County Judge Carl Thibodeaux asked department heads to find ways conserve fuel use, though he emphasized that sheriff’s patrols would not be affected.

He asked the departments that use the most gasoline and other petroleum fuels to work on ways to cut back. Those departments include the sheriff’s office, road and bridge, transportation, and parks.

“I think it’s a challenge for every department head to come up with a plan,” he said.
Thibodeaux said conservation may mean fewer trips in the by the transportation department, which operates a bus system that serves senior citizens and the handicapped. Also, the road and bridge department might have to do less work on county roads, and on roadwork in cities conducted through inter-local agreements.
“I think we need to do something and we need to do it soon,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton.

Thibodeaux said the oil companies are getting richer and “the working man” is getting poorer because of the oil, and gasoline, prices.

“It’s not fair, but we have to live with that,” he said.

The Transportation Department, which operates the small buses, is going to ask for an additional $50,000 for the 2007-08 budget, which is only 6 1⁄2 months old.

Oil prices and gasoline prices have risen steadily, with a few decreases, during the past three years. In more recent months, the price of gasoline has been jumping up every week. Monday afternoon, gasoline prices in Orange were at $3.41.9 a gallon, up a six cents from the weekend.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Owen Burton pointed out that the increase in fuel costs is also making the costs of trash pick-up more expensive. Though the county doesn’t operate a landfill or garbage trucks, the county pays a service to empty dumpsters at county buildings.

In other business, Commissioners Court agreed to let Tax Assessor-Collector Lynda Gunstream close her office at 4:45 p.m. on weekdays. She said people come into the office right before 5 p.m. to do business, the closing time for years. With the late business, the county has to pay employees overtime to finish the transaction and count cash drawers to close the office. Gunstream said she checked with some other counties and tax assessor-collector offices across the state close at 4:30 p.m. or 4:45 p.m. to let the office finish business before 5 p.m.

Also, commissioners agreed with Gunstream’s proposal to let hotel and motel owners have a 1 percent reimbursement fee if they get the new county occupancy tax in to the county on time at the first of every month. The state allows the discount, which will cost the county about $150 a month in revenues, she estimated. The county began collecting the hotel-motel occupancy tax in November. For the first four months, the county collected $64,451.

The court authorized Sheriff Mike White to proceed with the Buffer Zone Protection Program to install security cameras on FM 1006, also known as “Chemical Row” because of the petrochemical plants. The county has a $182,852 federal Homeland Security grant for the camera program.

Assistant County Attorney Doug Manning presented commissioners with a draft of new rules and regulations for licensing junkyards and salvage yards.

He said he patterned the new set of rules after the Texas Department of Transportation regulations for the salvage yards.

Thibodeaux said he will set a commissioners workshop, probably on Monday, April 28, to discuss the proposed regulations.