County ends state of disaster, eyes rocky recovery
Dave Rogers / For The Record
Commissioners voted Tuesday to end Orange County’s disaster declaration at midnight and Sheriff Keith Merritt announced the county-wide curfew also has ended.
They also discussed the possibility of a rocky recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
The news came before and during the weekly commissioners’ court meeting, held for the first time since Aug. 22 in the courtroom at the County Administration Building.
The Aug. 29 meeting was canceled as Harvey lashed the area with what turned out to be more than 50 inches of rain, causing massive flooding. Last week’s meeting was held Sept. 5 at the Orange County Expo, home of the Emergency Operations Center.
The EOC was the main staging point for the county’s response to the disaster that pushed water into approximately 70 percent of the county’s 36,000 residences.
County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton had issued a disaster declaration Sunday, Aug. 27, two days after then-Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners thanked county employees and the public for their hard work and cooperation after flooding began. Commissioners John Gothia and Jody Crump both choked up as they were making their comments.
“It’s a hard way to find out what people are made of, but you’re incredible,” Crump said.
Prior to the commissioners’ court meeting, the first of two public hearings on the 2017 tax rate was held and Carlton discussed concerns about the double-whammy Harvey will end up causing.
First is the unexpected multi-million dollar “rainy day” expense of the disaster response and cleanup. Then there is an expected huge drop in the county’s future property tax values. They add up to the likelihood of having to raise the tax rates for 2018.
The county cannot raise the rate above the previously proposed 54.4 cents per $100 value for the bills going out in October and due by Jan. 1, 2018, because of paperwork filed before the storm. Property values for 2017 were locked down in July.
But 2018 values are sure to plummet and the county isn’t likely to come close to the 97 percent collection rate of 2016. So there was a discussion about whether the county should go through with a hoped-for decrease in the tax rate for 2017 or keep the 54.4 rate and use any leftover funds to rebuild the county’s fund balance, which is sure to take a major hit from Harvey.
Woody Dugas of Vidor was the only citizen to speak during the hearing and his topic was the pay raise for 18 elected officials that commissioners passed 4-1 (Crump voted no) during last week’s meeting at the Expo Center.
The first pay raise for elected officials in nine years would cost the county $200,000 a year, an average of $11,000 for each of the 18.
“Don’t y’all think it’d be wise to rescind that raise until this is all over with?” Dugas asked. “The citizens are unhappy about it. They really are.
“Roll that back until another day, because everybody’s suffering.”
The second and final public hearing on the tax rate is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the County Administration Building, 123 S. 6th St.