Changes in the Orange County Veteran Service Office over the last few months has led to better service and increased productivity said F.E. “Gene” Smith Monday in his monthly report to Orange County Commissioners’ Court. Smith said the wait for appointments has dropped from 90 days to three to five working days and the lobby waiting time is five to fifteen minutes including walk-ins. This is being accomplished with one less benefits coordinator and no overtime resulting in more satisfaction with area veterans.

The court hired Smith as the new veteran’s service officer July 18. Smith in turn hired Mike Powell to fill a vacant benefit coordinators position. On Aug. 29, Smith asked the commissioners to consider the re-classification of the benefit coordinator position to assistant service officer with effective date of Oct. 1, 2011.

“He is doing an excellent job,” said Smith about Powell in August. “He has exceeded other benefit coordinators in the three weeks he’s been there. I really believe he deserves to move up to that position.” This re-classification increases Powell’s salary by $4,436 but does not go into effect until next year’s budget.

Smith also asked the court in August to also consider the re-classification of the receptionist position to a clerk 2 position with effective date of Oct. 1, 2011. The receptionist, Charlotte Borrell, has been working for the VSO office for four years.

“She has far exceeded the duties of a receptionist,” Smith said in August. “She is definitely an asset to the office. She’s very reliable and very good at what she does.”

He provided the commissioners with a list of her required duties, which filled an entire page. He also provided the court with an additional list of the duties she willingly completes, which filled another two pages.

Smith told the court that if she will continue to perform her regular duties no one else would be hired. This would come with a pay increase of $3,439.

Thibodeaux said that Borrell has been loyal to the county and has been an asset to the office. “The fact is, is that she has gone above and beyond.”

Commissioners voted to approve both requests.

On Oct. 10 Smith asked the court for authorization to extend hours the office is open to better serve veterans without requiring overtime. “The veterans’ service office is right now open 8-5,” said Smith. “We don’t feel like we’re providing service for all the vets. For the people who are working and paying the bills, we’d like to extend our hours from 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. with flexibility to, by appointment, work outside of that hour too, without involving overtime.”

The availability was achieved by staggering the hours of Smith and Powell, ensuring that one would be on hand at all hours the office is open. Commissioners approved the request.
The extended hours has improved service, without causing overtime or requiring part time help. All employees are working full 40 hour weeks, said Smith, Monday in his monthly report to commissioners’ court.

Currently they are trying reach Vietnam vets in an effort to have their names added to the Agent Orange registry as requested by the VA. Smith said they are also seeing mare Iraq/Afghanistan veterans and expect that to increase after January when those troops start returning home in mass.

All of the commissioners and Thibodeaux said calls to their office on veterans’ affairs have virtually ceased and praised Smith for what he has accomplished in such a short time. For more information on the VSO office and the services they offer to the veterans, please call 409-745-1535.

In other business, Barbara Aldredge, secretary for the Orange County Emergency Services District #1 presented to the court the audit for fiscal year 2010-2011. The district is operating in the black with assets exceeding its liabilities by $2,058, 599. The district covers close to 200 square miles of Orange County including Pine Forest, Rose City and Vidor.

“We were hit really hard this year by wildfires, but thanks to the media and the publicity we could get, more people are watching out. When they see smoke in the area, they immediately call us so we can get the fire out before it spreads.”

They have one main station and a reserve station in the Pine Forest area. The district hopes to add a station in Rose City in the near future.

Commissioners cast 682 votes for Lynda Gunstream and 681 votes for Virginia Fawcett for the Orange County Appraisal District.

Bills were paid totalling $961,155.35 including $49,914.25 going to McInnis Construction, Inc. for the Adult Probation Facility and $382,785.38 to G&G Enterprises for the Shelter of Last Resort; General Fund $915,595.96; and Road and Bridge $20,253.06.

A five year contract renewal was agreed to with Sabine Aviation, Inc. for Fixed Base Operation (FBO) services at the Orange County Airport.

Mark Wimberley, of the Maintenance Department reported the Shelter of Last Resort is about 30 percent complete with three fourths of the floor finished and 50 percent of the structural steel erected. The jail renovations are 25 percent complete.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.