Orange County commissioners, in their ongoing series of budget talks, say they could save $600,000 if 10 percent is cut from the operating expenses of county departments.

The 2009-10 budget is $2 million in the red because of revenues lost after Hurricane Ike.

“I’m not saying the court’s going to vote for it – but it is an option we have available for us to look at,” County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said in special court session this week.

The plan comes at the suggestion of Precinct 2 Commissioner Owen Burton, but Thibodeaux said he doesn’t believe an across-the-board cut is feasible.

“I don’t feel comfortable with it,” Thibodeaux said. “We could get hit next year with the departments coming back to recover what dropped this year.”

Salaries would not be affected by the cuts proposal.

Thibodeaux said county residents could face a 10-percent tax rate increase from pre-Ike to post-Ike conditions, with more than 6 percent of the increase caused by Ike’s losses.

“It was not due to anything the county has done or to any expenditures the county has done,” he said. “The houses that were damaged are having to cover the bulk of the load of houses that were not damaged. That’s the unfortunate thing about a disaster.

“Next year, there is no doubt in our minds the tax rate will go down, unless something catastrophic happens.”

The 2008-09 effective tax rate was .54383 per $100 valuation.

Budget workshops, both open to the public, are scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Friday in the county administration building. Meetings are subject to last-minute cancelation.
In other county business:

• Bosco Co. won a bid to contract for on-site sewage upgrades in the Adams and Cow bayou watersheds. The county has about $300,000 to spend under a 319 Grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. Property owners must meet eligibility requirements and pay 40 percent of the cost. For more information, call the county health code office at 745-1463.

• Commissioners approved a line-item transfer of $350 to purchase binders for the Texas Master Naturalist Sabine Neches Chapter. County Extension Agent Roy Stanford’s office is partnering with the Texas Agrilife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to start the group. The volunteer organization places emphasis on the environment and natural resources.

• Commissioners accepted the exit inventory of retiring purchasing agent Janell Duchamp.

• Approved county civil process fees set in 2008 to begin on Jan. 1, 2010. Fees were approved last year, however, never recorded because of an Ike-related snafu, Thibodeaux said.