Orange County Commissioners voted Monday, 3 to 2, to adopt the budget with a $3.165 million short fall with plans to develop a plan within the upcoming weeks to be implemented by Jan. 1.

According to Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux, this is the first time since he became judge more than 18 years ago that they adopted a budget with a deficit.

Over the upcoming weeks, commissioners will look to further cut operating expenses for the county. According to information received from the county, they have $41,177,124 in operating revenue and $45,315,008 in operating expenditures. They will also look to determine if they will do a reduction of force through attrition in order to meet payroll needs.

“We are not trying to frighten anybody,” Thibodeaux said. ‘There is not a single person who wants to terminate anybody or cut retirement.”

However, he added, nobody is guaranteed a job, but if someone were to work, then they would be receiving a paycheck.

“There’s not any wasteful spending,” Thibodeaux said. “We are just too top heavy with salary and benefits.”

Controlling the spending will be an ongoing thing for the court. They intend to meet with department heads monthly to hash out what can be done without or cut further.

“We all work for the same people,” he said. “The citizens of Orange County.”

John Banken, Precinct 3 Commissioner, made the motion for all capital outlay expenditures to be frozen until Jan. 1 and then will have to be approved by commissioners before they can be done.

In addition, the tax rate was .5299 last year and was raised this year to .544. This will mean, for the average homeowner, they will see about $7.79 per $100,000 valuation. As a result, this budget will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $1,947,530 or 7.85 percent and of that amount, $203,041 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.

Before the budget was approved, county officials were making last minute cuts and sent out e-mails. Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt said he received the e-mail too late because he was out working and suffered the consequences. Since he missed the deadline, 10 percent of his highest line items were cut. Merritt manages two large budgets, the jail and the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office was cut $49,956 on line item 740 which is for their fuel costs. According to Merritt, this was tight to begin with and is now impossible to work with since he most surely will run out of funds as costs continue to rise and the fuel is used over time. He was informed he could return to the court and ask for a line item transfer to meet the needs. In addition, $59,440 was cut from the jail costs, line item 743 which he will also have to address in the future.

Thibodeaux added, Merritt’s concerns were “duly noted.”

In other county business, commissioners approved a resolution urging amendments or revisions to the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, FEMA revised the flood plane maps which changed businesses and residences who were formerly not in a flood zone to being within a flood zone. According to Thibodeaux, this is very detrimental to area businesses because of the increasing costs of insurance. He added, Hurricane Ike was classified as a 100-year flood. But, there are still some debates as to whether the high water should be classified as storm surge or flooding.

The commissioners then met behind closed doors with Merritt to discuss action on the Sheriff’s Employees Union Contract. It wasn’t long before the Sheriff  walked out appearing to be upset. He quickly left the building.

When the meeting reconvened, Thibodeaux announced there was no action taken and the meeting was adjourned.