Budget calendar, courthouse security: 3 takeaways from the Montgomery County Court of Commissioners
Montgomery County commissioners set the fiscal year 2023 budget calendar and allocated American Rescue Plan Act funds for courthouse security. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Journal)
The Montgomery County Commissioners Court held a session on April 26. Commissioners also held a hearing with the Toll Road Authority after the court session, although Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts was not present. Here are three takeaways from the meetings:
Courthouse security issues raised
During a presentation of a budget amendment relating to American Rescue Plan Act funds, Compound 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley discussed the possibility of dedicating some of the funding to improving the safety of the county courthouse.
County budget officer Amanda Carter presented the first article in court. The amendment would have taken $10 million in ARPA funds and distributed $2 million each to the departments of the four county commissioners, as well as $2 million to County Judge Mark Keough.
Riley suggested using funds for County Sheriff Rand Henderson to take over courthouse security, criticizing current staff for “not taking care of business.”
“I’m tired of the courthouse security we have now,” Riley said. “I’m ready to put armed peace officers in the courtroom.”
Courthouse security had previously been listed as items during executive sessions — which are not open to the public — in 2019 and 2021. Henderson, who was present at the meeting, said moving peace officers at the courthouse would put the county “on the right track,” but warned that the move would not be immediate.
“I have made proposals for the last two budgetary sessions…it is the good people who are inconvenienced when they enter [the courthouse], but if we catch a bad guy, it’s worth it,” Henderson told the commissioners. “It will take a little time to hire everyone [needed]. If I know I have a commitment, we can start.
Keough said Community Impact Journal he intended to use funds to continue the transition to the new County Court at Law 6, which was approved in 2021. The court will begin taking cases in late 2023, Community Impact Journal Previously reported.
“The object was, by [county District Clerk] Melisa Miller, we could move her to the Keshan Building and open space for two courtrooms,” Keough said. “If we can’t do it in time, we find land for them to work on until they have space.”
Keough and Henderson also discussed the sheriff’s involvement in the county facilities master plan, with the sheriff and judge challenging each other’s communication about the facilities.
The commissioners approved $8 million divided equally among the four commissioners, with $2 million earmarked for courthouse security. Carter said Community Impact Journal that she would work with the sheriff to develop a courthouse security plan to present at the May 10 court of commissioners meeting.
FY2023 Budget Calendar Approved
Montgomery County’s timeline for its fiscal year 2023 budgeting process was set at the April 22 meeting, with budget workshops scheduled to take place Aug. 2-5, according to Carter.
Carter outlined the process county departments will follow to submit new budget requests for next year. Applications from various departments are due June 15 and a preliminary budget will be distributed to Commissioners by July 22.
Citizens will be able to comment on the draft budget beginning July 26, when a court of commissioners meeting is scheduled, Carter said.
During his presentation, Carter pointed out specific forms of inflation that would affect the county budget. She named energy costs, which were up 24.5% from the previous year; fuel, which increased by 44.8%; and food, which increased by 6.8%, as potential reasons for increased budget requests.
“All of our county vehicles, all of our first responders…we’re seeing astronomical increases in fuel, and we think that’s going to increase our fiscal year 2023 budget,” Carter said.
The county has enacted no-new-income tax rates for the past three fiscal years, Community Impact Journal Previously reported. According to the Texas Comptroller’s Office, the No New Income rates would produce the same tax revenue if applied to the same property for two consecutive years.
Precinct 3 commissioner James Noack has offered to start budget hearings on August 2. Since the county’s monthly tax sale takes place in the commissioners’ hearing room on the same date, the county will send a notice to move the sale to another location so that hearings can take place. The schedule was also approved unanimously.
Toll road administration postpones fare increase to January
In a separate session for the Montgomery County Toll Road Authority, Three Commissioners and Keough voted to move the toll road authority’s rate increase date to Jan. 1, 2023. Rates had previously increased on the first Saturday after Labor Day, according to MCTRA Director of Operations Robert Castañeda. .
According to the bond agreement signed by the MCTRA in 2018, toll rates were originally scheduled to increase annually in March, but concerns over COVID-19 in 2020, when the toll was completed, pushed back the date. Castañeda said the move would bring the toll road authority in line with other toll authorities, which raise their rates in January, such as the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
“[The date change] would give us the 12-month reach of the previous year,” Castañeda said.
Keough questioned the need for rate increases, citing inflation and rising real estate valuations in Montgomery County. He supported the date change, but said it was still necessary to address toll rates in a future session.
“We just heard about increases in inflation and valuations; why can’t we leave the rates unchanged? Keough asked. “We are sure to surpass what we had planned. People are getting killed, and now we’re going to raise the toll on them? »
Per the MCTRA Bond Agreement, toll rate increases are calculated either using the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area, or a minimum increase of 2% . The CPI measures the average change in prices paid over time by consumers. County Attorney BD Griffin described the deal as a “covenant.”
“There’s a calendar in bonds that says rates have to go up for a certain number of years,” Griffin said. “We don’t want a technical default on these bonds.”
The bond agreement also recommends a review of the rate increase policy every five years, but Castañeda said any review is unlikely to change the policy due to the toll road authority’s outperformance against its obligations.