Dave Rogers

For The Record

Claiborne West Park could reopen soon, Orange County commissioners learned Tuesday during a discussion that began with talk of eliminating the Parks Department.

“People are bugging me to get the park open,” Mike Hale, director of the park, said. “If I had four Johnny-On-The-Spots I could open next week.”

The county park, located between Vidor and Mauriceville on Interstate 10, has been closed since Tropical Storm Harvey flooded most of the county Aug. 29-30.

Hale said all the park’s electrical was working and storm debris had been cleared, but he needed four “grinder pumps” to power the public toilets. He also relayed that he needed to replace a pickup truck, a $10,000 mower and a $9,000 “Mule” all-terrain vehicle, all ruined by the floods.

Commissioners instructed Hale to put the replacements he needs on next week’s agenda, so they could vote on the purchases.

Another item likely to be on next week’s agenda is a less-expansive disaster pay plan.

County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton was on the losing end of a 3-2 vote last week, when he unsuccessfully argued – along with Commissioner Jody Crump – that the current disaster pay, which is no different from regular pay for hourly employees, was fine.

Commissioners Johnny Trahan, Barry Burton and John Gothia voted in a plan that pays “essential personnel” 1.5 times their regular pay for the first 40 hours of work under a disaster declaration, then 2.25 times regular pay for hours past 40.

“I’m pretty comfortable with what we did last week,” Gothia said. “I knew we needed to make a change to compensate those people for being out, working away from their families while the other ones were at home.

“There needed to be compensation for that. I’m comfortable with what we did last week, and I don’t really see any need to change it.”

Carlton introduced an intricate chart with 15 columns and four different pay plans applied to each of eight rows of hourly wages.

His plan would give all “essential workers” who come to work during a disaster their regular and time-and-a-half overtime pay and an extra $50 per day, much as the military pays a flat $225 monthly combat pay, regardless of rank and pay grade, for serving in a hazardous area.

“People are doing different jobs, but they’re working in the same conditions,” Carlton said. “We have a huge difference in what people are taking home to work in the same conditions.”

Carlton and Trump both questioned the wisdom of counting on FEMA reimbursement for the overtime pay. Historically, the federal government has repaid 75 percent for overtime hours during a disaster but has said it would pay 100 percent for those same hours during Harvey.

“I thought it was decided last week,” Trahan said of the disaster pay issue.

“We’ve been looking at it for months. We had it on the agenda two weeks ago and Commissioner Burton decided to table it, to give everybody a week to look at it, which we did.

“We came back last week and voted on it. So yes, I was surprised to see it on the agenda again this week.”

There was no vote on the issue Tuesday.

The matter of merging the parks department into another department was tabled, pending a workshop.

Ditto for an idea Carlton offered that would create two new jobs dealing with emergency management after Harvey.

One of the jobs would deal strictly with FEMA accounting and reimbursements while the other would work to develop and maintain relationships with local organizations to plan for relief efforts for the next disaster.

Tuesday’s agenda had 10 items on it and no action was taken on four of them, including one titled “Discussion and possible action regarding restructuring Emergency Management Department” that wasn’t even discussed.

After paying bills totaling $669,000, commissioners voted to keep the same over-65 Medicare supplement medical plan as this year and dropping to a slightly lower prescription plan to go with it.

Lori Ardoin, Human Resource Director, said the medical increased 9.7 this year and it would have cost a 19 percent increase for prescriptions if the county kept the same plan as last year.

The plan voted on for prescriptions will add $5 to the copay for all tiers of prescriptions.

The county has 144 over-65 retirees and will pay $519.79 per month for each one, an increase of $51.79 per month per person for each one, to buy the 2018 coverage.