It was announced at Orange County Commissioners Court that public hearings are set for Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. and Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. to discuss the proposed tax rate and new budget.  The proposed tax rate is the same as last year- 0.52990 for county maintenance and operation and 0 percent for debt service.

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux stated the proposed tax rate must be published before the public hearings and the adopted rate cannot go above the published rate, but can be below that rate. Thibodeaux said the court hopes to get the rate well below the published rate, but didn’t want to set the rate so low they had no place to go. Commissioners held a budget workshop Tuesday to try and find the 1.4 million in cuts still needed to reach their budget goal. They are hoping some of the department heads will come up with some cuts of their own rather than having to arbitrarily make a three percent cut across the board. Thibodeaux said the total payroll is supposed to increase a million dollars this year. Seven hundred thousand of that is due to union contracts with the sheriff’s department and can’t be cut. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Thibodeaux. “They’re getting a 10 percent raise and I can’t even give my people a three percent raise.” Another issue he had with the contract was in relation to the sheriff’s salary. “With the salary structure to the sheriff’s department, because of the union contract, we’ve got employees under the sheriff making more than the sheriff and I have a problem with that,” said Thibodeaux. It had been discussed two years ago but had not been corrected. Thibodeaux said it got inadvertently left out by the county auditor when the budget information was published last year and once it’s been published, it can’t be changed. Thibodeaux said he tried to go to the state to get it corrected last year, but it couldn’t be done. Other than correcting the imbalance in the sheriff’s pay, commissioners have decided to freeze the matrix for one year on elected officials and other employees. That will give a savings of $184,699. Commissioners managed to make a few more minor cuts in travel expenses within the county of going to the post office, bank, court house and such. They said some of that was necessary for county offices that are spread across the county, but they cut $2,500 total from three accounts.

Veteran Service Officer Gene Smith came up with an excellent idea that will save the county money and time in the long run, but the amount saved will yet to be determined. He said he has a mailbox to receive mail at the veteran’s office, but outgoing mail had to be metered so it was brought to the courthouse each day. He asked if there could be a central place to drop off mail where one person could bring all the mail and other documents to be processed instead of a person from each outlaying department. Thibodeaux said that was certainly possible. When the shelter on 1442 is complete, there will be many county offices moved there, which is almost across the street from the veterans office, transportations and health code and compliance. Donna Scales, park director said it would be closer for her and would save her a lot of time. Thibodeaux said they will make that happen. Workshops will be held at 10 a.m. both Wednesday and Thursday if needed to try and hammer out the rest of the needed cuts. Thibodeaux has given department heads full warning they may still be facing across the board cuts if funds can’t be found. They may also park some vehicles to save on fuel costs.

Thibodeaux also plans to get the judges court to look at juvenile probation and foster care budgets. Apparently there may be some fat there, but it may be restricted funds that can’t be cut. There are several accounts in the budget that are restricted and the commissioners can’t legally cut.

Thibodeaux said he hopes to adopt the budget and tax rate on Sept. 17, or Sept. 24 at the very latest.

In other business, Thibodeaux informed the court that someone as expressed interest in the property where the former Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace office is located on Roundbunch in Bridge City. The court will take time to see if it is needed by the Road and Bridge department, which is currently located adjacent to said property. Road and Bridge will be moving to the new location on Farm Road 1442 when the Shelter of Last Resort is completed in December. If the JP property is of no more vital use to the county, it will be appraised and put up for sealed bids with the appraised value being the minimum bid. The matter will be put back on the agenda once all information is gathered by the court.

Jeff Kelley said the Shelter of Last Resort is almost 100 percent dried in. Kelley said they are presently putting in windows. The project is still on schedule for completion.

Mark Wimberly said Adult Probation is currently moving into their new building.

Wimberly also asked permission from the court to purchase a welding machine that costs $909 to replace one that no longer functions. It is not a pre-approved capital outlay expenditure, but Wimberly said he does have enough in his capital outlay account to cover the purchase. He said there are projects being held up for lack of the welding machine.

Wimberly also said the emergency generators are arriving this week and the large animal shelter is complete.