Budget season under way for county

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, August 8, 2018

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


As the numbers are crunched and analyzed, Commissioners Court discussed health insurance, reclassifications and setting the salaries for elected officials during the Tuesday afternoon meeting.

Under the current policy, new hires since Oct. 1. 2017, had to pay for health insurance coverage for benefits. Those already employed by the county paid 40-percent while the county covered 60-percent of the cost.

Under the approved policy change, effective Oct. 1, 2018, all employees will spilt the cost with the county 50/50.

Commissioner John Gothia said it bothered him that a proposed change would only affect 80 people.

“I reached out to people in the county who it would affect and if it would help the county, they were OK with the change,” Gothia said. “That helped me feel a little better.”

Orange County Judge Dean Crooks said the taxpayers are paying the bill.

“It is longevity,” Crooks said. “With good health care and benefits, those tend to stay. When we hire someone, we hire for everything they do for us, not just the 40 hours.”

New hires, according to Crooks, live, shop and their children go to school here, all adding benefit to the community.

“I have been going over the budget for several weeks, we can’t do everything this year,” Crooks said. “I don’t see where we can do somethings.”

Orange County Sheriff’s Office has lost more employees in recent years due to changes to benefits for the employees.

“During the exit interviews, it is due to benefits,” Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt said. “They said they wanted to get out while they got what they got. We need to attract people here and to stay here. The salary monies are not going anywhere because we have no one to fill the positions.”

Commissioners Barry Burton and Jody Crump voted against changing the policy to 50/50.

Crump had passed a motion for maintaining the current policy. The motion failed for lack of a second.

“It is not fair,” Burton said on the new policy.

Salaries, expenses, and other allowances for elected officials will not change at this time.

“Not to blindside anyone, but I want to look at five positions to decrease,” Crooks said. “It is the five positions right here {referring to Commissioners Court]. I am not pushing anyone today and it is not required to be posted if there is a decrease.”

Elected officials salaries have to publish in the local paper prior to final approval for the fiscal budget.

Several positions through out the county were considered for reclassification; one was for a decrease in pay, while others were for in increase in income.

“Keep in mind we are reclassifying a position, not a person,” Crooks said.

While the positions, ranging from Road and Bridge Office Manager, Road and Bridge Tire Changer, Parks Department employees, and others, were discussed in previous workshops, the department heads were asked to again restate why the position should be reclassified.

Environmental Health Health Inspector was changed from a NE-6 to Deputy Director, a NE-7, as the position will now include taking over administrative duties and will be supervising others.

A Parks Department Worker, classification NE-1, will now be a NE-2 Park Maintenance. The original position was created in January of this year to help get the county parks reopened after Hurricane Harvey. However, the employee is now doing the same work as Park Maintenance.

The change in classifications for a Park Supervisor from NE-6 to Park Supervisor NE-5.

“This is a good example of duty changes,” Crooks said. “Sabrina is now the Parks Director.”

Prior to Sabrina Gray taking on the duties of Park Supervisor as well as Events Coordinator at the Expo Center, the duties were taken care of by the Orange County Maintenance Department.

“Just because we did not reclassify, does not mean we do not value the person,” Commissioner Johnny Trahan said. “It has to meet the qualification guidelines.”

In other county business, the court approved purchasing part of the app “A Slice of Orange.”

“Citizens can download and view the app now,” Orange County Human Resources Director Lori Ardoin said. “It will help0 with our communications during storms. Schools, and cities are getting involved.”

Crooks added the app would be used in addition to STAN, Facebook, and other outlets currently used.

“People are still going to listen to the radio and read newspapers,” Gothia said. “This is another way to help us reach more people in an emergency so we can better serve our citizens.”

Trahan added he had to help squelch rumors on Facebook during Hurricane Harvey.

The app will be one way to help the county send alerts to those who have downloaded the app and help keep residents informed.