Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

In his successful campaign for County Judge earlier this year, Dean Crooks repeatedly raised questions about Orange County’s energy savings contract with Way Services.

At Commissioners’ Court Tuesday, he had a lot of other people asking questions, too.

The biggest one seems to be “what are we getting from Way Services for our money?”

Early in Tuesday’s meeting, court members approved the final $61,000 payment of a $5.59 million contract with Way Services for work on county buildings that included heating and air-conditioning unit replacements and lighting updates.

Then they discovered the contractors hadn’t yet finished the work.

County Maintenance Director Kurt Guidry said several months ago he provided the company a “punch list” of final touches before he would sign off on the project, and was still waiting for a response.

Commissioners pulled that check at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, along with another $2,000 check for Way Service’s monthly monitoring agreement.

Under a state mandate to be more energy efficient, the then-court members – Commissioners Barry Burton, Jody Crump, David Dubose and John Banken and County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton – voted unanimously in September 2016 to pay for the Way Services contract by selling tax-exempt bonds.

The county agreed to repay investors – with interest – over a 15-year term that runs through 2031.

Banken noted at the time that the annual cost of bond repayment rose steadily from $245,000 for 2017 to twice that much in 2031.

It was presented that Way Services guaranteed the county would be able to pay the company’s bill with energy savings.

“I want to make sure the public understands that if we don’t make the savings, this company pays the bill,” Banken said on Sept. 13, 2016.

Tuesday’s discussion also revealed that the county had no way to monitor energy savings, other than to take Way Services’ word for it.

The $2,000 check that was pulled was to have been the third monthly payment for monitoring, Crooks said, and it was revealed that Way Services had so far failed to provide the county with a monitoring report.

Crooks said his understanding was that the monthly monitoring charges continued for 15 years and would cost the county another half-million dollars.

“They voted to borrow the money,” said Crooks, who defeated incumbent Carlton in March and has been in office since May. “I don’t know why.

“Now we owe the financial institution $1.1 million in interest. I want to stop the bleeding, but I also don’t want to stop paying if there’s a clause that will end our warranty.”

The energy savings were to come from more efficient equipment to ward off an expected rise in the cost of electricity.

But Commissioner Johnny Trahan, who retired from Entergy to join the court in 2017, said electricity prices have been steady since 2016.

A bright spot, maybe: Guidry said after Way Services installed the first new air conditioner in February 2017, he was told the calendar on the warranty on new equipment wouldn’t start until the job was complete.

“We’ve got to find out what our legal options are,” Crooks said. “We don’t want to spend another half-million dollars and get nothing for it.”

After deducting Way Service’s now-delayed $67,000, the county’s bills paid Tuesday totaled $590,000. Of that, $321,000 went to Wendorf, Beward & Partners, the county’s FEMA grant administrator.

Commissioners also authorized early voting dates and polling places for the Nov. 6 general election.

Early voting sites will be Oct. 22-Nov. 2 at Orange Public Library, Bridge City Public Works Building, Mauriceville Volunteer Fire Department and Raymond Gould Community Center.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for Tuesdays Oct. 23 and Oct. 30, when they will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

All 34 voting boxes will be at their usual locations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6.