Thibodeaux: County must cut costs, or services, because of fuel costs
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said Monday Orange County may have to reduce services if departments can’t find ways to cut fuel expenses.
The county has some “found” money to pay for the increased costs of gasoline and diesel through the end of September. But the county will have to figure out how to cut fuel expenses for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
The county transportation department, which operates small buses for senior citizens and the handicapped, needs another $50,000 through the end of September for fuel. The road and bridge department needs another $145,000 for fuel, and the county needs an additional $120,000 to pay for the trash dumpsters used by the public at the old county landfill and at precinct maintenance barns.
Thibodeaux and other commissioners indicated they want to start charging fees to use the dumpsters and old landfill.
County Auditor Deborah Rawls said the “found” money comes through a $98,000 grant and a $318,000 grant. The two grants are reimbursements for construction or repairs the county made after Hurricane Rita in 2005. The two grants total $416,000.
Rawls said the money wasn’t budgeted and the Texas local government code allows for entities to spend “unexpected revenue.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Owen Burton said the extra money is a “temporary fix” and that all economic projections show the price of oil and gas will continue to go up.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton said even though the county has found money to last through the end of the current fiscal year, they shouldn’t “wait until the end of the year to plan.”
Commissioners discussed the costs the county is paying to allow citizens to use dumpsters to put garbage, trash and debris. Even though the county hasn’t operated the landfill for years, the county allows people to take trash to dumpsters in the landfill.
Thibodeaux said the county began the free service after the Hurricane Rita clean-up, but the service needs to end. He said Orange County is one of the few counties in the state that doesn’t charge a fee.
“Guys, we can’t live on Rita anymore. It’s been over two years,” Thibodeaux said.
“I suggest starting out with a minimum fee rather than shock and awe,” Burton said.
“A user fee is the fairest fee around,” Thibodeaux said.
One of the problems has been with building and roofing contractors taking their debris to the landfill dumpsters for free. Thibodeaux said if the county stopped allowing contractors at the site, the contractors would simply remove the magnetic company signs from the truck and identify themselves as private Orange County residents with a right to leave the debris.
Each of the four county precinct barns has dumpsters and people have been using those dumpsters, too. The county pays for the costs of using the dumpsters and for having trash companies pick up the trash.
Originally, each precinct had one dumpster to be used by the precinct’s work crews and employees. But the additional dumpsters were added through the years.
Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose said some people are taking their household trash to the dumpsters so they can save money by not having to pay a private company for trash pick-up. He said that’s not fair for taxpayers to have to pay for the dumpsters, when most of them also pay their own costs for household garbage.
“Essentially we’re all paying for that service that some people are getting for free,” Dubose said.
Thibodeaux said he wants Commissioners Court to have a workshop meeting to discuss trash and garbage fees and how to implement the fees. He tentatively set a date for Tuesday, May 27. Commissioners Court will not meet on Monday, May 26, because of the Memorial Day holiday.
Deputies working at Orangefield
In other business, Commissioner Minton said he has problems with the contract the county has to provide off-duty deputies to work at Orangefield schools. He said he is concerned about the off-duty deputies driving county patrol cars while they are earning off-duty pay.
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy David Reeves said the school district pays the county $100 a month for the patrol car, and the off-duty deputies $25 an hour. Deputies work at the schools 12 hours a week.
The Little Cypress-Mauriceville school district pays the salary and benefits of a deputy for the nine months of the school year, with the county paying the deputies salary for three months.
Commissioner Burton said he doesn’t have a problem with the county car at a public entity like the schools.
Minton said he was wondering about the county patrol cars at private businesses like the DuPont Credit Union.
Minton said commissioners need to discuss the use of sheriff’s cars, especially for private enterprise, during another meeting.