CONROE — On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, the Montgomery County Court of Commissioners will issue a slew of rulings regarding future liabilities that may fall on Montgomery County ratepayers.
In two separate lawsuits, Montgomery County will decide whether to use county attorney resources and funding.
The first case is an EEOC claim on the consent agenda. Without any discussion, the Court of Commissioners will vote to approve the Consent Agenda and defend the County and all accused employees.
The second case will be discussed in executive session, as the county attorney seeks permission to pursue a claim. Even if the Court of Commissioners agrees to pursue the claim, the public motion and vote will not reveal the nature of the claim.
New employees in the payroll department
Four employees were transferred from other county departments to the new Payroll Department to work under Phyllis Martin, who was reassigned from the Precinct 4 Commissioners Office as Payroll Manager.
The four payroll employees transferred from the County Auditor’s Department, District Commissioner’s Office 1, District Commissioner’s Office 4, and only one employee moved from the County Treasurer’s Office who previously prepared payroll.
Two of the four employees received substantial raises (over $9 an hour each) to become “paid” employees before they had a chance to prove themselves in their new role. Although increased responsibility merits a higher rate of pay, the county has a practice of providing employees with the highest justifiable wage possible instead of moving employees to the lower end of the next pay grade.
Due to the number of complaints about paychecks and W-2s being prepared in the Treasurer’s Office, it is more important to transfer employees to the payroll department who understand how to properly enter, bill, and verify time entries in the system rather than the treasury employees who generated unattended direct deposits.
Since Phyllis Martin was part of the initial committee to select the Infor system, she was also involved in mapping the system to general ledger accounts. Hopefully his previous experience will allow payroll transactions to fully integrate with the general ledger so the county auditor can restart internal payroll audits.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Act makes funds available to strengthen supply chains by making improvements to our country’s ports, airports, railways and roads. During the Court of Commissioners, Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport will present the grant opportunities available under the new law to improve the airport.
ACFR County State
Montgomery County’s new external auditor, Pattillo, Brown & Hill LLP, has improved the presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (ACFR). The 2021 fiscal year report contains relevant details about Montgomery County’s financial situation.
While the county has $54 million in unrestricted fund balance to spend at its discretion, if the county were to pay all of its bills and obligations today, it would result in an unrestricted negative net position of ($48 million ).
The county continues to budget and spend based on projected future property tax growth to eventually absorb the negative $48 million floating on its balance sheet. In fact, ACFR says the county’s negative net position is actually $14 million higher than last year due to county “growth”. 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 strained, mortgage rates are starting to rise and inflation is hitting everyone’s wallet. If growth slows, county ratepayers will be asked to make up the difference.
For fiscal year 2021, ACFR describes how the county used CARES Act and ARPA funds to reclassify time and expenses from the existing budget to reduce overall expenses. “The reclassification of time within most law enforcement and corrections departments has resulted in a significant unspent budget.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, the county has not experienced a loss of revenue. In fact, from October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021, the county’s miscellaneous revenue was $2.7 million over the original budget. Second, actual expenditures were $11 million lower than budgeted expenditures due to CARES Act and ARPA funded expenditures, reductions in court operations due to the pandemic, and other subsidies.
Therefore, the real reasons the county was able to improve its negative net position is because miscellaneous revenue exceeded expectations, combined with the reclassification of budgeted salaries to subsidize funds. The improvement cannot be attributed solely to growth, and since grant funds have reduced budgeted expenditures, the improvement also cannot be attributed to conservative spending practices.
Ongoing Spending Projects
The court will discuss establishing a committee to provide a list of potential ARPA fund expenditures for court approval. Suggested committee members are:
- Jeffery Johnson, representing Precinct 1
- Bruce Berger, representing Precinct 2
- Evan Besong, representing Precinct 3
- Jean Mann, representing enclosure 4
- Jason Millsaps, representing the county judge’s office
- Gilbert Jalomo of Purchasing
- Amanda Carter of the County Budget Office
- County Auditor Rakesh Pandey and
- The county attorney acting as non-voting legal counsel
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 helped shape how CARES Act funds were spent, resulting in potential future clawbacks.
Without a majority of committee members who are independent, the committee will become an exercise in “loophole logic” to accommodate pet projects that advance political agendas. The county would be best served by a committee of financial representatives without any current county contracts or banking relationships.
Watch the Court of Commissioners live at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, March 29, 2022 or attend in person to voice your concerns.