Orange County is moving on its own for a hurricane protection system, but continues to work with five other counties for a possible regional system.

County Emergency Management Director Jeff Kelley told Commissioners Court Monday that he has gotten approval to use federal money from Hurricane Ike recovery grants to use as a match to another grant for a study of a protection system. The Orange County Economic Development Corporation has received a $250,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board to begin a study for the system.

That grant requires matching money and now the county will have the money.

The hurricane protection system is a countywide effort being supported by cities and the county. The economic development corporation under director Bobby Fillyaw is taking the lead in the project. Officials have said the project could take years, if not decades.

These first grants will be used for a preliminary study across the county to see how the county could be protected against another hurricane surge like the one from Hurricane Ike in 2008. That storm flooded the southern part of the county through Orange, West Orange,  Pinehurst, Bridge City and Rose City.

Though people have talked about a levee system, County Judge Carl Thibodeaux has said in the past a protection system could involve different methods of stopping water including possible levees and lock systems.

Thibodeaux told commissioners he will be going to Galveston Sept. 7 to attend another meeting with representatives of six counties as they discuss a regional protection system.

Though Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose called the project “the Ike Dike,”

Thibodeaux said he doesn’t like that term.

Thibodeaux said he will be absent from the Sept. 7 public hearing on the county’s 2010-11 budget and tax rate because of attending the Galveston meeting.

In other business, commissioners agreed to increase the income guidelines for being able to receive county-paid indigent health care. Thibodeaux said state law requires the county to spend a certain amount each year on indigent care.

Under the new guidelines, a person or family can qualify with an income of 49 percent of the federal poverty income level. Previously, the income was set at 21 percent of federal poverty income level.

Jennifer Blankenship, director of Orange County Social Services, said the new income level for an individual will go up to $442 a month from $190 a month. Under the new rate, a person who works 24 1/2 hours a week at minimum wage would be able to qualify, she said. The previous rate held a person at minimum wage to 12 1/2 hours of work a week.

Based on the people who applied for indigent health care in the past year, the new guidelines would serve 21 more people, she said.

“We’re encouraging people to work rather than stay home,” Commissioner John Dubose said.

Commissioners took a majority of time in the meeting discussing whether or not to give physicians  Dr. Victoria Gordon and  Dr. Calvin Parker, who have a medical practice together, an increase in their monthly rate for seeing inmates in the county jail.

They asked for their county payments to go up from $3,500 a month to $5,000 a month.

Thibodeaux said the two have had a contract to provide medical care to inmates for 11 years and have not had an increase. The county also pays for the doctors’ medical malpractice insurance for working in the jail.

Sheriff Keith Merritt said one of the doctors comes to the jail once a week and sees up to 10 to 12 inmate patients each week. If the county didn’t have the physicians, the sheriff’s office would have to take inmates with medical problems to the hospital emergency room and the county would have to pay the expense. In addition, the county would have to pay for deputies to accompany each inmate to the hospital.

Assistant County Attorney Doug Manning said having regular physicians in the jail also keeps down the county’s liability for lawsuits.

Commissioner John Dubose, however, said he thought the extra $1,500 a month was too much and suggested the rate go up $1,000, to $4,500 a month.

Thibodeaux decided to table the request and talk to the doctors about the contract.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton of Vidor said salvage yard owner Steve Judy was found guilty in the justice of the peace court last week of violating the county’s regulations on junkyards. He said Judy has apparently closed the junkyard.

Commissioners Court will not meet on the regular Monday this coming week because of Labor Day. The next meeting will be on Tuesday.