David Ball – For The Record

The Orange County Commissioners Court had to change course with a budget workshop on the morning of September 18 due to what County Judge Brint Carlton described as a “legal matter.”

Carlton started the meeting saying the commissioners could leave everything in the budget as is thus far to the auditor, Mary Johnson.

“We’re still looking at a $2.9 million budget deficit this year. Overall, we’re in the black. We’re starting with $5 million and we’ll end with $2.5 million,” he said.  “But there have been some developments since yesterday afternoon.”

Carlton added things happen so the county must set aside money for the things they don’t anticipate.

“There are some legal things coming up. I don’t think we’ll be able to fit all this stuff in,” Carlton said.  “It’s hard to make a budget and hope things will work out going into next year.”

Carlton said the court will have to come up with new guidance for Johnson to work with.

“I’m sorry. This is a development I didn’t see coming,” he said..

Carlton said he prefers to budget the full amount.

There is $2.85 million in the negative, he said. If all of the proposed increases are taken out, it will be $2 million. Capital outlays are $1.3 million and $700,000 in unspent operations that will bring it down to zero.

“We probably should do this in preparation of the unseen; take the entire beginning balance and place it in contingency (fund). It’ll be there if we get in a bind and bring our cash down to zero,” he said.

One audience member asked the court if they could tell them what happend. Carlton said he could not because it’s a legal matter.

“It’s not pretty,” Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose said.

Sheriff Keith Merritt said cutting their patrol cars for capital outlay would really hurt the way they do business.

“In reality, have a beginning balance of $5 million. Trying to keep expenses down. Department heads have done a good job and I expect they will continue in watching their budgets,” Dubose said. “We need to run patrol cars, fix roads, buy equipment. What are our employees going to do? Stand there? I think we’re cutting too much.”

Carlton said between the contingency fund and capital outlay the money is there.

Merritt said the Orange County Sheriff’s Office cut their fleet a couple of years ago to save money, but with their current cars, he doesn’t see how they can operate another year.”

Johnson said the county can’t borrow money unless they go out for a bond.

Barry Burton, Precicnt 2 commissioner, asked if the court could go to the nine steps in January to split the pay matrix?

Carlton answered they could.

“We’ll try to figure it out in the next few days if employees move up a half-step,” he said.

John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, said the court can’t discuss the legal matter, but he’s “100 percent for doing what’s right for the employees.”

Carlton said things looked as if they were going a different way until he was served legal papers by a deputy sheriff at 4 p.m. yesterday (Thursday, September 17).