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The 2016 State of the County

By Stephen Brint Carlton

Orange County Residents,

The year 2015 was my first year as your County Judge and it was filled with excitement and incredible accomplishments. Orange County employees worked very hard to provide services to all 83,000 of you. We made tremendous strides in these short 12 months to increase our efficiency and effectiveness when using YOUR MONEY that you have ENTRUSTED TO US. Despite all of the success, our work is not done and we will continue to strive for more improvements. Each and every county employee is a public servant, and it is my goal to ensure that our number one priority is serving each of you to the best of our abilities.

I strongly believe in all levels of government being fiscally secure and responsible. Orange County has made vast improvements in our financial position from the beginning of 2015. The biggest help to our finances was the creation of the first truly balanced budget in over 20 years. For fiscal year 2016, the county’s projected revenues equaled projected expenses. A truly balanced budget means the county was able to preserve our $6.5 million beginning fund balance. This helps the county maintain a reserve in the event of a natural disaster. Additionally, it is an enormous improvement over the negative $3 million projected ending fund balance two years ago and the $392,000 projected ending fund balance one year ago. We were only able to achieve a truly balanced budget by hard work, reevaluating County programs and policies from top to bottom, and making difficult decisions. We began the budget process earlier than any County employee could remember and I personally went through each and every of the thousands of lines in the budget. We listened to the concerns of each department and incorporated as many requests as we could within the framework of a balanced budget. The County also did not need to borrow funds to make payroll through the end of the calendar year for the first time since 2012. Additionally, this balanced budget was accomplished without raising the property tax rate.

Other accomplishments during 2015 include:

  • Medicare-eligible County retirees were moved from a 100 percent County funded Blue Cross Blue Shield plan to a 100 percent County funded Medicare supplement plan. This revision resulted in overall lower out-of-pocket health costs for the retiree and a savings of approximately $220,000 per year for the County,
  • The County’s sick-time buyback program is being phased out. This program required the County to buyback up to 480 hours (12 weeks) of an employee’s sick-time upon the employee leaving County employment. The Court took action in September to freeze these sick-time “accounts” so that the cost of this policy will only get smaller over time and the program will eventually disappear,
  • Saving $120,000 per year by removing about $2 million in various property from our insured inventory list that the County has not even possessed as far back as 2003,
  • Saving $30,000 per year by removing one deceased, one incarcerated, and two otherwise ineligible individuals from our County-funded retiree health insurance pool that the County was unnecessarily spending taxpayer funds on,
  • Securing grant funds for a $1.4 million radio-tower project to improve radio communication coverage for first responders and law enforcement agencies,
  • Conducting the first comprehensive, cover-to-cover review, update, and revision of the County Policy Manual in over 16 years,
  • Revamping the Orange County Economic Development Corporation to build upon the successes of the current model and give Orange County increased chances of economic development going into the future,
  • Reducing County costs on private culvert installation by charging the full cost of installation instead of one-third of the cost,
  • Reducing property maintenance costs by instituting a lease program on dozens of County-owned FEMA buyback properties,
  • Entering into an agreement with Texas Workforce Solutions to receive extra manpower in various departments at no cost to the County,
  • Instituting an employee and retiree health fair to provide health education and screenings at no cost,
  • Instituting an employee health incentive program whereby each employee must take two basic, no-cost steps to demonstrate proactive involvement in their own health care or pay $40 per month to their own health insurance premiums,
  • Revising the emergency management debris cleanup contract to potentially save millions of dollars in the event of a major catastrophe,
  • Securing millions of dollars in grants to improve roadways throughout the County, and
  • Declaring a disaster due to the Spring-time flooding to receive up to 75 percent reimbursement on road repairs.

The County also continues to explore the validity of or work on proposed future projects. Each of these proposed projects are in various stages of development and review. These projects would each bring unique new features to the County, but Orange County is still reviewing each of them and is not financially obligated to any of them as of yet. All of these projects remain only proposals at this time. These include:

  • The proposed Loop 299 in the Vidor area to improve transportation and open new areas for economic development,
  • The proposed FM 105 Tollway from Vidor to Beaumont over the Neches River to improve transportation, open new areas for economic development, provide another evacuation route out of Orange County and provide other benefits,
  • The proposed Army Corps of Engineers levee system to protect Orange County from devastating storm surge,
  • A new inpatient hospital to replace the services lost by the closure of Baptist Hospital’s inpatient services in Orange County,
  • A Veterans Health Administration facility in Orange County to serve Southeast Texas veterans, and
  • A new indigent health clinic to provide expanded services in Orange County to those with reduced health insurance access.

More information and details regarding the County’s accomplishments in 2015 can be found at http://www.co.orange.tx.us/2015_County_Accomplishments.html.

These are just a few of the many accomplishments of Orange County in 2015.  These do not even take into account the daily achievements of Orange County employees.  We kept our fellow citizens safe through law enforcement, investigators, dispatch and jailers.  We kept our economy moving with roads, bridges, an airport, and transportation.  We provided safe living, working, and leisure spaces by dedicated environmental, health, code, parks, and mosquito control individuals.  We provided health, mental health, and social services through our veterans’ office and social services department.  We maintained the scales of justice with judges, prosecutors, clerks, support staff, and adult and juvenile probation staff.  We taught life and agriculture services through AgriLife.  We provided fair and impartial elections by election administration personnel.  And we kept all of the above possible with purchasing, records, mailroom, MIS, treasury, auditors, maintenance, tax collectors, human resources, and additional support staff.

Every government employee enjoys the privilege of serving each of you. Government employment is not a right, an entitlement, or a guarantee, nor do the citizens exist to serve and fund the government. Our sole purpose as public servants is to execute the ideals embodied in The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution. Those ideals are that all people are created equal, we each have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness endowed to us by our Creator, that governments are instituted among the people and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that the people established a more perfect union to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Thank you for the opportunity, privilege, and honor to serve as your County Judge and I look forward to serving you for many years to come. I pray that 2016 will build upon the successes of 2015 and bring future progress and improvement throughout Orange County. May God bless you, your family, our community, and The United States of America.

Stephen Brint Carlton is Orange County Judge