Pic:  Twin Lakes Estates on Texas 105, near FM 1442, covers about 35 acres of Orange County land. Developers are planning to add 22 home lots.

By Dave Rogers

For The Record

After dealing with tough finances, tough decisions and some embittered employees in recent months, Orange County commissioners welcomed some good news Tuesday afternoon.

In agreeing unanimously to approve a plat for a new subdivision on Texas 105, near FM 1442 not far from Orangefield’s schools, commissioners received some economic news that made them smile.

“Just trying to grow Orange County,” was the way developer Stephen A. Gault summed it up.

Gault, joined by partners Damon Vacek and John Fornols of the Twin Lakes Real Estate Development LLC, said their Twin Lakes subdivision was ready to launch Phase 2 and looking forward to the day they could come back to commissioners with Phase 3.

“We’ve been very fortunate the last two years to have great success in Twin Lakes Phase 1,” Gault said.

Of the subdivision’s 44 lots, 85 percent are sold and about 80 percent are occupied, he said.

Most of the new homes on this street in Orange County’s Twin Lakes Estates are occupied while some display ‘For Sale’ signs. County commissioners OK’d the addition of a Phase 2 which will include 22 new lots.

“So good tax dollars are coming to the county and we’re excited,” Gault said. “This is the second phase, adding on 22 lots on the backside of what’s already there.”

Commissioner John Gothia, elected from Precinct 3 in which Twin Lakes sits, gave his approval.

“I went out there. It’s very nice, a lot of nice homes,” Gothia said. “It’s very good to see that in Orange County, especially in Precinct 3.”

That was when Barry Burton, Precinct 2 commissioner, joked about making a land claim for the Twin Lakes area.

The homes in Twin Lakes average between $275,000 to $300,000 in value, Gault and his partners said during a later interview. They sell the land to builders or owner-builders, he said.

Jody Crump, Precinct 4 commissioner, asked Gault about prospects for Phase 2 sales.

“I’ve put a soft launch out there on social media and I have 16 of those 22 lots already spoken for,” the developer said. “Of course, I can’t sell any property until we have roads in.

“As soon as we do Phase 2, we’ve got another 33 [Phase 3 lots] ready to go.”

In an interview after court adjourned, Gault made sure to thank his partners and the Port Arthur engineering firm of Arceneaux, Wilson & Cole.

“They’re doing a great job for us,” he said.

Gault said Twin Acres subdivision could triple in size before it’s built out.

“We had about 100 acres originally,” he said. “We did about 35 acres in the first phase, so we’ve got about 65 acres to go.

“We’ll continue to grow it. As long as time and money will allow it, we’ll continue to grow Orange County.”

Before getting to the more enjoyable part of Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners first put off consideration of whether or not to do away with the retiree health insurance benefit for future county employees.

The item was placed on the agenda by County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton, who said Orange County currently pays $1.5 million per year on health insurance for its 233 retirees. He said that, because of rising insurance costs, Jefferson County and the cities of Orange, Vidor and Pinehurst had done away with the benefit for new hires in recent years.

“A lot of people had high hopes on what the new [Presidential] administration, the new Congress, the new Senate were going to do when it comes to Obamacare and nothing ended up happening,” the judge said.

Carlton stressed any change would not affect anyone currently working for, or already retired from, the county – only new hires – and thus the effects, positive or otherwise, wouldn’t be felt for 20 years.

But commissioners weren’t so sure.

“I’d like to see this [the proposal’s details] written down, so we can study it,” Burton said.

“I’m concerned about what this will do to our ability to hire,” Gothia said. “We’ve got to be sure we can offer people something to come to Orange County and stay for, not just to train and leave.”

After Johnny Trahan, Precinct 1 commissioner, asked about alternatives, Burton suggested the court hold a workshop to delve deeper into the issue.

Court agreed to re-examine the matter in a couple of weeks.

Besides paying the bills and agreeing to buy a new copier for the elections administrator office, the Court signed proclamations naming April 2017 Child Abuse Prevention Month and recognizing April 4 as Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service.

Extension agents from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Department gave a presentation on upcoming program activities. Those include an Ag Symposium April 18, Master Gardeners Specialist Training May 5-6, a free Senior Citizen’s Rally Day May 9, and youth cooking camp June 12-16.