Photo: County employees Michelle Tubbleville and Clark Slacum accept congratulations from Orange County Commissioners’ Court Tuesday for putting together a grant proposal which brought $82,000 to help prepare for future flooding. RECORD PHOTO: Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers                                                    

For The Record

 

Auditor Pennee Schmitt asked Commissioners’ Court to establish a special budget Tuesday and her bosses were more than happy to agree.

The budget was for a deposit of nearly $10 million after FEMA delivered a $9.3 million reimbursement late last week for debris cleanup from last summer’s record floods.

It also included $514,000 from the state of Texas to help repay the county’s first debris removal bill, which was $10.3 million.

“I’m very happy about it, obviously,” County Judge Dean Crooks said. “We need the money.”

Recent weekly commissioners’ court meetings have included some tough financial decisions with the county having used up all its $12 million “rainy day” fund balance to pay for storm cleanup.

Additionally, Michelle Tubberville, the county’s special projects coordinator, and Clark Slacum, county engineer presented commissioners a grant for $82,140 to purchase five sand bag fillers and related equipment.

The grant was funded half by the Rebuild Texas Fund and half by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy Hurricane Harvey Fund.

“It’s a great thing, and we’re excited for that grant,” Tubbleville said of the equipment intended to ease the burden on people preparing for the next high-water situation.

Each of the county’s four precincts will get one of the sand dispensers, each of which will fill four sand bags at the same time. Additional equipment includes 20 hand-held devices to stitch-close each sand bag.

“Through this generous grant, we will be able to provide sand bags in a fast and secure manner,” Slacum said. “I hope we never have to use it, but we should be in a lot better shape.”

Commissioner John Gothia said he talked to a representative of the Rebuild Texas Fund who praised Orange County’s application.

“He said this was one of the best-written grants he’d ever seen and it was just a no-brainer that this was something this area needs,” Gothia said. “Hats off to you guys and particularly Michelle for writing that.”

Gothia continued: “I want to say thank you to Joel [Ardoin, the emergency management coordinator] and Michelle and everyone working with them to get us our $10 million. That was a huge hope for us to be able to finish out our year with the budget.”

Friday’s $9.3 million deposit was the first FEMA money received by the county to help after the national disaster caused by last summer’s Tropical Storm Harvey.

“This does not cover what we’ve paid so far,” Crooks noted, “but it is a very good start.

“We were in a tough situation to finish out the fiscal year.”

The FEMA funds deposited with the county represented a 90 percent reimbursement for the first $10.3 million paid by Orange County for debris removal.

The state of Texas has agreed to pay the other 10 percent and has already sent the county a check for 5 percent, $514,000.

FEMA has also promised to pay 100 percent for overtime for first responders – an amount estimated earlier this week at $1 million – and portions of other expenses, such as an estimated $20 million for road repair.

Last September, after the storm, the county put together a 2018 budget showing $48 million in normal operating expenses. Then it slipped most of its $12 million “rainy day” fund balance into the budget’s general fund as “contingency” money to be used to pay for Harvey recovery expenses.

County officials said at the time the $12 million fund balance would allow the county not to have to borrow to pay its disaster bills, as it did after earlier hurricanes.

The checks from FEMA and the state will be used to rebuild that “rainy day” fund balance.

Crooks and county commissioners had recently raised the possibility of having to take out short-term loans to pay bills, if the FEMA checks didn’t start to come soon.

“FEMA actually helped us expedite this transfer,” Crooks said Friday.

“Now we can move forward, knowing we can pay our bills.”