Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt informed commissioners Monday of his intentions to create a fitness center for law enforcement officers with drug seizure money.

“This is a project we have been working on for the better part of a year now, back and forth with the Justice Department,” said Merritt. “We finally got the clearance from them.”

There are very strict regulations governing what drug money can be used for, but the purchase of fitness equipment is one of the things that “they highly encourage” said the sheriff.

Merritt said that in the past, memberships at some of the areas gyms were maintained for the purpose of keeping officers fit which can be critically important at times, especially for the S.W.A.T. team. “We haven’t done that in a while and this will alleviate all that,” said Merritt. “It’s commercial grade equipment.” He said it would be the same equipment that would be in found in any of the local gyms.

“That’s great…I think it’s a good use of the funds,” said County Commissioner Precinct 3 John Dubose.

A building on Border Street is already available for use that once housed the crime lab, before it was relocated. Its small said the sheriff, but he has already had someone look at it and gave them a list of equipment that would benefit the department and fit into the space available.

The fitness center would be available to all county law enforcement including the constables and members of the S.W.A.T. team which is comprised of members of several different area agencies. That is also one of the government restrictions; it can only be used by law enforcement and no one else.

“We’re trying to set standards,” said Merritt. “You never know what kind of call you’re going to go on. We’re trying to get our guys and girls in the best shape they possibly can and I think this is going to be a real worthwhile project.”

Orange County Commissioners gave Merritt approval Monday to fill a vacant full time corrections officer position. “We have a vacancy in the jail. We need to go ahead and fill it if we can so we can go ahead and get our jail back up to full strength,” said Merritt.

In an unrelated matter, the court authorized the continuation of salary and benefits to Officer Chris Brown through Dec. 31. Brown was disabled while on duty and by law must receive full salary and medical coverage through the expiration of the current sheriff’s term. The motion passed without discussion since it was a matter of law as advised by Douglas E. Manning, the assistant county attorney.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of a 2,000 gallon distributor oil truck for Road and Bridge. Dubose had previously asked Les Anderson, county engineer, to hold off on the purchase for 30 days because of the cost. “He’s run all his traps and as I understand it, there’s nothing available from TxDOT,” said Dubose. “The backup truck for this operation is a 1992 model. We used it again this last year because we had to, because the other one was down. It does not have a computer system on it like the new ones do and does not operate as efficiently, so I make a motion to approve this expenditure. It’s in the capital budget.”

The court approved the purchase with County Commissioner Precinct 4 Jody Crump being the only dissenting vote.

The 1992 truck will be moved to surplus and auctioned off when the next county auction is held.

Anderson was also given permission to fill a mechanics position for Road and Bridge. The department has had two vacancies for mechanics for a while, but is only filling one of those vacancies at this time.

Also discussed was adoption of the county’s retro reflectivity plan for road signs required by TxDOT. When night time speed limits were eliminated and signs removed, it left daytime speed limits not visible at night because of lack of reflectivity. The Federal Highway Administration mandated that had to be corrected and had a deadline as to when it had to be completed. The county will spread out the cost of the mandate by changing signs with reflected ones only as they need to be replaced.

In other business the court acknowledged a direct deposit from the state comptroller of $295,842.25 for the ½ cent sales tax and use allocation for the month of November 2011 which was credited to the general operating fund.

Bills were authorized for payment totaling $304,179.81 which included the final payment to Cleveland Construction for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 facility in the amount of $37, 832.85; $4,580.18 to Schaumburg and Polk for the Shelter of Last Resort; and $21,652,83 to University of Texas Medical Branch for a contract payment due Jan. 15. For the purchase of a desk copier, $1,800 was transferred from capitol contingency to the County Court at Law account.

The purchasing agent was given permission to advertise for bids for insecticides and the county’s IBM System i8201-E4B server with options.

Sharon Watson of Vidor addressed the court with issues she has been having with not being able to get sewer service since her mobile home burned last year. She replaced the home but was told that her existing sewer system that had never been in non-compliance could not be used. She explained she has not been able to get new service due to lack of communication from local entities. “I was allowed to put a temporary tank. Over the course of 18 months I’ve been to the health department 11 times. I’ve never been called back,” said Watson. She was given a grant in April for sewer, but has been paying $275 a month for the tank sitting in her yard while waiting for replies.

Joel Ardoin, director of Orange County Environmental Health and Code Compliance was present at court and met with Watson immediately following to address her concerns.

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.