Dave Rogers

For The Record

While public officials speak periodically about losing a lot of experienced employees of the Baby Boomer generation to retirement, Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt faced the reality from a unique perspective Tuesday.

Two of the 10 action items on a 30-minute agenda for the weekly Orange County Commissioners’ Court meeting involved voting to allow retiring sheriff’s deputies to purchase their department-issued guns from the county.

Merritt said that in retiring Investigator Gary Hinton and retiring Jail Administrator, Capt. Don Harmon he was losing 46 years of experience.

“Capt. Harmon has about 35 or 36 years at the Sheriff’s Department,” Merritt said. “It’s the only job he’s ever had since he got of high school.

“It’s kind of tough to replace these guys with those kind of years of experience. We’re kind of struggling a bit, but we’ll make it.”

They were the ninth and 10th retiring deputies to apply a government statute allowing them to purchase their duty firearm from the county since Oct. 2016, the sheriff allowed.

“Is this anything unusual?” Commissioner Theresa Beauchamp asked.

“No ma’am,” said Commissioner Robert Viator, following with a bit of humor: “I think the sidearm that they carry for years is kind of like a blanket for a child. They’ve got to have their blankie.”

Merritt piled on: “I won’t get into some of the weird relationships that I’ve heard about,” he said.

And the courtroom exploded with laughter.

While Hinton was the ninth in the past 30 months to purchase his Glock 40 caliber to carry into retirement, Harmon opted to purchase his rifle, a Colt AR15-A3 carbine.

They each agreed to paying the county’s replacement cost of their guns, $409 for the pistol and $632 for the carbine.

County Judge Dean Crooks asked Merritt where the county could purchase a AR15 for $632.

“If you buy about 40 or 50 of them at once, you get a little cheaper price,” the sheriff said.

In other business, commissioners agreed to pay $264,852 in weekly bills, a sum that included a check for $98,562 to Wendorf, Beward & Partners for administrative work performed to secure federal government FEMA and CDBG-DR funding connected to Hurricane Harvey recovery.

On the flip side, they OK’d paperwork to secure $33,000 from the Tobacco Setllement Distribution Program.

The state negotiated a $17 billion settlement with cigarette makers more than 20 years ago, much of which was put into a trust account to make annual payments to political subdivisions, such as the county for health services.

Without a hospital district or county hospital, Orange County is reimbursed for expenses on jail expenses on indigent healthcare.

Two items on the agenda involved agreeing to allow the Sheriff’s Office to purchase a wheel balancer for $4,600 to use on its fleet of 87 vehicles – “we go through a lot of tires,” the sheriff said, and a line-item transfer inside the Sheriff’s Office budget to pay for same.

Another item allowed a line-item transfer within the Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace budget to purchase $8,700 of scanners.