County works to cut spending
The Orange County Commissioners have been working diligently on next year’s budget by scheduling a host of workshops to find ways to cut spending. They are trying to cut in all ways they can without cutting benefits earned, layoffs, etc. On Monday, they discussed possible ways to cut even more.
The Commissioners addressed the issue of County vehicles being driven home.
“Only vehicles that we can justify having a possibility of being called out after hours or on the weekend in emergencies [should be driven home],” Thibodeaux said.
Included in those cars would be one for the Road and Bridge Department to be used by a foreman from each precinct for the purpose of opening and closing the swing bridge when needed. Thibodeaux felt the best option would be for the foremen to be on a rotating weekly schedule. If adopted, each will be on duty for a week for after hours calls for the bridge to be opened beginning Oct. 1.
There is a concern of overtime pay and the time it would take for the foremen that has to drive the farthest. The County is currently logging each time the bridge is open to see if would be worthwhile to hire part time bridge tender to open and close the bridge.
The Commissioner also addressed an issue with the number of employees in Orange County.
“We don’t want to fire anybody,” Thibodeaux said. “We have to start looking at our workforce. If we don’t, it’s going to catch up with us where we will not be able to pay the employees who have been here a substantial length of time the salary they deserve and support the benefits they’ve earned.”
Thibodeaux also said that the overall workload for the County has not increased. The Judge and Commissioners stated they won’t be the ones to say if anyone needs to be let go.
“The department [heads] are going to have to take a good look at their department,” Thibodeaux said. “If somebody retires, do you really need that [position filled again].”
Last week, the Commissioners instated a hiring freeze. Any department requesting a new hire would have to present their need and justification for that new hire to the Court.
“It’s not our job to micromanage, it’s our job to manage the budget,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Jody Crump said.
Attorney Steve Bird approached the Commissioner in May about a piece of property in Vidor, 340 West David Loop, the County and other taxing jurisdictions (city of Vidor and the Vidor School District, etc.) own. The property, which is worth $40,000, had been foreclosed upon due to delinquent taxes and received zero bids when put up for sale.
While a house currently sits on the property, Bird and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality found that a convenience store which sold gasoline was once on the property. They have also found that the gasoline storage tanks with fuel are still in the ground. The County and the other entities that own this piece of property are not required by TCEQ to removed the tanks and remediate the ground, but all agreed that, in order to sell the property, they would need to have a test done on the soil to see if the tanks have leaked and contaminated the land.
Bird informed the Commissioners that the core samples taken from the ground around the tanks (by Apollo Environmental out of Beaumont) came back good, but that doesn’t tell them what the soil under the tanks look like.
Apollo gave an estimate of $15,000 to remove the tanks, test the soil directly underneath the tanks and fill in the hole. The County’s portion will be $2,625.
“If it’s worth $40,000 and [it will cost $15,000 to fix], it will 12 years to get our money back,” Pct. 3 Commissioner John Dubose said. “We don’t know what the soil test under the tanks will be. It might be worse, could be better. We still don’t have a buyer.”
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said it, at $216 a year; it would take 12 years to get the County’s money back.
Bird told the Commissioners that if the tanks are removed, the property will more than likely sell and the County would get their money back. This still wasn’t enough for the Commissioner to make a decision to pay for the removal.
The Commissioners agreed to wait and see what the other taxing entities wanted to do. Bird will meet with each entity and then report back to the Commissioners with their decision.
The Court then authorized the payment of $861 to Apollo Environmental in Beaumont for the County’s share of the preliminary study of the underground storage tanks.
The County has agreed to leave the burn ban off for the time being. Jeff Kelley, Emergency Management director said the humidity has been helping this area out when it comes to the fire danger. However, it is forecasted for this to change over the next few days. There has been a small increase in reported fires, but they have all been taken care of. If there is a need, Thibodeaux can instate an emergency burn ban until the Commissioner reconvene next week.