The county’s use of budget amendments was the talk of the Oct. 28 Gonzales County Commissioners Court meeting. The issue came up twice during the meeting, once during public comment and again when the court was presented with three budget amendments for approval.
Budget amendments are alterations to a government entity’s approved budget. Often the alterations are just moving funds from a line item within the budget to another and are done to manage unforeseen expenses. There are two types of budget amendments: emergency amendments and non-emergency amendments. Both are permitted by Texas local government code.
Gonzales resident and member of the Gonzales Taxpayer Association Matthew Smith addressed the court on his concerns with the amount of budget amendments that have been issued in the new fiscal year. To date, four budget amendments have been approved for fiscal year 2019-20 which began on Oct. 1, while 63 have been approved for the previous fiscal year.
“Citizens are developing a little bit of concern about seeing the number of budget amendments that are already coming up the first month into the budget and whether those amendments are in full statutory compliance of the law,” Smith said. “We would like to recommend that you delay action on that until you receive formal legal opinion that actually addresses that before you move forward.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski countered Smith’s request by listing the services the county provides for its residents and comparing the county’s tax rate to other local government entities.
“So, we’re number two on the list (of taxing entities in county) and we take care of all these things. All of these items. Now, and the sad part is about it, most of the people that complain about this, sometimes, don’t have all the answers to the questions,” Brzozowski said. “And the next thing that’s sad, I’ve seen all these people complain about the tax base and complain about that, when you do have to cut your taxes, they’re the first people to call you and say ‘hey, my bridge is weak, my road needs to be mowed, y’all need to blade my road, you need to pave my road, you need to patch my road.’ Well, ladies and gentlemen, that all takes money.”
Brzozowski later added that he had questions as to why the county was being targeted for complaints when, unlike other local entities, it did not go up on taxes this fiscal year.
County attorney Paul Watkins said after the meeting he does not believe the county is acting illegally or unethically with its use of budget amendments, but he does have questions of whether the county is following “proper procedure.” Watkins further clarified his statement by adding he is not an expert on this type of law and that he would have to do more research to be certain one way or the other.
Three budget amendments went before the court at the Oct. 28 meeting. Budget amendment 4 allocated $3,700 for “voter/data programming.” Budget amendment 5 involved salaries, federal insurance contributions and workers compensation for three temporary county employees. The salaries totaled $42,000, the FICA tax fee was $3,213 and $1,300 was allocated to workers compensation. Amendments 4 and 5 are for this current fiscal year, while the other proposal, budget amendment 63, is for the previous year. Budget amendment 63 involves a sheriff’s office grant overtime payment of $62,294.95.
Gonzales County Judge Pat Davis said at the meeting he would not sign these most recent amendments until he could determine if “what we’re doing is right.”
“I don’t think everything that we have that goes before the court is actually an emergency amendment,” Davis said.
County Auditor Becky Weston challenged Davis’ assertion by citing the Texas local government code section that permits counties to make changes in the budget for “county purposes.”
Brzozowski also took issue with the budget amendments being listed on the agenda. He said none of the surrounding area county commissioner courts in the area do that.
“This doesn’t look very professional,” Brzozowski said. “Nobody else that I’ve ran across is doing this.”
Brzozowski proposed they instead print paper copies of the amendments and put them next to the paper copies of the agenda for public inspection. Weston, who writes the amendments, said she would be willing to do whatever the county needs her to do regarding amendments and the agenda.
All but budget amendment 5 were unanimously passed by the present members of the court. Amendment 5 was voided at the request of Weston due to a categorical error. According to Weston, the amendments are still valid—even without Davis’ signature—because they were voted on and passed by a quorum of the commissioners court.