Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

For at least the third holiday season in a row, the end of the year is bringing a close look at the Orange County finances.

After a second natural disaster flood in three years, money is again tight in that period between the start of the budget year in October and the due date for property taxes on Dec. 31.

Commissioners used about half of Tuesday’s hour-long meeting making tough decisions on bill-paying.

The longest and toughest-seeming decision was on an “off-cycle” application from the Vidor Chamber of Commerce for $8,000 in hotel occupancy tax grants to defray expenses for a Dec. 14 Christmas market, parade and tree-lighting.

Commissioners and Jessica Hill, the county’s Economic Development Corporation director, agreed that HO tax funds were only to be spent on promoting events, not putting them on. They agreed to grant $4,000.

Another lengthy discussion ensued on whether to renew the county’s existing auditing contract with Weaver and Tidwell.

According to Pennee Schmitt, county auditor, the county paid the company $75,000 for its 2019 audit, which was considerably more than it had been paying for the service in the past.

But the commissioners agreed to hire Weaver and Tidwell a year ago, “to get a new set of eyes” on their finances after the same company had done the audit for 23 years in a row.

Schmitt explained much of the charges for this year because the firm was new to the account.

“They had to do more work to get a base, because they don’t have that history,” she said.

The cost to employ the firm for the next year just for the regular audit would be about $51,000 Schmitt said, but the county had also contracted with Weaver and Tidwell for audits of the Juvenile and Adult Probation departments. Those will take next year’s expected payout to $71,000.

“We were happy with the audit itself. They did a good job,” County Judge John Gothia said.

“I do not want to renew at that price,” Commissioner Johnny Trahan said.

Court counsel Denise Gremillion explained it was really too late to book a new auditing firm for 2020.

“It sounds like we don’t have a choice,” Trahan said. “I hate going forward with this.”

Commissioners agreed to pay Weaver and Tidwell for another year, but start planning for 2021’s audit next summer.

In weekly bills, the commissioners agreed to pay $295,391.82.

But only after a short discussion regarding two invoices to the county’s grants administrator, Wendorf, Beward & Partners totaling $150,000.

Commissioners Kirk Roccaforte and Theresa Beauchamp have protested the amount of payments to the company, which are supposed to be reimbursed by FEMA for Hurricane Harvey expenses.

But Gothia said these invoices had been held up pending the county’s receipt of more FEMA grants. He said the county had recently received $1.4 million in FEMA money, so it was releasing the payment.

“We’ve been sitting on these invoices since about April waiting on that $1.4 million,” Gothia said.

Schmitt said the county was still waiting on about $40,000 in CDBG funds from Harvey.

“If we get it, we’ll pay them,” she said.