doyal announced in the Commissioners Court meeting, “We have a minimal operating budget in my department.” Obviously, Doyal has no conception of what his budget is or where it fits within the context of the real world of people who don’t get nice guaranteed government paychecks but are forced to pay a portion of their earnings to support the government.

Since in budgeting, “zero-based budgeting” requires us to justify spending in terms of goals, we’ve got to understand the goals of the County Judge Department, Department 400. County Judges are to:

  • Run the Constitutional County Court, if they have legal training. Since Doyal doesn’t, he doesn’t run the Constitutional County Court at all.
  • Act as presiding officer of the Commissioners Court.
  • Represent the county in some administrative functions almost all of which are delegated to the County Attorney, Emergency Management Department Director, and other Departments.

In Montgomery County, the Commissioners Court has questionably given Doyal the responsibility to oversee all County Departments, a delegation of responsibility which likely violates Article 5, Section 18(b), of the Texas Constitution. That oversight responsibility is actually quite minimal, because, in actuality, Doyal doesn’t do anything. He’s rarely in his office. Almost every afternoon, Doyal is playing golf. Even his “chief of staff,” jim fredricks has a real estate sales business and public relations firm on the side. They’re not busy in their County jobs.

So let’s run the numbers.

County Judge, Department 400, Fiscal Year 2017 Total Budget $647,481

7101 Salary – Department Head $169,689. That’s Doyal salary. He’s one of the two or three highest paid County Judges in Texas. He makes more money than Governor Greg Abbott whose salary is $150,000. There’s no reason Doyal’s salary should exceed Abbott’s. A prudent budgeter would reduce that salary at least to $149,999.

7102 Salary – Other $281,140. Here’s where it really gets nutty. Doyal’s “chief of staff” jim fredricks makes $118,178.27 base salary but he doesn’t really have any function. He’s a political advisor to Doyal. Doyal should eliminate fredricks’ position. Doyal has two secretaries making $112,840.48. Since his Department doesn’t have many actual functions, and he doesn’t even operate the Constitutional County Court, one secretary should be enough, and her salary ought to be commensurate with a government agency secretary’s salary. Additionally, the Salary budget includes a position which Doyal has left vacant even though the taxpayers are taxed $48,660.70 for it. Obviously, that position should go. To meet the goals of Doyal’s tiny Department, $60,000 should be plenty for salaries.

7106 Cell Phone Allowances $960. There just no function or goal of the County Judge that requires a cell phone. His office phone ought to suffice, if he actually works at his office. Zero.

7201,7202, 7203, 7206 Employee benefits $145,811. Since we’re reducing salaries by 53.5%, employee benefits should go down to $67,775. That seems incredibly high for County benefits for two people!

7310 Stationary and Supplies $1,750. An office that uses computers shouldn’t need too much stationary. Doyal’s Department has actually only spent around $750 per year. Even that seems a bit high, especially since we’re reducing Doyal’s currently-bloated Department down to two people. $500.

7418 Professional Development $500. The County Judge should receive training to be up-to-date in applicable law. $500 seems reasonable to achieve that goal.

7423 Mobile Telephone $3,337. With an Emergency Management Department and with the Sheriff’s Office also having a state-of-the-art Emergency Management Division, this money is a waste. Zero.

7425 Travel Expense $3,494. The County Judge should spend his time in Montgomery County. Zero.

7437 Printing $500. The County Judge does have to provide copies of certain documents, such as meeting agendas. $500 seems reasonable for that budget.

7462 Equipment Rental $3,500. If the County Judge needs some equipment, he can walk down the hall to another County Department that regularly uses such equipment. Zero.

Total Zero-Based County Judge Department 400 Budget = $279,274.

Lessons learned:

#1 We’ve just reduced the County Judge Department’s Budget 57% !!!

#2 We didn’t reduce any County services.

#3 We didn’t harm any law enforcement services.

#4 We cut a LOT more than 5% (the Noack-Clark proposal).

#5 Zero-Based Budgeting works…and it’s fun…

 

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