First fiscal budget numbers not good
County commissioners have been through it before, discussing the cost and other issues associated with a countywide animal shelter. Another round of talks appears to be on the way.

As it is now, the county has ordinances to provide for the quarantine of dangerous animals, but has nowhere to put them. In the past some Jefferson County facilities were used. 

There is no county leash law, a concern of many county residents in the Vidor area including Woody Dugas, who asked commissioners last week to study the issue. Dugas said he was a victim of a recent pit bull attack.

The cities of Orange, Bridge City and Vidor have tax-paid shelters. Problems faced when the county shelter issue came up a few years ago were rising costs, such as required air-conditioning in cat cages. Other concerns included stainless steel surgical areas, requested by animal rights groups.

“The cost of the building kept going up tremendously,” said County Judge Carl Thibodeaux. “The only way it will work is if the cities would close theirs and participate with the county. There were two cities that were reluctant to do so last time. I think Vidor had just expanded theirs at that time and if I’d been mayor I would have said the same thing. We have great cities in the county and we all work together, but economics is economics.”

Some 95 percent of the counties in Texas do not have county-sponsored shelters, Thibodeaux said.

“If the taxpayers want it, I don’t have a problem with it,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose. “But we have some [county] employees who don’t have a place to work,” he said, referencing Hurricane Ike.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Owen Burton agreed, saying there were perhaps “bigger fish to fry.”

Thibodeaux added that a new state mandate requires animals to be evacuated, meaning Orange County emergency management will have to provide muzzles and other items at county expense.

A ballot listing for the proposal will likely be called for in 2010, commissioners said, since low turnout is expected in the upcoming November elections with very few local or state issues. November, 2010, however, will list gubernatorial and other statewide offices.

Also at the meeting, a rough draft of the 2009-10 budget came in at a $2 million deficit with another possible $2 million on the way. Ike caused a loss of some $400 million in property valuations, and a tax increase may be the answer. The current tax of 51 cents per 100 valuation could rise as much as 10 cents, Thibodeaux said. “It’s nothing good and we knew it wasn’t going to be,” he said.

Incoming grant funds may offset some possible increases. The good news, he said, was that nothing would be cut. “We’re not going to cut services, we’re not going to cut employees. To me that’s not an acceptable option,” he said. The first of several budget workshops is slated for next week.

In other business:

• The court kept up the recent lift of a burn ban. Most of the county is in the 400 range of the Texas Forest Service’s Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which measures ground moisture (800 is the most extreme). “We’re in the green, so to speak,” said Emergency Management’s Jeff Kelley. He added, “If we get a little dry spell back in there for any length of time it’s going to go back up fast.”

• Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose said he’s received several complaint calls asking when dumpsters will return to the county’s four precinct barns. Maintenance Director Mark Wimberley and John Dubose both said dumping by residents had “gotten out of hand.” In one example cited, trash had even been dumped outside the gates at one facility. Commissioners voted to continue the no dumping rule (David Dubose opposed). Dumping is still permitted at the county landfill on Farm Road 1442 on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

• Ted Williams, vice president for Emergency Services District 4, which serves some areas in Mauriceville and the McLewis Community, told the court the district will call for a 2 cent tax vote to help curb rising expenses. For now, the tax is 6.25 percent.