By Dave Rogers

For The Record

Collective bargaining sessions are rarely for the weak of heart and Monday, the city’s chief negotiator dropped a nightmare scenario into talks with Orange firemen.

Larry Watts of League City listened intently as representatives for the International Association of Firefighters asked for a 6 percent raise.

Then he told them because of tremendous increases in healthcare insurance costs and uncertainty over laws that may be passed this summer by the Texas Legislature, the city pie could be much smaller than normal.

It’s a situation faced by most Texas governments, including Orange County and its school districts.

Schools are awaiting the finalization of state funding.

“As far as funding, it’s a wait and see mode for us,” Todd Lintzen, Bridge City superintendent, says.

“We know they’ve collected taxes for education; they’ve got to fund us. But the question is which shifts they’re going to make with funding.”

Watts, seated between Orange city manager Shawn Oubre and assistant city manager Jay Trahan, revealed the city was facing a 36 percent hike in healthcare insurance – an increased cost of $969,000.

That could bring into play a rollback election, Oubre said, if the Legislature passes Senate Bill 2. That bill would require counties, cities and schools to let taxpayers vote on any tax increases of 5 percent.

Current law allows taxpayers to petition for a vote if the increases top 8 percent.

“I didn’t think the rollback [SB2] would affect us, until we got that insurance number back,” Oubre said.

He and Watts also mentioned Senate Bill 715, which could resurface in the special section.

As originally written, the bill would take away cities’ power to annex business or residential property without the landowner’s consent.

That would invalidate Orange’s in-lieu-of industrial district taxes with 14 plants, Oubre said. Those payments make up 36 percent of Orange’s general fund.

“If that happens,” he said, “there will be a $7 million shortfall.”

It’s wait and hope time, but waiting every two years for education funding bills is old hat for Lintzen.

“It makes it hard to give raises,” he says. “But we’re moving forward, because we have to be ready by the end of August. It’ll be a last-minute scramble like it always is.”