Photo: Mike Kunst, left, poses with Mayor Larry Spears, Jr., for his first official portrait as Orange’s new city manager.

 

Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

Orange City Council chose its new city manager Tuesday, and it is Vidor City Manager Mike Kunst.

While the “sole finalist” and the city attorney met to go over the details of a contract, others with a long memory were left to wonder what it is that makes Vidor’s city managers so attractive in Orange.

Kunst will be filling the full-time shoes of Shawn Oubre, who was city manager in Orange for 13 years after coming to the job from a similar position at Vidor.

“I’m just guessing I’ll get started Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal budget year, and that’ll let me finish up in Vidor,” Kunst said.

“There’s not a lot I can do here in the middle of the Orange budget process.”

Kunst, a Vidor native and Lamar graduate, was city manager for Vidor for 6-1/2 years, a job he came to from an unusual path.

For 20 years he worked as a funeral director in Vidor, Orange and Beaumont while doubling up those 20 years as a member of the National Guard.

Kunst served two deployments in Iraq.

“I got into city government by chance,” he said. “When I got out of the guard, I had post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and I guess I needed something to do.

“I took a class or two on a master’s degree in public administration. Then Vidor needed a city manager.

“I figured, ‘What could it hurt?’ So I applied and got the job. When this job came open, I said, ‘This is too much not to at least try for.’

“What’s the worst that could happen? They might not hire me.”

The city engaged executive search group Strategic Government Resources of Keller, Texas, to conduct the search for a replacement for Oubre, who departed last October for a similar job in the Waco suburb of Woodway.

Two finalists, Kunst and Cynthia Northrop of Alvin, interviewed with council members on Aug. 6, while a third finalist dropped out before interviewing.

Kelvin Knauf, city planning director, has served as acting city manager since Oubre departed.

He led council members through a pair of budget workshops last week designed around a proposed 2020 budget of $44 million, including general fund, water and sewer fund, general debt and special revenue funds.

Tuesday, council members voted 7-0 in favor of a proposed tax rate of 80.69 cents per $100 of property value. That’s just 18-hundredths of a cent over last year’s rate of 80.51 cents per $100.

But it’s 7.3% above the effective tax rate of 75.15 cents per $100, the rate at which last year’s properties would return the same amount of revenue as 2019’s budget.

That rate is the maximum city council can vote in after a pair of public tax rate hearings held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27 and at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The proposed tax rate will bring in $538,720 more than last year’s adopted budget. Additionally, the city expects $898,844 more in industrial contract payments, $134,888 more in sales tax revenue and $845,651 from Invista because of the expiration of a tax abatement.

Council members agreed to vote 7-0 to accept calculations by Orange County Appraisal District that showed the city had $1.5 billion in total market value property and $1.1 billion in taxable property.

That’s a 6.7% increase in taxable property, said Cheryl Zeto, city finance director.

On the good news front, the city OK’d an annual premium of $2.9 million on employee medical insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

That’s a 9.7% reduction, Zeto said, and the city is continuing to pay 90 percent of its employees insurance. While acknowledging a 6% increase in employee dental insurance, there are no rate increases in employee vision and life insurance, Zeto said.

Council members voted to continue waiving building permit fees and allowing the use of recreational vehicles and travel trailers on residential property as temporary housing until FEMA ceased extensions to those staying in temporary housing.

Council members received an update on the proposed Chevron Phillips Chemical project in a closed executive meeting at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. No action was taken afterward.