It’s been two steps forward, one step back for the Orange County commissioners working on the 2012– 2013 budget. They have worked for the last several weeks trying to reduce a projected $1.5 million deficit. The budget busters have been payroll, fuel, and insurance increases over the last year.

The deficit situation was caused by Ike recovery funds that were expected reimbursements for debris removal. The County spent over $20 million and has received only $17 million on debris removal. The $20 million reimbursement was figured into last year’s budget creating the shortfall.

“We won’t do that again,” said Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux. The judge said if that amount was figured into next year’s budget and still isn’t received it would put us $7 million in the hole.
Thibodeaux said that money will not go back into the budget until it’s received.

In Tuesday’s budget workshop Thibodeaux said the deficit was down to $610,000 from the $1.5 million figure they started with.

They looked at actual fuel cost for road and bridge, sheriff’s department and transportation. Road and bridge will end the year just about on budget. The sheriff’s department had already run out of money in the fuel account, but had funds in other categories of the departmental budget transferable to finish out the fiscal year. The department had also run out of funds for their inmate room and board category. Funds were moved from other line items to cover the shortfall for the rest of the year.

Transportation’s fuel allotment was busted because they were having problems with fuel injectors that were meant to convert the buses to propane. Propane is running $1.38 a gallon, but because of the problems with the conversions they have had to use more gasoline and diesel.

There has also been an increase of riders due to commercials and billboards put in place by the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission (SETRPC). The County has a contract with SETRPC
to reimburse up to $367,000 for expenses to the transportation department. So for this year, the department’s budget for fuel has been overrun by $100,000.

“I hate to say it, but we may have to park the old buses,” said Thibodeaux.

Realizing they would likely have to raise the fuel budget for transportation; Commissioner Precinct 3 John Dubose said, “There is no point in budgeting something you know is not going to work.”

Thibodeaux said the only expense transportation has, besides payroll, is fuel, oil and vehicle repairs. He acknowledged there really wasn’t a place to cut them any further.

Three departments had offered voluntary reductions including Donna Scales, director of parks. A miscommunication by e-mail caused commissioners to cut a lawnmower that was needed. She was
referring to what they call a finishing mower which attaches to a tractor and not a lawnmower.

Thibodeaux said, “Finishing, beginning, it doesn’t matter, I cut it.” At first Scales thought commissioners were joking. When she realized they were not she said, “No, I need one lawnmower. You
can have the other stuff, I need one mower.”

“We’re going backwards,” said Thibodeaux. “We should have stopped looking.” He said operating expenses and operating revenues are not going to be balanced. “It’s not going to happen.”

Thibodeaux would like to get the deficit down to $300,000 but realizes it may not be possible. He said you can only cut the budget so far and then you start affecting services.

Commissioners voted Monday to freeze the salaries of all elected officials for one year. It did include the sheriff even though commissioners wanted to correct the inequality of the sheriff’s pay versus the
pay of his chief deputy. It looks like the sheriff will have to wait another year. Sheriff Keith Merritt did address commissioners to make sure he understood that the inadequacy in pay would continue even though the problem has been ongoing for two years. Commissioners confirmed the decision. Merritt said he would have to look at his options.

Commissioners still have about a week and a half before they are expected to adopt the budget on Sept. 24. The dance continues.

Pictured: OC Judge Carl Thibodeaux

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.