Department’s budget discussed at commissioners court
Kaiden Aven, age 8, of Orange County, was issued a resolution at Tuesday’s commissioners court for giving his own dog to a man from Jasper who had suffered a stroke and had lost his dog. Although Kaiden did not know the man from Jasper, he felt bad the man lost his dog and wanted to give him his dog. Pictured with Kaiden is Lanie Brown with US Rep. Brian Babin’s office. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball
David Ball – For The Record
Questions about the fiscal year budget are still being raised by some county commissioners when the Orange County Commissioners Court met on the afternoon of November 3.
The agenda item read for a discussion and possible action regarding a line item transfer for juvenile probation to correctly reflect the budget that was adopted by the Juvenile Board. Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose was absent from the meeting. The item passed 4-0.
Auditor Mary Johnson said the net effect of the line item transfer is zero.
John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, asked why the court was doing a line item transfer to establish other accounts. Johnson said it is to make a correction so juvenile probation could create more accounts to report to the state.
Banken asked why wasn’t this done during the adoption of the budget at the end of September. Johnson said the matter came in to late.
Banken asked how funds can be moved around and it will not affect the county’s budget. Johnson said it won’t affect the overall budget. Banken then asked if the commissioners court should amend their overall budget because there has been a $600,000 swing since the budget was adopted with the acquisition of items such as electronic voting machines and a chip spreader machine for Road & Bridge.
“It’s got to add up to the money,” he said.
Johnson said it adds up to zero and five new departments will be created under juvenile probation for the state money to pay.
Banken asked why the commissioners can’t have a workshop on the matter. Johnson said it’s state money and the commissioners court really don’t have a say about it.
Craig Corder, juvenile probation department head, said he thought his departmental budget was correct when it was submitted. He added if the more than $579,233 he wouldn’t receive in state aide would be 63 percent of his budget. The funds missing totaled $178,000.
He added the state can freeze funding to his department and “cripple” them if they lose it.
“Someone else cut it (the juvenile probation budget),” Corder said.
Banken told Corder the money was not in his budget.
County Judge Brint Carlton said the funds would have to be moved out of the contingency fund. Corder said he still wouldn’t receive an revised budget. Johnson said he would receive the revised budget after the meeting.
“We’re not changing the total amount of the general budget,” she said.
Banken said this matter should had never happened and he wasn’t sure if the county had a legal budget. He favored scheduling a workshop and re-submitting the budget.
Johnson said many last minute corrections to the budget had to be made and she also received last minute information. She told Banken putting the budget together is not as easy as he may think because of adjustments in salaries and in operating expenses.
“This line item transfer (for juvenile probation) is no different than any other line item transfer,” Johnson said. “The commissioners court threw in the raises.”
Banken said the court never threw in raises and it was done after the weekend of September 25-27.
“We did not have a workshop on it,” he said.
He then apologized to Corder and told him he trusted some things in the budget he should had done. He added he won’t make that mistake again.
Jody Crump, Precinct 4 commissioner, said he agreed with Banken and he doesn’t want the county to get in this situation again.
“All of this has been pushed back on me and I didn’t make the mistake,” Corder said.
He added $178,000 missing from his budget would raise some eyebrows from the state.
“We should correct the budget properly,” Banken said.
Corder said $9,000 was also cut from his local budget as well and the one-and-a-half percent pay raise needed to be transferred.
Crump said he would approved the item if Corder and Treasurer Christy Khoury received a completed breakdown of the budget and a mechanism was in place so this would never happen again.
Carlton said toward the end of the meeting related to the fiscal year budget that he voted for it and he is responsible. He added he decided he wanted a truly balanced budget and some tough decisions were made, including some unintentional errors that were corrected.
“The total budget is not affected,” he said. “So don’t blame Mary or anyone else for the budget, blame me.”
Carlton said the book was available to the commissioners on Monday, September 27 before it was adopted and he did not spring it on anyone 10 minutes before the vote.
Banken said at the end of the meeting the matter with the budget should had never happened.
Regarding the budget, Banken said it was talked about before in open court, and a third party audited it.
He said the court should not “mess with funds” not being balanced.
“Nobody really knows what’s going on because everytime we meet we’re transferring a bunch of money,” he said.
In other county business, the commissioners were provided information on the status of the Orange County Emergency Services District #4. Justin Lee, a spokesperson for some of the OCESD #4 firefighters and a former member said the commissioners court appoint board members to ESDs.
Lee asked for the immediate termination of board members Spencer Fuss and David Jones for violating standard operating guidelines. He said they also bypassed more qualified firefighters and appointed less experienced ones to positions of leadership.
He also accused them of failing to keep a proper appropriation of funds and they would not write any grants to get “free money” for the department.
Lee said Fuss donated an older fire engine to the fire department in Devers though it’s still insured and under OCESD #4.
Lee’s last charge was the board practiced nepotism by assigning family members to positions.
Douglas Manning, assistant county attorney, said charges of nepotism need to be reported to the Texas Rangers Public Corruption Unit. Additionally, Manning said he will research what the commissioners court can do in regard to emergency services districts, if anything, and report his findings at next week’s meeting.
Crump told the OCESD #4 members they could call their casualty carrier for the fire engine that was donated and cancel the policy to facilitate that movement.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Barry Burton, whose precinct the OCESD #4 Station 1 and 2 lie, said they are one big ESD and not two with one in Mauriceville and the other in McLewis.
James Cornell, a firefighter with the OCESD #4 said he filed charges of nepotism against the board in 2010. He likes the board they now have and he believes they follow the laws and rules of the ESD.
He told the commissioners there are two sides to the story.
Gene Cole, a former fire chief with the OCESD #4, aid Chief David Roberts has pulled the fire department together.