Editor's note: This story was clarified Aug. 27 to note that public hearings for budgets are required annually.

Montgomery County’s finalized 2022-23 budget will prioritize funding law enforcement, including additional positions for the sheriff’s office and several county constables' offices. The $397 million budget was approved unanimously by commissioners at an Aug. 26 special session and will run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2023.

County Judge Mark Keough—who had been absent for several workshops due to illness but viewed the proceedings virtually—told Community Impact Newspaper the budget focused on law enforcement, especially on the county’s shared border with Harris County.

“I think we came to some conclusions [in the budget process],” Keough said. “My emphasis is on law enforcement, and [the Woodlands Township contract]—which we had figured into the budget—is a huge expense, and that was part of it.”

The county budget will be funded by a property tax rate of $0.3742 per $100 valuation. This rate is a decrease from the preliminary rate approved Aug. 9, which was $0.3764. County Budget Officer Amanda Carter said the change was approved unanimously Aug. 26.

The 2022-23 rate is a $0.03 decrease from the previous year’s rate, according to data from the county tax office. Keough described the decrease as “the largest ever.”

Although a public hearing on the budget is required annually, the county was required by law to call a hearing on the tax rate specifically after the proposed rate exceeded the no-new-revenue tax rate, which would produce the same amount of property tax revenue if applied to the same properties taxed in both years. According to county Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae, the 2022-23 no-new-revenue rate was $0.3312.

County officials previously cited a 5% increase in cost of living as one factor leading to the calculated rate. Other factors included a renegotiation in the county’s interlocal agreement for law enforcement services for The Woodlands Township, which a spokesperson for Sheriff Rand Henderson said had no update as of Aug. 26.

Inside the budget

According to the Aug. 19 budget document, 43.8% of the budget's general fund will be aimed at law enforcement. While the total of $174.1 million is an increase from the previous year’s total of $170.9 million, law enforcement makes up a smaller percentage of the general fund in the new fiscal year. The totals do include a decrease in the budget for the Joe Corley detention facility—referred to as "jail pass thru"—which is projected for $12 million in expenditures for 2022-2023 compared to $24 million in 2021-2022.

Comparisons to the 2021-22 salary schedule show some county constables' offices received additional budgeted positions, such as Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, who received a new fleet technician to service the constable’s equipment. Carter said a complete 2022-23 salary schedule would be released at a September Commissioners Court meeting.

Every constable's office presented additional requests during the workshop sessions, but commissioners opted to defer those requests until the following year.

During the Aug. 26 session, several speakers in the public comments section raised questions about salaries for county commissioner employees, pointing to raises for chief of staff positions, such as in the Precinct 3 commissioner budget, where the chief of staff’s 2021-22 total salary of $131,250 was increased to $152,250.

Other speakers asked questions about the budget for the Precinct 4 commissioner, as incumbent James Metts is set to depart at the end of his term in December following his March 1 primary loss to Matt Gray.

Responding to the comments, Keough and Carter said commissioners have the authority to allocate salaries and raises within their budgets, which are allocated from the $42 million road and bridge fund instead of the $271 million general fund.

Carter said the incoming Precinct 4 commissioner would be able to move salary funds as necessary citing a standing resolution, but would need to notice an item in Commissioners Court to move their operating budget into salaries for raises or new positions.

“[The commissioner] has to have an item to move operations to salary, but if it’s a current position, it can be done any time,” Carter said.

Two new departments will receive budgets of over $500,000 each. The payroll department, which was created March 8 following the removal of County Treasurer Melanie Bush’s duties, has a budget of $597,743 and five employees.

Responding to a public comment during the Aug. 26 session, Carter said the cost of the payroll department “did not even out” with positions set to be removed from the treasurer’s department.

During the Aug. 3 budget workshop, Bush was set to lose all but three employees from her department. However, she presented figures to commissioners showing the treasurer’s department would not be able to function, and commissioners opted to roll back the planned cuts in the final budget. Her department budget was reduced from $848,077 to $611,665.

The other new department is the County Court at Law 6, which received $693,805 and five employees. Judge Scharlene Valdez was sworn in Aug. 15, although she will only be able to hear the full scope of her cases beginning Sept. 1, Valdez told Community Impact Newspaper.