Montgomery County commissioners decided not to immediately approve position requests for almost all of the five precinct constables at the second and final day of county budget workshops Aug. 3. The positions would be for fiscal year 2022-23, which begins Oct. 1.
With County Judge Mark Keough absent from the second day of workshops due to undisclosed reasons, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley delivered the court’s decision.
“This isn’t easy; it’s not pleasant, not fun,” Riley said. “Right now, we just [have] to figure out where we're at, and that may take a little longer than what we wanted it to. We will entertain something sometime this budget year”
Precinct 1 Constable Philip Cash, whose unit covers north Montgomery County including Willis, presented at the Aug. 2 workshops and received one marine deputy to aid patrols on Lake Conroe. The other four constables presented Aug. 3., requesting a total of 18 additions, with deputies costing roughly $175,000 each, according to county budget officer Amanda Carter.
According to the county’s preliminary budget, which commissioners gave final approval to Aug. 2, the combined salaries and overtime for all constable precincts except Precinct 2 exceed $2 million before insurance and worker's compensation.
Precinct 2 Constable Gene DeForest and Capt. Gregory Thomason, who covers the city of Conroe, and Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth Hayden, who covers east Montgomery County both expressed appreciation for the commissioners’ grant of additional overtime from the fund balance in FY 2021-22, saying the overtime had helped them continue investigations into shell companies and increase enforcement of traffic and DWI.
"The overtime initiatives we've been using, we travel around the county; local police and [state Department of Public Safety units] join in; it's a big crime-suppression unit," Jones said.
Thomason requested a civil deputy to help oversee new subdivisions in his coverage area as well as a new mapping unit. However, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said he “was not prepared” to grant requests, having not heard updates from the constable on the animal cruelty unit approved at last year’s budget workshops.
Meanwhile, Hayden, who reported his unit making the second-most arrests in the 2021-22 fiscal year behind Sheriff Rand Henderson, requested six deputies with vehicles to compensate for figures he presented showing a 50% increase in arrests in the precinct. Hayden also requested pay increases for his office administration personnel to ensure they were on the same level as other constable staff.
Hayden noted competition with local police departments for positions. At the Aug. 2 workshop, Henderson had also pointed out that even with the county’s approved 5% raise for all employees, sheriff’s office deputies made approximately the same as a constable in Conroe’s police department.
Precinct 3 Constable Ryan Gable, whose unit covers The Woodlands and south Montgomery County, was not present, but deputies presenting on his behalf requested $1.12 million in funding for four new positions.
Precinct 5 Constable Chris Jones, whose unit covers west Montgomery County, requested one civil sergeant to oversee other civilian positions in the precinct as well as five patrol deputies.
Carter confirmed that part of the county’s anticipated contingency fund will be prepared for constables to open positions later in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Tax rate date set, positions granted
Commissioners also approved Aug. 9 as the date to set a new property tax rate for Montgomery County. A possible rate has not yet been determined, as the county has yet to receive certified property appraisals, with Montgomery Central Appraisal District having missed the July 25 statutory deadline.
For the past three years, Montgomery County has set an effective or no-new-revenue tax rate, which would generate the same amount of revenue as the previous year if the same property is taxed in both years. The current property tax rate is $0.4083 per $100 assessment.
MCAD Chief Appraiser Tony Belinoski said lack of staffing and a surge in appraisal protests contributed to the delayed roll but expected values to be certified by Aug. 5. Carter said she would file a budget draft with the amendments made during workshops.
Elections Administrator Suzie Harvey received an additional system administrator for the county’s election systems after she noted the current job was too much for the current single administrator to handle alone.
County Treasurer Melanie Bush, who had her payroll-related duties removed in February, was initially proposed to lose all but two of her staff, leaving her with three employees including herself. Following her Aug. 3 presentation, commissioners granted Bush four staff in addition to herself to complete the nonpayroll duties of the treasurer’s office, such as managing county investments and banking.
The county tax rate will be voted on at the Aug. 9 regular Commissioners Court session, according to Noack. The agenda for the meeting will be released Aug. 5.