County commissioners and members of the Texas Department of Family & Protective Service release balloons on Monday afternoon to recognize victims of child abuse in Texas. April was declared as National Child Abuse Prevention Month in Orange County at the commissioners’ court meeting. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

Expo Center refunds a no-go at commissioners’ meeting

The Orange County Commissioners’ Court approved requested rental rate changes for the Orange County Convention & Event Center at their regular meeting last week. One week later, the commissioners approved applying the rate reduction price to pending event contracts signed prior to April 7, 2014. However, an item for a requested refund to a previously held contracted event due to the rate reduction price was denied 4 to 1 with only County Judge Carl Thibodeaux voting in favor of the refund.

The request for the rate change was made by Sabrina Grey, event coordinator. She said the changes are necessary to remain competitive with other venues. Grey explained a customer asked for the refund retroactively.

John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, said the customer knew the rate and already signed the contract and he was against the refund. Thibodeaux said once the charge prices are stabilized, the rate changes won’t happen every single year.

“We’re a not-for-profit and it’s a governmental building. We have to pay the light bill and maintain the building only,” he said.

Owen Burton, Precinct 2 commissioner, said other counties cannot give rebates. Thibodeaux replied if the commissioners give a refund to one customer, they just as well ought to give a refund to all seven customers prior to April 7.

“If the price had gone up we wouldn’t have charged for previous usage,” Thibodeaux said. He added the customer could cancel and re-sign an agreement at the new price.

Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose said it’s not advantageous to give a refund.

“What if we lower the price again in several months?” he asked.

Thibodeaux answered this was a unique situation and a one-time deal.

Jody Crump, Precinct 4 commissioner, was concerned about the county setting a precedence in giving rebates. Dubose suggested maybe the county could give a credit to the customer for next year.

Patrick Beebe, mosquito control director, gave a report to the court on another upcoming mosquito season. Beebe said his department received one service request for January, four for February and five for March. Adult mosquito activity levels were low to non-existent in areas of the county checked during the course of the month’s of January, February and March. No larval development was found in areas checked on east and west side of the county during those months. No ground treatments, larviciding treatments or aerial treatments, furthermore, were carried out during that time.

The department received high marks with no infractions found with aircraft, records or the facility after an FAA inspection. Seasonal employees began to sign-up. Thibodeaux asked if all of the seasonal employees were hired. Beebe said the first round of employment has been completed. The winter maintenance program on all equipment was completed.

The court proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the county. The proclamation stated there were 229,138 cases of child abuse and neglect reported in Texas in Fiscal  Year 2013, with 66,398 Texas children confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Fiscal Year 2013; with 340 of those children residing in Orange County.

“Effective child abuse prevention programs succeed because of partnerships among agencies, schools, religious organizations, law enforcement agencies, and the business community,” the release read. “Everyone in the community should become more aware of child abuse prevention and consider helping  parents raise their children in a safe, nurturing environment.” Shari Pulliam, media specialist for the Texas Department of Family & Protective Service, said everyone has a role to play in the prevention of child abuse.

“Each of us can carve out safe places. Every child should have a chance at life,” she said.

Pulliam added there are 156 white crosses on the lawn of the Orange County Courthouse for child deaths in Texas. None of the crosses, however, are in Orange County which speaks well for the Family & Protective Service office in Orange. Commissioners approved Sheriff Keith Merritt applying for the FY 2014 Bullet Proof Vest Partnership Program Grant.

This is a 50 percent reimbursement for the purchase of vests for the officers of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Merritt said he was concerned whether or not the U.S. Department of Justice would continue with the grant and the OCSO had to “fight a little bit” to keep the grant going. Thibodeaux said the vests are one of the most important pieces of equipment for law enforcement officers. Merritt said the vests cost $780 each. There are 60 vests for county law enforcement officials county-wide and one-fifth of the vests are due every year. Twelve are needed this year.

“It’s a bargain in saving an officer’s life,” Thibodeaux said.

The court approved a road bond from Samson Exploration, LLC. This bond covers any potential damage caused by moving heavy equipment on Abes, Old 87 and Pea Farm Road. Clark Slacum, county engineer, said the bond is for a new oil well site in Precinct 1. The bond is for one mile at $20,000. Samson’s is for $36,000 in case of any damages to roadways. Lastly, the county proclaimed April as Confederate Hisotry and Heritage Month in the county.