County taps ‘rainy day fund’ for $3.2M
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
It was a bad news-good news 25-minute stretch for Orange County Commissioners Court Tuesday.
First, commissioners voted 5-0 to hand over more than 40 percent of the county’s “rainy day fund” to pay the $3.2-million lawsuit award resulting from the 2011 death of a man being held in a county jail observation cell.
Then, less than a half hour later, a representative of Jefferson Energy Terminal presented nearly $2.4 million worth of checks to the court.
Speaking in the citizens’ comment time near the end of the meeting, Mark Viator thanked the court for granting the company a tax abatement for the project that has grown from $46 million since conception to $278 million.
Viator is government affairs director for the crude oil blending and storage facility on the Orange County side of the Port of Beaumont.
“When people talk about economic development, tax abatements and tax incentives are very important to companies,” Viator said. “I want to say that to you, and I want to thank you for what you’ve done for us.
“You’ve helped us expand and create economic development in Orange County. We hope to continue to expand. Thank you.”
Viator presented a $2.2 million check for the company’s 2016 taxes, plus a second check of $112,500 for payment to the county’s PILOT in-lieu-of taxes program and a third for $11,250 for the Orange County Economic Development Corporation.
Those dollars, however, were monies anticipated in the 2017 county budget.
The $3,175,674.79 payment for the Montano vs. Orange County Texas lawsuit was not.
It was labeled an “emergency expenditure” and, according to the day’s agenda, “Commissioners’ Court finds the expense to be of grave public necessity.”
The commissioners were unanimous in directing the county clerk to file an amendment to the original county budget, taking the amount from the fund balance.
The payment comes after Orange County lost a series of appeals of a 2015 federal court decision.
That jury awarded the family of Robert Montano $1.5 million for pain suffered and $900,000 for wrongful death after Montano died of kidney failure while in custody.
The total due by Feb. 15 includes $440,000 for plaintiff’s attorneys fees plus interest.
Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton said after the close of Tuesday’s session that the county fund balance was originally projected to stand at $7.8 million dollars at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.
With Tuesday’s budget amendment, the projected fund balance, also called the “rainy day fund” by some governing bodies, would stand at $4.6 million.
Neither the judge nor the four commissioners commented about the case that caused the expenditure. Until a “release from judgment” is granted in what is expected to be a week to 10 days, the lawsuit remains technically “in litigation.”
”Once there is a release of judgment received,” Carlton said, “I do intend on having a special commissioners’ court meeting or workshop to discuss this issue in great detail,” with the public.
Besides receiving a check from Jefferson Energy Terminal, Jessica Hill, executive director of the Orange County EDC, was busy Tuesday presenting and gaining approval a plan to award hotel occupancy tax funds.
Commissioners agreed to dispense $77,200 in 2016-17 funds to 11 groups.
The recipient of the largest amount of funding was the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, awarded $30,000 to stage its summer fishing tournament.
Lutcher Theater received $10,000 and the Orangefield Cormier Museum $5,700. Five groups received $5,000 awards – Friends of Orange Depot, Gulf Coast Cajuns for Cajun Festival, Vidor Chamber of Commerce for its Barbecue Festival, Heritage House for special events and Conn Park Complex for parking improvements.
Orange Amateur Radio Club was awarded $3,000 for HAMfest, Bridge City Chamber of Commerce and Museum $2,000 and Bow Tie Events $1,500 to stage Music by the Stars.