By: Sherrie Shorten
CONROE – On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court will be making a multitude of decisions regarding future liabilities that could burden Montgomery County taxpayers.
In two separate litigation cases, Montgomery County will decide whether to use County Attorney resources and funding.
The first case is an EEOC claim listed on the consent agenda. Without any discussion, the Commissioners Court will vote to approve the consent agenda and defend the county and any accused employees.
The second case will be discussed in Executive Session, as the County Attorney is asking permission to prosecute a claim. Even if Commissioners Court agrees to prosecute the claim, the public motion and vote will not disclose the nature of the claim.
New Employees in Payroll Department
Four employees have been transferred from other county departments to the newly created Payroll Department to work under Phyllis Martin, who was re-assigned from Precinct 4 Commissioners Office as the Payroll Director.
The four payroll employees transferred from the County Auditor’s Department, the Precinct 1 Commissioner’s Office, the Precinct 4 Commissioner’s Office, and only one employee came from the County Treasurer’s Office who previously prepared payroll.
Two of the four employees received substantial raises (over $9 per hour each) to become “payroll” employees before having a chance to prove themselves in their new job function. While increased responsibility deserves an increased rate of pay, the county has a habit of providing employees with the highest justifiable salary possible instead of moving employees to the lower end of the next pay grade.
Due to the number of complaints regarding payroll checks and W-2s prepared in the Treasurer’s Office, it is more important to transfer employees to the payroll department who understand how to properly enter, charge and verify time entries in the system instead of Treasury employees who have been generating direct deposits without oversight.
Since Phyllis Martin was part of the original committee to select the Infor system, she was also involved in mapping the system to the General Ledger accounts. Hopefully, her previous experience will allow the payroll transactions to fully integrate with the general ledger so the County Auditor can restart internal audits of payroll.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making funds available to strengthen supply chains by making improvements to our nation’s ports, airports, rail, and roads. During Commissioners Court, the Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport will present grant opportunities available under the new law to improve the airport.
State of the County ACFR
Montgomery County’s new external auditor, Pattillo, Brown & Hill LLP, has been an improvement to the presentation of the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR). The FY 2021 report contains details pertaining to the financial condition of Montgomery County.
While the county has $54 million in unassigned fund balance to spend at its discretion, if the county were to pay all of its bills and obligations today, it would result in a negative unassigned net position of ($48 million).
The county continues to budget and spend based on expected future growth in property taxes to eventually absorb the negative $48 million floating on its Balance Sheet. In fact, the ACFR states the county’s negative net position is actually $14 million better than last year due to the “growth” in the county. At this rate, it will take another 4 years to absorb the existing negative net position and return to a positive position.
But, what if the growth doesn’t last another 4 years? The economy is already stressed, mortgage rates are starting to increase, and inflation is hitting everyone’s pocketbooks. If the growth slows down, the county taxpayers will be asked to make up the difference.
For FY 2021, the ACFR describes how the county used the CARES Act and ARPA funds to reclassify time and expenses from the existing budget to reduce overall expenditures. “The reclassification of time within most of the departments in the Law Enforcement and Corrections function resulted in a large unspent budget.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, the county did not experience a loss of revenue. In fact, from October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021, the county’s miscellaneous income was $2.7 million higher than originally budgeted. Then, actual expenses ended up $11 million less than budgeted expenses due to expenses funded by CARES Act and ARPA, reductions in court operations due to the pandemic, and other grants.
Therefore, the real reasons the county was able to improve its negative net position are the fact miscellaneous revenues outpaced expectations combined with reclassifying budgeted salaries to grant funds. The improvement cannot be attributed solely to growth and since grant funds reduced budgeted expenses, the improvement cannot be attributed to conservative spending practices either.
Continued Spending Projects
The Court will discuss creating a committee to provide a list of potential ARPA fund expenditures for court approval. The suggested members of the committee are:
- Jeffery Johnson, representing Precinct 1
- Bruce Berger, representing Precinct 2
- Evan Besong, representing Precinct 3
- Jean Mann, representing Precinct 4
- Jason Millsaps, representing the County Judge’s Office
- Gilbert Jalomo from Purchasing
- Amanda Carter from the County Budget Office
- Rakesh Pandey, County Auditor, and
- The County Attorney, serving as a non-voting legal advisor
According to the agenda, the purpose of the committee is to find ways to spend ARPA funds. Most of the people suggested for this committee are the same people who had input into ways to spend CARES Act funds, which resulted in a potential future clawback.
Without a majority of committee members who are independent, the committee will become an exercise in “loophole logic” to satisfy pet projects that further political agendas. The county would be better served by a committee of financial representatives without any current county contracts or banking relationships.
Watch Commissioners Court live at 9:30 am, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, or attend in-person to voice your concerns.
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