Montgomery County Commissioners Court reverses decision on county auditor funding following district court comments

While this year's budget and tax rate was just set last week, the Montgomery County Commissioner's Court is making funding changes to avoid legal repercussions. The court met this morning for its first regular meeting of the month.

During a special court meeting Sept. 5, commissioners approved the fiscal year 2019 budget with an attachment to reallocate over $234,000 in funding from the county auditor's office to a newly-created budget office, as the budget office would take over some operational duties relating to the creation of the budget.

However. because the county auditor's budget is partially set by local district courts and not by the county, 410th District Court Judge Jennifer Robin—who spoke on behalf of the district court judges during this morning's meeting— said because moving the $234,000 would affect the county auditor's salary portion of the budget, the court acted outside its authority when reallocating the funding.

According to the Texas Association of County Auditors, the county auditor's salary is set by district judges and given to commissioners court in accordance with Local Government Code Chapter 152. This is done to ensure the auditor can remain independent of commissioners court to maintain impartiality in county finances.

Additionally, while the district courts are responsible for setting the salaries in the county auditor's office, they are not held to the same budget deadlines as Montgomery County, which legally must approve a fiscal year budget before Sept. 30 or 60 days after the certified appraisal roll is received, according to the Texas Association of Counties.

Robin said because the district judges had not yet handed down a salary total to include in the budget, it was not known how much of the salary portion was moved to the contingency fund. Simply moving the $234,000 back to the auditor's budget would likely not be enough to cover any increase in salary set by the judges, she said.

As an item to reallocate additional funding for the auditor's budget to cover additional salary expenses was not included in this morning's agenda, commissioners were unable to transfer additional dollars from the contingency fund. However, Robin suggested the commissioners could move the original $234,000 back to the auditor's budget as "an act of good faith," and then amend the budget once the salary is set by the district judges. That motion was approved unanimously by the commissioners court, and the item is expected to return at a future meeting.

Robin said should the commissioners not rectify the budget, they could be left open to a potential lawsuit from the district judges.

Other business from the Sept. 11 meeting:

The court approved the acceptance of a 2016 flood buyout grant from the Texas General Land Office in the amount of $8.9 million. The court is expected to hear from Darren Hess, director for the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, on what the county is expected to do with the money during the next regular commissioners court meeting Sept. 25.

The court approved a grant application to receive federal funding to be used for mosquito abatement in Montgomery County Precinct 3. Justin Faucek, who oversees the mosquito abatement program for Precinct 3, said the funding could help provide six additional spraying units, four backpack foggers for more targeted spraying and 60 mosquito traps.

Elijah Easley,  founder of The Tamina Cemetery Project and Community Development Corporation, was unanimously appointed to the Montgomery County Historical Commission. Read more about Easley's efforts to restore the Tamina Community in South Montgomery County here.   
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.