Court lets go proposed well cap, landfill rules changing
A three-to-two vote quieted a proposal to set a maximum permit fee for oil and gas companies doing business in the county, commissioners said Monday.
Commissioner John Dubose had the item on the agenda because an oil company was recently charged about $7,000, and had called his office about it. Fees are based on the overall cost of any project.
Dubose proposed setting a $2,500 “cap” on permit fees. Doug Manning, county attorney, said one reason companies don’t like paying high fees is because they explore a designated area, decide there’s no oil there and go on to another county. The city of Orange’s policy is to charge a $1,000 annually as long as the operation makes money, he said.
Judge Carl Thibodeaux asked the county’s Joel Ardoin if other companies paying $2,500, and was told motel companies typically pay that.
“That will be the next thing,” Thibodeaux said. “Somebody will come along and say ‘Your hotel taxes are too high.’”
Commissioner Beamon Minton added, “They’re here because they’re making a profit. I know taxes are being paid, but I think we need to keep the fee as high as we can.”
Voting against the $2,500 proposal were Thibodeaux, Minton and Commissioner David Dubose; while John Dubose and Commissioner Owen Burton voted for it.
In other business, the county landfill was once again in discussion as the facility shifts to non-emergency status after Hurricane Ike. Notable changes include that effective Oct. 1, no shingles, wood products or dry wall will be accepted.
Also starting Oct. 1, eight dumpsters will be provided on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Engineer Les Anderson said that when the dumpsters are filled, the citizen collections stations will close. He suggested that before taking items to the landfill, residents call the station at 745-2880 to ask if capacity is available. A sign-in roster must be completed for trash / metal goods to be dumped, and faith-based organizations may to use the site as long as they are pre-approved.
A few other changes / rules include:
• Metal items should be separated from other trash and placed in the landfill’s metal piles within the concrete barricades.
• Residents must live in Orange County and have picture ID.
• Refrigerators / air conditioners must be discharged of freon before dumping.
• No trees, vegetation debris, gas / propane tanks, batteries, paint cans, tires, concrete / bricks or hazardous / toxic materials.
• No contractors allowed.
• No trash or garbage is to be placed on the ground.
• Attendant’s directions should be followed.
Also Monday, commissioners heard two discussion items – one of the city of Orange for coastal grant funds concerning erosion – the other from Christus-St. Elizabeth Hospital about a taxing district to help not-for-profit hospitals.
Orange City Manager Shawn Oubre said the bulkhead at Ochiltree-Inman Park was eroding before hurricanes Rita and Ike, and was made worse by the storms.
“You look out there now and you can see the impact of the erosion, because the sidewalk is leaning toward the waterway,” he said.
The city’s claim for funding was denied by FEMA, he said, because it was supposedly not hurricane-related. However, he said, a 2007 claim by the county for $737,000 for repairs on Bailey Road was awarded but never dispensed. “If it comes down to the possibility of losing those funds … we have a project standing by,” he said. Ochiltree is not just a “city park” he said but used by all of Orange County for a variety of functions.
John Dubose said the county was told it could not use the Bailey Road funds for its original purpose, however, those monies had already been earmarked to clean wastewater systems in the county.
“I had an e-mail … that indicates we are not in jeopardy of losing that money; if we were I wouldn’t have a problem having the city of Orange utilize those funds,” he said.
“If something doesn’t work out, we have a project standing by,” Oubre said. Thibodeaux added, “I think the best thing to do is to keep communications open on both these issues; how you’re moving along and how we’re moving along.”
Mario Mundano of Christus-St. Elizabeth tried to interest commissioners in a future resolution for a taxing district to benefit not-for-profit hospitals such as St. Elizabeth, Christus-St. Mary and the Memorial Herman Baptist facilities in Beaumont and Orange. Thibodeaux pointed out that any resolution from the court would only be a request to the state Legislature and not necessarily an endorsement.
Mundano’s case was based on several factors, including Texas’ high rate of uninsured Americans; a minimal number of clinics in Orange and Jefferson counties to serve the uninsured and the fact that many hospitals have been forced to close or downsize. President Obama’s healthcare plans, if passed, could take up to 10 years or longer to have any effect, he said; and Texas has the lowest rate of matching Medicaid benefits in the U.S.
Under a taxing district, property owners with an $87,000 home would pay $22 a month, however, Mundano emphasized those figures were “still being massaged.”
An initial phone poll resulted in 49 percent of those called saying they would support a district, Mundano said. Commissioners were surprised at the high number, however, John Dubose joked, “Don’t worry, [our offices] will hear from the other 51.”
An entity would have to be created to receive and distribute the funds, Mundano said.
After asking Mundano several questions, Thibodeaux said, “Just because you’re paying for a taxing district does not mean you don’t have to pay for your Medicaid. It needs to be very well-explained that this is not socialized medicine.”
He also emphasized that the county has an existing indigent care program.