County Judge votes against OC EDC funding

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader

 

Funding for the Orange County Economic Development Corporation (OC EDC) will continue for another year after a 4-1 vote during the Tuesday Orange County Commissioners Court meeting.

County Judge Dean Crooks cast the one against vote.

“We understand the county is in a difficult position because of Harvey,” OC EDC Director Jessica Hill said. “We have adjusted our budget and believe we can continue to move forward with $150,000 less than last year.”

Hill said they corporation could continue to move forward with $375,000 which is funded through membership funds and includes $129,000 in restricted funds.

OC EDC also reimburses the county $246,000 throughout the year.

“Our greatest accomplishment this past year is the grants we provided for small businesses,” Hill said. “We are proud we could support them when they were not getting help elsewhere.”

Crooks said he was concerned for Orange County citizens.

“I hope this investment pays off for the citizens sake,” Crooks said. “Despite personal belief, I hope it brings these businesses here.”

Currently the OC EDC is currently working on $9 billion dollars of projects in the pipeline, which has the potential to create over 800 jobs locally.

“One company increased the amount of the project as of this [Tuesday] morning,” Hill said.

Crooks said the funds for OC EDC could buy four Tahoes for the Sheriff’s Office, a Gradall for Road and Bridge and one person’s salary for a year and a one-percent raise across the board.

“That is a lot to give up,” Crooks said.

Commissioner John Gothia the funds were being used for what it was meant to be used for.

“We need to make sure we are moving the money to where it needs to be to do the most good,” Gothia said. “I want to clarify we are not taking cars from the Sheriff. The half-cent sales tax is to be used for one of five things. Economic development is one of those things.”

Commissioner Barry Burton said he would like to give the OC EDC what it had in funding last year.

“I do appreciate that you are willing to reduce your budget by 25-percent,” Burton said.

Crooks said the EDC was optional.

“Not saying it is not a good option,” Crooks said. “We have to have certain things to be a county or the state comes in and runs us. We have a tight budget due to Harvey and when you have a tight budget, you start looking at optional and cutting there.”

In August, OC EDC and OC Independent School Districts announced that Junior High and Middle School campuses throughout Orange County are working together to ensure graduates are prepared for career opportunities in our area.

The “Texas Opportunity Zone” is a regional workforce development initiative that has been created as a way for business and local educational institutions to engage and support students participating in Texas21, a dynamic education and career planning curriculum developed by educators at Region 6 ESC in partnership with Rocket21. Orange County is the first Texas County to enroll all districts in the curriculum.

Commissioner Jody Crump said he was grateful to see this program which 1,200 Orange County students are enrolled in this year.

“I am grateful, as a parent, to have someone on the local level involved,” Crump added. “They are selecting careers at 8th grade and locally, they are able to see the business needs.”

Gothia added it would take money to grow the county.

“Out of Harvey can come growth,” Commissioner Johnny Trahan said. “We are on the verge of something great.”

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