Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

Orange County went back in time Tuesday – to before October of 2016 – to return to the good old days of six weeks a year of paid vacation.

County commissioners voted 3-2 to return to the old policy that grants county employees four weeks of paid vacation per year after 10 years of service, five weeks after 15 years and six weeks after 20 years.

The change, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2019, comes despite Commissioners Barry Burton and Jody Crump voting against it.

Crump and Burton, who lost their bids for re-election in March’s primary, had joined the last county judge, Stephen Brint Carlton, on the winning side of 3-2 votes to trim this employee benefit and others after Carlton’s election in 2014.

Dean Crooks, who defeated Carlton in the Republican Primary in March and took office in May after Carlton’s resignation, campaigned against the Carlton-led benefits cuts and is moving forward in reversing them.

“I don’t want this to just be an incentive for recruitment,” Crooks said. “I want this also to be for retainment, so people who’ve been here awhile have a reason to stay.”

Earlier this month, Crooks and Commissioners Johnny Trahan and John Gothia were the majority in a 3-2 vote to increase the county’s contribution for employees’ dependent health care insurance from 40 percent to 50 percent.

The change for Fiscal Years’ 2017 and 2018 vacation policy applied only to new hires after Oct. 1, 2016, while grand-fathering everyone hired before that date with the six-week vacation maximum. It affected only about 50 people so far, but those recent hires will no longer be limited to just four weeks of vacation per year, once they hit the service

The county approved paying bills totaling $1.4 million with $1 million of that going to Ashbritt Environmental for removal of debris generated by Tropical Storm Harvey.

Joel Ardoin, the county’s emergency management coordinator, reported that Orange County had submitted $2.8 million of expenses for “second round” debris hauling for reimbursement by FEMA and the state of Texas.

Ardoin also said the county had submitted $1.6 million in “force account labor” costs for FEMA reimbursement.

FEMA and the Texas General Land Office have already reimbursed the county about $10 million for Harvey debris hauling.

One bill the county didn’t pay – for the second time in three weeks – was a $61,204 payment to Way Services of Austin.

That decision was made after a 30-minute closed session between the commissioners and legal counsel, Denise Gremillion, the assistant county attorney.

Kurt Guidry, the county’s maintenance director, said Way Services, which contracted in 2016 for a $5.5 million energy efficiency overhaul of county buildings, had yet to fulfill its end of the contract.

The question for Gremillion was, if the county withheld its final payments until the job was completed to its satisfaction, would that violate other parts of the contract having to do with ongoing warranties and monitoring of energy savings.

“We’ve paid for the drive train and the engine,” Crooks said, making an automobile analogy. “Can we hold this back for the tail lights?”

Gremillion said the original contract included the requirement for Way Services to take out a performance bond, but the actual bond has gone missing.

“The lack of a performance bond constitutes breech on their behalf,” Trahan said.

“It not only constitutes breech, but this is a violation of the Government Code,” Gremillion said.

Both Guidry and Gremillion promised more information at next week’s meeting.

Commissioners also voted to make no changes in the Civil Process fees for the county for another year.

County Auditor Pennee Schmitt was reappointed for another two-year term and eight departmental line-item transfers were OK’d.