David Ball – For The Record

The Orange County Commissioners Court took on issues ranging from property tax rates to supporting building a new hospital among others at their meeting on the afternoon of August 3.

Commissioners approved the submission of the 2015 certified property tax values from the chief appraiser and required under the property tax code.

Lynda Gunstream, county tax assessor-collector reported the 2015 Total Market Value for the county was $6.9 billion, the Taxable Value was $5.6 billion, the Taxable Value was $5.6 billion, minus the Tax Ceilings of $397.8 million for a Total Taxable Value of $5.2 billion.

The 2015 Farm to Market Total Market Value was $6.9 billion, the Taxable Value was $5.2 billion, the Taxable Rolling Stock was 14.8 billion, and the Taxable Value was $5.2 billion minus the Tax Ceiling of $397.7 million for a Total Taxable Value of $4.8 billion.

The 2015 effective and rollback tax rates approved. The effective tax rate was .53841 per $100. the rollback tax rate was .57952 per $100 and a debt rate of 0 per $100.

The court approved the county contributing to a consulting group study for a new hospital after a task force was formed and completed a market analysis that recognized a need for a hospital in the county.

City Manager Dr. Shawn Oubre explained how the Orange City Council approved the study three weeks ago and how they have gained signatures and letters of support for the venture thanks to Precinct 2 Commissioner Barry Burton. Oubre said the city didn’t want to wait for the group to start because they were afraid of losing the hospital to another community. They are also seeking outside investments and support from Nonprofit Organizations.

The study will cost $36,000 and take 90 days to complete. The group will give a presentation of its findings.

NewLife Healthcare of Austin is the consulting group conducting the study. One of the purposes of the study is to obtain federal funds and ascertaining how much it will cost. Oubre cited the hospitals in Liberty County and in Winnie as examples of the work NewLife has done.

It is hoped a new hospital will be built with 18 to 26 beds for inpatient stays and an Emergency Room facility.

“This is a quality of like issue and an economic development issue,” Oubre said.

He gave as an example of a hospital built in Marble Falls and how it’s a $1 billion complement to the local economy.

Oubre added the new hospital wouldn’t necessarily be in Orange, but be placed in the most strategic location.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jody Crump asked if NewLife will utilize resources and move into the current Baptist Orange Hospital if converting it into a Veterans Administration facility doesn’t work out. Oubre said they aren’t interested in the BHO building but in a new standalone facility.

Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose asked if the cities of West Orange and Vidor have contributed. Oubre answered they have contributed and he’s still waiting to hear from the cities of Pinehurst and Bridge City and their decision.

The abatement agreement with Jefferson Refinery was assigned to Jefferson Energy Terminal after that company was recently renamed.

Mark Viator with Jefferson gave an update on the progress being made on their 250 acres in building facilities at the Port of Beaumont and the Neches River on the Orange County side. The company has reached an agreement with a global management company to become Jefferson Gulfcoast Energy Partners, LL, a subsidiary of FTAI Energy Partners.

STI Group of Bridge City is the contractor doing the civil and mechanical work.

He added the company is making an effort to hire local employees. In fact, Viator said 72 percent of the employees on the job are local hires. Floyd Jordan with STI they recruit locally and have hired over 900 people in two years.

“We hope to bring more projects to Orange County and Jefferson County,” Viator said.

The company has invested $200 million from the abatement.

The court selected to go with a $250 deductible per county employee in renewing the Texas Association of Counties Health and Employee Benefits Pool Program for 2015-2016 fiscal year, effective Oct. 1, 2015.

The county will pay 100 percent for employees and 40 percent for dependents.

Chris Pruitt, CPA, of the firm Pattillo, Brown, and Hill, LLP of Waco, gave the audited annual financial report for the period ending Sept. 30, 2014.

Precinct 3 Commissioner John Banken said he had questions in the use of restricted funds. He then asked if the county was broke.

Pruitt said the county had three days reserve in the fund balance.

“It’s not where you want to be, but it’s better than it was,” Pruitt said.

He also recommended the county set up a fund balance policy.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Manning said the standard recommendation is to have 90 days worth in reserve.

Banken said if the county had a hurricane that day, they would be in a bind.

“We’re in a bind. We’ll have to bite the bullet. We definitely want to keep the retirees funded. We need advice,” he said.

Pruitt said there is a little more than $381,000 in the fund balance. It was previously over $2 million in the hole.

“You do not want to borrow from restricted funds to pay the light bill,” Pruitt said.

Banken said the county does not have $10 million set aside and that was an assumption of the people.

County Judge Brint Carlton summed up the situation when he said the county was better off than they were two years ago, but they still need to work on revenues and expenses.

During public comments, Carlton said the county is seeking alternatives for the Orange County Economic Development Corporation.

He said it may be restructured in a different format, hire a new executive director, hire an outside third party consultant or hire someone from within.

The OCEDC is funded until Oct. 1, 2015 and the end of the fiscal year.

In a separate interview away from the commissioners court meeting, Bobby Fillyaw, executive director of the Orange County Economic Development Corporation, said he was a “little surprised” by the decision made at last week’s commissioner court meeting in which they declined to fund the OCEDC.

Fillyaw said he didn’t want to speculate what was going through their minds when they made the decision and he doesn’t know yet what the future of the OCEDC will be. The next regular OCEDC Board of Directors meeting is tentatively set at 1:30 p.m. on August 11 at the Port of Orange office building, 1201 Childers in Orange. A special board meeting is scheduled at 2 p.m. on August 13 at the port office building.

Fillyaw said he was doing fine and everything was going good.

“The smoke has got to clear and we’ll go from there,” he said.