Orange County’s mosquito spray plane could be back in the air this week for the first time since an emergency  crash landing at the county airport ended up grounding the county’s pilot and the plane.

Commissioners Court on Monday agreed to hire a pilot on contract to spray until the county’s pilot is authorized to fly again. The county’s pilot has been grounded pending a Federal Aviation Administration investigation of the crash earlier this summer.

This is the second year the county has used the spray plane. Getting a grant for the used plane, plus budgeting for a pilot-mechanic took almost three years.

The plane is almost ready to go back into the air, said Patrick Beebe, director of the county’s mosquito control program. The plane needed some repairs after the crash and on Monday, the only thing lacking to pass inspection was a seal for the sprayer. He said the seal had been ordered and should be delivered anytime for installation.

In other business, commissioners set two public hearings on the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The first public hearing will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 1 and the second hearing will be 9:30 a.m. Sept. 7.

Commissioners discussed setting the tax rate a fraction of a penny more than what was originally decided last week. County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said the court could lower the rate after announcements on the public hearing, but could not raise the rate. The court had agreed on a rate of 53.5 cents per $100 valuation, but instead went with 53.7 cents per $100 valuation.

The proposed budget is $43 million, up slightly more than $500,000 from the current budget of $42.5 million. Thibodeaux has said the increase is to replace two county buildings destroyed after flooding in Hurricane Ike. The buildings are the adult probation office near the courthouse and the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace office in Bridge City. The justice’s office has been in a trailer at the Orange County Airport on Texas 87 since the storm. The new building will be constructed at the airport.

“We’ve got the budget balanced right now,” Thibodeaux said about the lower tax rate. But, “if anything comes up” in expenses, the budget might not be balanced.

“I don’t want to see us adopt a tax rate without wiggle room,” Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose said.

In the vote for the 53.7 cents rate, three commissioners and Thibodeaux voted in favor of it, while Precinct 2 Commissioner Owen Burton opposed it.

Bobby Fillyaw, director of the Orange County Economic Development Corporation, brought documents for county officials to approve so the county can get a $250,000 grant for a study on a hurricane protection system for the county to prevent future damage like that from Ike.
The grant is from the Texas Water Development Board and the county must provide a matching amount. County officials are in the process of getting federal hurricane recovery money for the county’s share.

Jeff Kelley, emergency planning director, said the money has been approved, but “it’s like getting a cowbell on a rhino.”

The West Orange-Cove school district has closed Anderson Elementary on Park Avenue in Orange and Oates Elementary on Newton Street in West Orange. Those schools have long been voting sites. Commissioners approved changing the sites to West Orange-Stark Middle School on Green Avenue in Orange for the Anderson Box No. 2, and to West Orange-Stark High on Newton Street in West Orange for the Oates Box No. 12.

In addition, the court changed Box No. 9 from the Precinct 1 Maintenance Center, 1000 N. Texas 87, to the Sabine River Authority offices, 1277 North Texas 87.

Elections Administrator Tina Leverette said the river authority offices have more room then the maintenance center.

The next election is the Nov. 2 general election and early voting will begin Monday, Oct. 18. Commissioners Court set the early voting locations for the Orange Public Library, First Baptist Church Mauriceville, Bridge City Public Works Building and the Raymond Gould Community Center in Vidor.