Too little, too late?

Precinct Three Commissioner John Roth

Commissioner Roth says slow go on county budget –

The Weatherford Democrat, Judy Sheridan, Tue Aug 30, 2011

WEATHERFORD — Judge Mark Riley’s fiscal year 2011-12 proposed county budget was filed in the clerk’s office July 29, three days ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline, according to County Spokesman Joel Kertok. It was posted online Aug. 2.

But interpreting that budget for county commissioners and discussing it in a public forum are long overdue, according to Precinct 3 Commissioner John Roth.

“We have one month before we have to approve our tax rate,” he told the Democrat. “We have new guys who have no experience. This limits our ability to be flexible and make changes.”

According to the law, the budget must be approved by Sept. 30.

So far, commissioners have not been included in the budget process at all, Roth said, and the process seems to be moving ahead more slowly than those in other counties.

Several years ago, commissioners worked on the budget as a group, he said, but the process has evolved to where the judge is now the only one meeting with department heads and elected officials.

“We’re not aware of any special needs they might have,” Roth said. “It’s a whole lot easier to plan when you have more time to plan.”

Court efforts to retrieve written information from county departments and officials — in order to make informed choices at budget time — have been only partly successful, Roth said.

In March, the court approved a quarterly questionnaire, requiring department heads and requesting all general fund elected officials to file reports on revenues, expenditures and staffing needs.

“The first quarter report was presented in the middle of April, but the second one was overlooked,” he said.

In a county meeting June 14, Roth asked Riley to set a calendar for budget discussions and proposed the court meet every other Monday during July and August, piggybacking budget discussions on other meetings.

But as of Monday morning, Roth said, commissioners had received no schedule and still had no information about the new budget other than what had been posted online.

Same schedule

County Judge Mark Riley

In the judge’s mind, the budget process is status quo and Roth is trying to “create an issue.”

“I find it interesting that he would talk to a reporter and not to me,” Riley said.

“[The schedule] is not any different from any other year,” he said. “The bulk of our meetings will be in September. We’ll get them set around the first of September, but the court will set some of them.”

Riley said he knew some of the commissioners would be gone in August, and so avoided scheduling budget sessions.

Another reason to wait is the county has yet to receive information about health insurance costs, a significant expense.

“Then we’ll have everything tied down,” he said.

Budget basics

The county’s low fund balance will be a topic in this year’s budget discussions, Riley said.

Financial advisers have recommended the court triple the county’s low fund balance to $4 million, either by raising the tax rate, employing more conservative budgeting practices or redirecting funds from individual precinct fund balances, the road and bridge fund or the debt service fund.

How to boost that balance — which everyone agrees should increase, he said — will be up to the court.

“I am going to suggest some ideas, but I will keep those for public discussion,” Riley said.

Riley said he did not expect to see commissioners increase the tax rate 1.3 cents each year for two years, as suggested by First Southwest Company.

And, in his opinion, he said more conservative budgeting could not be done. Departments were “cut to the bare bones last year,” he said. This year, none have asked for additional employees “at this point.”

A cover letter posted online for the FY 2011-12 budget states the tax rate for the proposed budget is the “effective tax rate,” the rate that will generate the same amount of revenue for the county as last year on property of comparable value as set by the appraisal district.

The letter states the new budget will raise $1.3 million more property taxes than last year, with $348,000 of them coming from new properties added to the tax roll.

Staying within the effective tax rate means only one public hearing on the budget will be required, Roth said, though special budget agendas will be posted in the coming weeks, according to Kertok.

The number of agendas, Riley said, will be determined by the court.

“It could be a few or multiple,” he said. “Historically it’s four or five.”

Engaging commissioners

Precinct Four Commissioner Dusty Renfro

Precinct 4 Commissioner Dusty Renfro, new this year, said it “would be nice to involve the court in the process early on.”

“It’s really different from the private sector, where you have monthly and quarterly meetings and are always abreast of it,” he said. “It couldn’t hurt to have quarterly budget meetings.”

”This is the first time I’ve ever had to vote on it, and I want to understand it,” he said.

Roth, who has served on the court for multiple terms, said he understands the process fully, but wants the judge to explain it to the court in enough time for commissioners to make informed decisions.

“I think the general public would agree — [and say] why haven’t you talked about this in May or June,” he said.

“It’s building up anxiety in the workforce and causing taxpayers to question whether we know what we’re doing.”

10 responses

  1. Commissioner Roth,
    Thanks for communicating, I will never understand why you would be chastised for doing your job and wanting everybody else to do the same thing. First, department heads work for you the Commissioners and the Judge, and for the people of this county. I have always found out that all managers have to do is give orders and they should be obeyed, or someone should be managed until they comply or they are fired. Providing reports to the Commissioners and the Judge on a timely basis shouldn’t even be up for debate.
    The people of this county demand accountability and open debate concerning all budget matters and pity the foolish politician that doen’t listen to this advise, especially in Parker County. We are a conservative county and we will not settle for anything less from our elected officials. Transparency rules, and is expected, now! Commissioner Renfro you are not my Commissioner per say, but welcome and I like your idea that this Budget needs to be discussed each quarter, with expected reports from all Department Heads showing progress on their budget plans for the next budget year each quarter. Sure Judge Riley, fine tuning is good in the last 30 days, but that should be small corrective adjustments in the last 30 days, not starting from scratch. This is not a one man organization, it is supposed to be a team working together for the benefit of the people of this county.

    1. Well, while this all good and said, my question is, if this has been the way the commission has been run and things seem to be working rather well, why did this year all of the suddden you all seem to have a problem??
      Another question, why are you contradicting yourself on the transparency issue? Judge Riley has posted the budget for all the world to see on line. Where is Commissioner Roth’s and Renfor’s budget on-line? If they are soooo concerned why don’t they post the issues they have on-line in question form on their “websites”? I have never seen anything aside from the bellyaching John Roth does posted. Where are their quarterly budgets and progress posted for “all to see, since Transparency Rules”? Yes, while its always good to whine and complain, it takes awhile for new ideas to be implemented.
      Judge Riley has been and CONTINUES TO DO a wonderful job and we are lucky to have him!

      1. Dear ‘a Texan’,

        You seem to be doing a lot of whining and complaining about other people whining and complaining. My suggestion is – don’t keep doing it in secrecy just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’.
        Why not try quarterly reviews and transparency with the ENTIRE budget the way Roth has sought for years. The new guy, Renfro, is not part of the same old problem; he is part of the solution! He speaks from real world experience.

        Not much changed when the County purged commissioners court of Dobbs, Plugge and Horton, but kept Riley, the leader of the pack! Little will change until we finish the job.

  2. A little birdie said that James Hamilton was going to make a run for County Commissioner Precinct 3. That same birdie said he has been knocking at Zan’s door for support.

    1. Well, that would certainly be a refreshing change of pace to have a new face in the crowd! I am sure Judge Riley would welcome the change of pace from the usual crowd of whiners and grippers that I am sure he must contend with. Maybe then certain folks who never have a say so, will have their voices heard, and a new commissioner will listen without the distraction of bankers and real estate agents who must be consulted prior to making a decision.

      1. Taxed Enough Already

        I don’t think James Hamilton is the “refreshing change of pace new face in the crowd” we need. Have you checked his voting record when he was on the Weatherford City Council? Sheeesh!

  3. It will be very important the next couple of weeks to really understand the difference between the tax rate and the effective tax rate. one is not the other, effective tax rate is the tax that needs to be collected to at least keep the $ amount the same as last time. The appraisal district gets involved with this and you can’t find the guy who actually runs that, I have tried. Also, the money on account , or minimum balance for ? (emergencies I think) is going to be increased this year due to the drain in prior years, If I understand correctly. I am not a fan of having so many unelected officials involved with our county, think, Tax appraisal district, State and US EPA. This is the way I understand it, correct me if I out of bounds!

    Just to add another thought, Who would have ever thought that there could be as many buzzards in one county?

  4. Senator Blutarsky

    John Roth has been a consistent voice for open responsible government in Parker County since he was first elected, and I am glad he is my commisioner. I also welcome Dusty Renfro to offer a contrarian position to the “business as usual” insider courthouse politics which have been an affliction to Parker County far too long

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  6. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown- William Shakespeare

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