More elected officials concerned about Montgomery County budget
CONROE — During the 2022 County Judges Election Cycle, candidate Sara Countryman attempted to explain the current state of Montgomery County’s “poor finances.”
Holder Mark Keough insisted he was being ‘slandered’, calling Countryman’s claims ‘nonsense’ because he passed the tax rate with no new income for three consecutive years. On January 10, 2022, Keough falsely stated that the county had over $700 million in both encumbered and unencumbered funds, so Montgomery County is not “broken.”
Countryman has since revealed his conversations with county treasurer Melanie Bush, in which Bush says Keough “misspoke massively” and that the county doesn’t have $700 million in funds. In fact, Bush explained that Keough misread the county’s balance sheet by adding money from the asset section to the fund balance in the liability section.
According to Bush, the county is not “broke” today, but is using grant money to hire employees that the county cannot afford to keep paying after CARES Act funds run out and of the ARPA.
But Bush is not the first elected official to sound the alarm.
During the budget workshop on July 28, 2021, the Court of Commissioners held a discussion on Constable 1 Philip Cash’s request to add 10 new mental health assistants to expand his highly successful mental health program at the county wide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
With no money in the budget to expand the mental health program, the Court immediately suggested using ARPA funds to pay for MPs’ salaries, equipment and vehicles. However, ARPA funds will not be available to pay their salaries after December 31, 2024.
Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, who is one of the most financially savvy members of the Court, explained his position as follows:
“There will be no money to pay. And here’s the deal. Look, we’re setting the rate for no new revenue this year, so every one of those dollars we’re going to have to catch up at some point between now and 2026. You’re already eating away at any future growth, and that’s if there’s is growth. If there is no growth, we have two choices… lay off 10 people or raise the tax rate. I mean is you don’t use grant funds like this, it’s a big risk. It’s a big risk for all of you.
Compound 1 Commissioner Robert Walker said: “Everything the commissioner has just said is true. It’s a short term thing and we have to cover it.
Keough continued to advocate for the benefits of mental health deputies and indicated that he was willing to take the risk of implementing this program to prevent mental health issues in the county.
The court eventually expanded the mental health program and hired 10 deputies. However, the question remains… Will there be continued growth in Montgomery County through 2026 to make up for the money the court has already forced the county to spend?
So far, four conservative Republican lawmakers are unconvinced that growth will cover today’s spending in the future: Mayor and county judge candidate Sara Countryman, County Treasurer Melanie Bush , Compound 3 Commissioner James Noack and Compound 1 Commissioner Robert Walker.
It is important to note that the two commissioners who were concerned about future risks to Montgomery County, Noack and Walker, are not eligible for re-election during this budget cycle. The other three members of the Court all face opponents.