By Dave Rogers

For The Record

On a 3-2 vote, Orange County Commissioners’ Court moved Tuesday to end certificate pay for deputy sheriffs.

County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton and Commissioners Jody Crump and Barry Burton voted not to extend a decision to continue voluntarily paying deputies about $300,000 per year for proficiency certifications, essentially continuing education credits.

Commissioners Johnny Trahan and John Gothia voted against stopping the payments.

The effective date of the change will be June 5.

Commissioners had agreed in March to continue making the payments – which Carlton said are not contractually required – if the deputies bargained in good faith toward a new collective bargaining agreement with the counties.

“Do you feel like we’re still moving in the right direction” toward a new agreement? Gothia asked Carlton, who along with Crump and attorney Bettye Lynn of Fort Worth, have represented the county in seven negotiating sessions with the deputies group since March.

Crump and Carlton answered Gothia in unison.

“No,” Crump said.

“Not really at this time,” Carlton said.

Carlton then went over three or four key negotiating points, such as salary, insurance, retirement and holiday pay.

“From where they were four years ago, they’ve roughly gone backwards,” Carlton said of the negotiations with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Employees’ Assocation.

The county’s contract with the deputies expired at the end of the 2013 budget year, but an “evergreen” clause in it says the CBA’s terms remain in force until a new contract is signed. In March, Carlton revealed there was no “evergreen” provision for certificate pay; in effect, the county had been voluntarily paying the extra stipends since the end of 2012.

“From the last time it’s mentioned in our contract, it’s been four years, eight months,” said Carlton, the county’s chief executive. “That’s a $1.1 million payment beyond terms of our current contract.

“This is kind of a unique situation. It’s not something the county really does anywhere else, paying several hundred thousands of dollars where we don’t have any contractual obligations.

“Hopefully, we’ll come to some sort of agreement soon. As soon as we get a contract signed, we’ll start paying its [certificate pay] again.”

The issue of certificate pay was one of three big financial items considered late in a nearly three-hour meeting.

No changes to retiree health insurance or the county’s Employee Pay Matrix were made, though it was agreed that a 1.5 percent to 5 percent raise for each ladder on the matrix should be the goal of the 2017-18 budgeting process set to begin this summer.

That would cost the county between $120,000 and $400,000 per year, Carlton said.

But commissioners want the increase in pay to be paid for by a reduction in the county’s retirement health insurance payments for future hires.

Tuesday, commissioners voted down two proposals.

Gothia put forth a motion, seconded by Trahan, that for all employees hired on or after Oct. 1, 2017 [the start of the new budget year], the county would cap its under-65 retirement health care contributions at $750, and the county would pay no more than $350 a month for “supplemental” healthcare for retirees between 65-70.

Burton asked Gothia to withdraw his proposal and hold it for a week so he could have more time to review it. When Gothia declined, Burton joined Carlton and Crump in voting against it.

Then Carlton made a motion, seconded by Crump, that all employees hired after Oct. 1, 2017 be ineligible for a county subsidy for retiree health care, meaning insurance benefits paid by the county during their employment, would cease upon retirement.

“That would be like what Jefferson County has now: when you retire, the county does not contribute any more.”

This vote also failed 2-3. Burton said he had to vote no to be consistent and Trahan and Gothia joined him on the nay side.

The day’s session began with separate presentations by Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Foundation and Wells Fargo Bank.

Gift of Life will sponsor free men’s healthcare screenings in Orange, from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 10 at Lamar State College-Orange.

Other screening sites include Beaumont Civic Center, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 3; and the Parker Center at Lamar State College-Port Arthur 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 3.

Zachary Thomas of Wells Fargo gave a presentation on the eight key rule to financial health.