Tommy Mann

For The Record

Numerous elected officials could be getting salary increases next fiscal year.

Orange County Commissioners approved a proposal by a 3-2 vote on Tuesday afternoon to increase the salaries of numerous elected officials for the coming 2016-2017 fiscal year. If approved at the Sept. 13 meeting of commissioners court, the pay increases will go into effect on Oct. 1.

Weeks of potential discussion and speculation on pay reductions for elected officials, including a lengthy workshop on Tuesday morning, ended up working out in favor of most, but not all, Orange County elected officials.

“We had a lengthy discussion in our workshop (Tuesday) about changes to the pay for elected officials,” said Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton. “There are a lot of ideas and there is no good way to go about making changes. My feeling from the feedback we have been receiving is to leave things as they are (instead of making any cutbacks).

John Banken, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 3, proposed raising the salary for more than a dozen officials. However, the salaries of Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton, Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt and Judge Mandy White-Rogers, County Court at Law; and Judge Troy Johnson, County Court at Law No. 2 will not.

Some of the positions which will say pay increases of approximately $7,000 for the year include Orange County Constables in Precincts 1, 2 and 3; Justices of the Peace in Precincts 1, 3 and 4, and the county clerk among others. All of the increases will bring salaries in line to approximately $70,500 per year.

This proposed increases did not initially include the four Orange County Commissioners, but David Dubose, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 1, stated it should.

“I would like to see the commissioners court not fall short on this,” Dubose said. “I know it won’t impact me, but we need to make sure they are taken care of. I know what is required of this job and it’s a lot of work. Some commissioners work other jobs, but some do not.”

Dubose opted not to seek relection this year and will finish the remainder of his term on Dec. 31. Johnny Trahan will run unopposed in the November general election and take his oath of office on Jan. 1, 2017. Banken was unsuccessful in his re-election bid for Precinct 3 and will finish his term on Dec. 31 as well. John Gothia will take his oath of office on Jan. 1, 2017.

Both men stated they wanted to help look out for the future of the Commissioners Court and did not anticipate any benefits from the pay increase since they would not be returning to Commissioners Court in 2017. However, later in the meeting, it was clarified any officially approved pay increase at the Sept. 13 meeting would take effect on Oct. 1.

Commissioner Barry Burton of Precinct 2 was of the mindset to provide for salary increases for the elected officials Banken had stated, but he was visibly uncomfortable on voting on a raise for himself and other commissioners in the same motion.

However, it was Burton’s vote which proved to be the difference in pushing through the proposal as Commissioners approved the motion by a 3-2 vote with Carlton and Orange County Commissioner Jody Crump of Precinct 4 casting the dissenting votes.

The proposed salary increases, along with the benefits each elected position receives, will add approximately $108,000 to the Orange County budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

“We have about a $9 million surplus going into this year, so this should not affect the budget,” Banken said following the meeting. “Nobody has received a raise in the last eight years, so it was time.”

Banken also stated he would like to see other employees receive salary increases, but that would have to be a separate discussion as Judge Carlton is the chief financial officer for Orange County.

Prior to the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Mark Philpott, Orange County Constable of Precinct 3, addressed Commissioners Court.

“I know everyone up there has a hard job to do, and you take a lot of heat for it,” Philpott, a former city councilmember in Bridge City, said. “I respect all of your positions. I know it goes by your beliefs, but you gave us the opportunity to speak and get the frustration off our chests (at Tuesday morning’s workshop). Thank you all for what you did (Tuesday).”

In other news, Orange County Commissioners took action on how to provide future funding for the Orange Community Action Association, also known as “Meals on Wheels.”

The director of the organization, Linda Hughes, announced in late-July that the organization was facing an uncertain financial future due to funding cuts, rising costs of insurance, an aging vehicle fleet and expensive repairs, along with a lack of volunteers.

Carlton stated Orange County Commissioners could better assist the local organization by providing funds in the form of grants instead of its usual method.

“We can help out by providing contributions instead of supplying them vans or personnel,” Carlton said. “These grants would allow the organization to be eligible to apply for other grants, which would better help them, that they could not apply for now through our current method.”

With the coming fiscal year, Orange County will provide an average of the past three years funding amount to the Orange Community Action Association in the form of a grant on or after Oct. 1. That exact amount was not immediately available following Tuesday’s meeting.