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What the Fool did Danny Chambers and Dwaine Johnson DO??? Why is Somervell County Rescinding the Budget , Holding a Public Hearing same time, and then RE-APPROVING the final budget?


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Agenda for 4th October 2021

Did they screw it up and not follow the law when they approved the budget AND the HIGHER tax rate on 9/23/2021?   Here was the signed motion made after Judge Chambers and the commissioners voted on it.  

Apparently so. Brian Watts, former auditor for Somervell County, sent Somervell County Judge Danny Chambers an email on September 27, 2021 that basically accuses Danny Chambers and Dwayne Johnson, Somervell County Commissioner for Precinct 2, of hubris and violating the law, as well as hiding a *slush fund* amount of significant dollars from the public and also of behaving unprofessionally. 

Here is the letter 

Letter to Somervell County 09.27.2021.pdf

Some parts, with comments

Quote

 

While most elected officials tend to value the taxpayers only at election time, I am keenly aware that taxpayers are the absolute top of the Somervell County organizational chart and EVERY elected official serves at the pleasure and consent of the governed. The fiduciary trust placed in the commissioners court is no different. As taxpayers, our paramount expectation is that each elected member of the commissioners court will serve honorably, ethically, and fulfill their office with the upmost integrity and propriety. But it seems lately that the court's attention has been spent trying to influence city elections and shutting down small business owners following by having to defend these actions on Facebook instead of taking care of basic county governance. This is truly a regrettable position for anyone, let alone the highest elected official in Somervell County. I find that extremely troubling at best and absolute malfeasance at worst. The result of this hubris is that you and the entire court have put Somervell County in a potential financial crisis of their own creation. Permit me to expound on the basis of my concerns with the following timeline of events.

On July 30, 2021, you filed a proposed 2021-2022 county budget with the county clerk and posted a copy on the county website as required by Local Government Code 111.006. However, your proposed budget was incomplete as it failed to include all the contents as specified by Local Government Code 111.004, notably missing was items listed i9n 111.004(b) items 2 thru 4 which identifies the cash resources on hand. This information is important to the taxpayers because it helps them understand just how much of the taxpayer's money the county is holding and whether some of that should be used to provide relief to them in the form of a lower tax rate. Taxpayers have a right to keep as much of their own money as possible and should be able to see how much of "their money" the county is "hoarding" for future pet projects or for spending at the total discretion of the commissioners court. That money after all does not belong to the county, but rather to the taxpayers! 

I make mention of the proposed budget you filed on July 30th primarily because this is the only tangible notice given to the taxpayers of the tax rate being considered for the coming year. Your budget cover indicates that the taxpayers should be expecting the court to be considering a tax rate to be set at $0.49958600 per $100 of valuation or perhaps even lower. Sadly, that is not the case at all. When the final budget was presented by you for approval on September 23rd, albeit totally unlawfully, the proposed tax rate had jumped to $0.5125 per $100 of valuation which is 2.6% higher than you indicated with no explanation except you plan to grab another $250,000 in addition to $820,768 in contingency meaning your budget has a "slush fund" of $1,145,768  being funded directly by the taxpayers this year allowing the commissioners court to use it for any purpose they see fit with no taxpayer approval necessary. In fact this entire section of the budget amounts to $1,345,768 of unidentified and "in case of" spending. This appears to be the largest such "slush fund" in the history of Somervell County and comes at a time when most citizens are concerned about their own finances. In the same year the City of Glen Rose was able to cut their tax rate by 6%, tell me why the county taxpayers should expect any less diligence and accountability by our elected county leaders?

Why does the missing schedule of cash balances matter? Is it really a big deal? Yes, it is! As of August 31st, the county is sitting on unreserved cash balances of $17,334,580.52 plus $886,579.71 in covid relief funds. At current spending levels, that is over 17 months of expense coverage without the county receiving a single penny of tax or fee revenue. Perhaps this is the reason you choose to not be transparent with the taxpayers regarding the budget and tax rate approval process. I should not have to tell you how important transparency is the tax paying citizens. Elected leaders should not feel like they are elevated to a higher status, but rather they are our civil servants and citizens should expect the highest level of care and accountability especially in the area of public finance. I am so disturbed to find your actions seem the lack the most basic level of care when it comes to following the laws set by the Texas Legislature. The effect is that taxpayers could not see what was happening inside the annex. 

My understanding is that on September 23rd, you convened the commissioners court of Somervell County for a public hearing on the 2021-2022 Proposed Budget and Proposed Tax Rate and upon adjournment of the public hearing, you then convened into a special session to formally approve the fiscal 2021-2022 budget and adopted the related 2021 property tax rate. I submit to you that your acti9ons were not in conformity with the multiple state statutes that you are REQUIRED to follow, nor did they adhere to the truth-in-taxation requirements as promulgated by the Comptroller or Public Accounts for the State of Texas. As such, your actions taken on September 23rd are not valid and the result is that Somervell County does not have a legitimate budget nor an enforceable tax rate and the Appraisal District cannot send out the tax bills based on your unlawful actions. As such Somervell County is precluded from expensing any funds or issuing any purchase orders against the fiscal 2021-2022 budget until it is correctly and lawfully ratified. This includes the payment of payroll to employees or the payment of benefits to be recognized as a fiscal 2021-20222 expense. 

I take no pleasure in exposing your missteps and failures to follow the requirements set forth by the Texas Legislature. When I served this county, I took great care to ensure that this body followed all the applicable laws and regulations even though that was not the responsibility of the County Auditor. Local Government Code 111.002 clearly identifies you as the budget officer for the commissioners court of Somervell County and as such you are totally responsible for all areas of the creation and adoption of the annual budget. I recognize that you have a certain member of the court who does not see any value in following the tedious rules and feels like he should be able to do anything he pleases, unfortunately that is certainly not the case as it relates to taxpayer money and the basic duty you must deliver to the taxpayers of Somervell County. Per the Texas Comptroller, "truth-in-taxation is a concept embodied in the Texas Constitution that requires local taxing units to make taxpayers aware of the tax rate proposals and to afford taxpayers the opportunity to limit tax increases. Property owners have the right to know about increases in their properties' appraised value and to be notified of the estimated taxes that could result from the new value". The overarching foundation for this requirement is complete transparency for the taxpayers and Somervell County. I know you value full and complete transparency as both you and Commissioners Johnson professed the same to the District Judges regarding the need to be open especially in the area of public finance. Sadly, anything less than full transparency is a stain against your leadership and legacy. Now, to protect this county, I feel like I must keep a vigilant watch from the outside and hold my county leaders accountable so that they won't bring peril to Somervell County. The only tool at my disposal is disclosure and my only purpose is to make sure you and the court do your jobs correctly so that taxpayers (including me) can feel confident we are being served lawfully.

I realize you know all of this, but thought I would take a few moments to remind you of the applicable areas where I believe you and the court failed to act appropriately and unlawfully. Local Government Code 111.007(b) REQUIRES a Public Hearing on the proposed budget not later than the 25th day after the day the proposed budget is filed with the County Clerk as called for in 111.006 of the code. However, 111.007(c) REQUIRES "(T)he commissioners court shall give public notice that it will consider the proposed budget on the date of the hearing. The notice must state the date, time, and location of the hearing. The notice must include, in type of a size at least equal to the type used for other items in the notice, any statement required to be included in the proposed budget under Section 111.003(b). The commissioners court shall give notice under this subsection (1) not earlier than the 30th day before the date of the hearing and (2) not later than the 10th day before the date of the hearing". Local Government Code 111.0075 REQUIRES a Special Notice by Publication for Budget Hearing and directs that the "commissioners court shall publish notice before a public hearing relating to a budget in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the county{ and further {Notice published under this section is in addition to notice required by other law. Notice under this section shall be published not earlier than the 30th or later than the 10tdh day before the date of the hearing". My examination of the county's newspaper of record shows no such published hearing notice. I submit your actions on the 23 of September fails to meet these and possibly other requirements and specifications of the Local Government code and, therefore, Somervell County does not have an adopted budget for fiscal year 2021-2022. The Local Government Code 111.012 allows for a penalty for "An officer, employee, or official of a county government who refuses to comply with this subchapter commits an offense. (b) An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a find of not less than $100 or more than $1000, confinement in the county jail for not less than one month  or more than one year, or by both fine and confinement." Therefore, I suggest you should confer with legal counsel to determine how to reverse the unlawful actions undertaken by you and the entire court if this allegation is indeed correct. 

Secondly, in regard to the unlawful tax rate adoption allegedly perpetrated by the Somervell County Commissioners during the Special Session you scheduled on September 23, 2021. Texas Tax Code 26.04(3) states "By August 7 or as soon thereafter as practicable, the designated officer or employee shall submit the rates to the governing body. The designated officer or employee shall post prominently on the home page of the taxing unit's internet website in the form prescribed by the comptroller; (1) the no-new-revenue tax rate, the voter approval tax rate, and an explanation of how they were calculated" and other disclosures if they are applicable. The form prescribed by the comptroller is Form 50-856 which as of the date of this letter has not been published on the Somervell County Home Page nor anywhere else on the site. This extensive form details the numerous elements that are used to accurately calculate the lawful tax rates the county may consider without requiring an election. This form allows the taxpayers to see how changes in property values have affected the tax rates. This helps prevent the court from making disingenuous claims of not raising the tax rate from the prior year when any rate greater than the no-new-revenue rate is a de facto tax increase to the citizens. The importance of this form being provided to the taxpayers cannot be stressed enough. Your decision to withhold this information from the public is tragic and I hope you and the commissioners court will see fit to let the citizens know how their tax rates are being calculated. They have a Constitutional right to know and you have an absolute obligation to provide it. 

The Texas Tax Code $26.06 then sets forth the proper Notice, Hearing, and Voting on a tax rate increase wherein the taxing entity adopts a rate greater than the no-new-revenue tax rate, but less than the voter-approval tax rate. Regarding the tax rate hearing $26.06(a) states "A public hearing required by Section 26.05 may not be held before the fifth day after the date the notice of a public hearing is given". Further 26.06(b) states that "The notice of a public hearing may not be smaller than one-quarter page of a standard size or a tabloid size newspaper and the headline on the notice must be in 24-point or larger type. " The form prescribed by the comptroller for this notice is Form 50-876 which as of the date of this letter has not been published on the Somervell County Home Page nor anywhere else on the site. The rest of 26.06 goes on to include other required disclosures meant to inform the tax paying public of how your actions will affect average homesteads you are taxing. Texas Tax Code 26.18 gives a full list of the tax rate and budget information that is REQUIRED to be on the Somervell County website.

My review of the newspaper of record shows no such published quarter page hearing notice or other notice at all regarding a vote on the tax rate being imposed on the citizens. If you can provide me with the publication date of the alleged missing hearing notices so that I can review my copies of the newspaper, I would be grateful. Absent evidence of such publication(s), I submit your actions on the 23rd of September fail to meet the minimum requirements of the Texas Tax Code and therefore Somervell County did not lawfully set a 2021 tax rate and is hereby prohibited from ordering taxes collected from its citizens until such deficiencies are corrected and the commissioners court proceeds with propriety and strict adherence with state law . 26.05(g) provides the following relief "A person who owns taxable property is entitled to an injunction prohibiting the taxing unit in which the property it taxable from adopting a tax rate if the assessor or designated officer or employee of the taxing unit, the chief appraiser of the applicable appraisal district, or the taxing unit, as applicable, has not complied with the computation, publication, or posting requirements of this section or Section 26.16. 26.17, or 26.18". Accordingly, I intend to file for such injunctive relief to enjoin Somervell County from collecting 2021 property taxes until it is able to convince the District Court it has complied fully with the law. 

A reasonable person can be forgiven for assuming this pattern of non-disclosure and not informing the citizens of hearings was somehow an intentional act(s) meant to keep the information from the taxpayers. Before you try and claim "good faith" in your attempt to comply with the statutes, I feel obligated to remind you these requirements are not new. While Senate Bill 2(2019)  modified some of the terms and actually reduced the posting requirements, most taxing entities have been following these basic promulgated steps for years. How could you fail to see all the other taxing entities in Somervell County posting their notices and somehow think those rules didn't apply to you?

Perhaps you might reach out to Michael Leamons at the City of Glen Rose who might be able to help you better understand the process and guide you in the areas you do not fully grasp, especially considering you are now seeking approval from the taxpayers to begin collecting a new sales tax. Mr Leamons's experience might be extremely helpful in that area as well. The Comptroller has very strict rules concerning the administration of sales taxes. I am beginning to have reservations if the commissioners court is up to the task it is asking the voters to convey upon it. 

In closing, I know by bringing this to your attention you will try and paint me as the enemy. I have sat with you and Dwayne too many times after a citizen complained or even challenged you about an issue only to have you ridicule them, call them profane names, and consider them your enemy after they left your office. I am almost certain you will respond to my letter in the same unprofessional manner. I have struggled for several days wondering if the risk was worth the potential personal and malicious attacks that you and Dwayne usually engage in when confronted about wrongdoing. After much contemplation I have decided that exposing these issues for all the taxpayers of Somervell County is worth any attacks you might launch against me. I trust that you will review the alleged matters raised in this letter and will professionally and expeditiously take steps to correct any deficiencies discovered. I stand ready to discuss the matters raised an/or ways we can agree to resolve them in a professional and timely manner. 

 

Quote

 

Brian Watts

Somervell County Taxpayer

 

Some comments by me. 

First, this is the tax rate posted on Sep 17 as referenced above by Brian. The minutes include the documents and also votes from the commissioners.  The question is why the tax rate is going up to this extent, when there appears to be plenty of money to handle basic county business.Is the reason to cover the over 1 million dollar slush fund? 

 

 taxrate917.thumb.jpg.c3ff0e0f89fa6712cc98f416b3ad8027.jpg

slushfund.png.316f35eefc07834f70b8f6737818f5a9.pngSecond, beyond the sheer incompetence shown by Chambers (and the implication that hiding these amounts may be on purpose), which is allowing govt employees NOT to be paid because the budget is illegal, there is the matter of the *slush fund*. Why in the world IS that large amount of money unaccounted for, over 1 million dollars? Not only is that illegal, but is Somervell County planning to pay for something they don't want citizens to know about? Something, for example, on behalf of a private business???? Anytime money is spent from the budget it is going from one account to another, with receipts and payment  stubs, and with citizen knowledge that the items have been voted on and approved by the commissioners (thus also holding them accountable for their votes). The items on the Bill Payments section needs to be specific and of course can be looked at by anyone that does an open records request. From a practical standpoint, I would guess that when the commissioners vote and where Danny Chambers, who is responsible for showing the payments on the overhead or the handout for the meeting, does not do so, citizens have no clue what their taxes just paid for AT THE MEETING. Are there actions that are being taken outside of the meetings that involve promises, possible payments to others, etc and the plan is to take the money from the slush fund? Who knows, but this needs to be brought up and strongly in order to put that money in an account that is recognizable by the public and HAS A DEFINED PURPOSE. I actually thought the contingency fund was for that. I've been to meetings before where a given department needed an item, he or she made their pitch before the PUBLIC commissioners court meeting and then the commissioners voted, at which time the money came from contingency. Certainly that happened with the amounts Somervell County had to pay to my husband over the lawsuit lost by the State of Texas (as represented by Andy Lucas) and Darrell Best; the money was paid from the contingency fund. But why should some amorphous amount of money without a stated purpose just be hanging out there WHILE RAISING TAXES on people? A corrupt explanation would say that the commissioners are considering doing something illegal with taxpayer money for the benefit of others and are not wanting people to know what that is.

Third, and this is a personal gripe, Brian calls out the behavior and actions of Dwaine Johnson, who is MY county commissioner. In one section, he talks about Danny and Dwaine trashing citizens *in profane language* after Somervell County citizens bring what they believe to be valid complaints and suggestions up to them. Disgusting. Brian further intimates that Dwaine is avoiding following the rules and laws that he, as a commissioner, should be AS A PUBLIC SERVANT. I suppose Danny might just be waiting to get his retirement pension, coasting till then, and then someone corrupt will run for office to take his place, who knows? But I do know that HE is the one responsible and clearly if he acts this way in private and shows such contempt for Somervell County citizens, he should never be looked up to again. 

 

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