Greetings Reader,

This webpage includes accomplishments from the first 12 months of my term as County Judge. I am excited about the progress Orange County has made in 2015. Here are a few of the County's accomplishments made throughout 2015:

Commissioners Court:

- Truly Balanced Budget - The Court adopted the first truly balanced budget (where projected revenues exactly equaled projected expenses) for the first time in over 20 years. Further, the Court unanimously voted to not increase the County property tax rate ($0.544/$100). Orange County attained this rare accomplishment only by the extraordinary efforts of every County employee and the budgetary decisions made by the Court throughout 2015 (more information below). This budget allows the County to maintain a beginning fund balance of approximately $6.5 million. This is critical as it gives the County 14% ($6.5 million) of the recommended 25% ($11.5 million) of annual expenses ($46 million in FY 2016) in fund balance in case of a major catastrophe (i.e. Hurricanes Rita and Ike). The Court began the budget process earlier than anyone could remember and I personally worked very closely with our Auditing Department to go through each and every line of our budget. The Court held workshops with every department that chose to meet with us and we received a lot of good information. The adopted budget was very tight and the Court incorporated as many budget requests as we could.

- 1.5% Matrix COLA - In addition to our truly balanced budget, the Court adopted the first COLA for all regular matrix employees for the first time since 2011. The 1.5% COLA we adopted may not sound like much on the surface, but a 1.5% COLA is rather large when the purpose of a COLA is considered. A COLA is not meant to increase the overall purchasing power for an employee. A COLA is meant to adjust pay for annual inflation to maintain an employee's purchasing power in the free market. Inflation has been very low over the last several years. The 1.5% COLA is actually greater than approximately the last 2.5 years of inflation. In other words, regular matrix employees should have their purchasing power restored much closer to what it was in 2012. As a point of reference, the Social Security Administration website reads, "With consumer prices down over the past year, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for nearly 65 million Americans will not automatically increase in 2016."
http://www.ssa.gov/news/cola/
 

- New Medicare-eligible (65+) Retiree Health Insurance Policy - The Court, after 3 workshops and several Commissioners Court meetings, voted to join the 94 other Texas counties who offer improved health insurance for the majority of our retirees 65 and older. This is a win for the majority of our retirees, a win for the County, and a win for the taxpayers. Retirees and their spouses who are 65 and older will no longer have a deductible (was $2,000), will no longer have a copay (was $35/$45), will no longer have a co-share stoploss maximum (was $4,000), will have slightly cheaper Tier 1 and Tier 2 medications (the most common medications), and will save $2,600 per year on the cost of adding their spouse onto the insurance plan. The down side is the plan calls for slightly more expensive Tier 3 medications (rarer than Tier 1 and 2) and much more expensive Tier 4 medications (the rarest of the four Tiers). Thankfully, Tier 4 medications are specialty drugs that less than 1% (1 out of 252) of our retirees currently use and many drug manufacturers offer assistance by reducing costs. Additionally, a person will not necessarily stay on a Tier 4 medication for life. One of our retirees was previously on a Tier 4 medication before moving to a lower Tier. Overall, our Medicare-eligible retirees should have less out of pocket costs. The County will continue to fully fund the retiree's premiums through fiscal year 2016 and the retiree will continue to fully fund the premiums for their spouse. This freed up about $220,000 per year.

- Health Insurance for Current Employees, Under-65 Retirees, and Dependents - As everybody knows, the cost of health care is rising rapidly each and every year. This year, in order to help prevent rises in County health insurance costs, the County adopted a $250 prescription drug deductible for employees, retirees, and their dependents. The Court maintained 100% BCBS premium coverage for all current employees and under-65 retirees.

- Life Insurance - The Court, on the recommendation of former HR Director Minnie Hightower, voted to double life insurance benefits for eligible retirees (from $5,000 to $10,000) and to increase it for active employees (from $15,000 to $20,000). This important benefit extension costs the County a little less than $4,000 per year.

- Sick-Time Buyback - Non-exempt employees (and exempt employees who were previously non-exempt employees with remaining non-exempt sick-time) are eligible to sell up to 480 hours of sick-time back to the County upon termination (retirement or resignation). This type of benefit was provided by more employers in the past but is rare today. Many Counties did away with such programs many years ago as it puts a financial strain on the County. The taxpayers are forced to double-pay that time (i.e. Pay out weeks of sick-time to the outgoing employee and pay for a new employee during that same period) or not receive services during that time (i.e. Pay for weeks of service but not actually receive that service and wait for weeks before a new employee is hired as the County tries to defray those termination costs). The Court took action to freeze existing eligible sick-time. That means no further sick-time can be added to what was already eligible for buyback. For example, if Employee X had 600 hours of sick-time, then 480 hours are eligible for buyback. Employee X will still accumulate sick-time, but only the original 480 hours are eligible for buyback. If Employee X's banked sick-time dips below 480 hours (say, to 400 hours), then that floor becomes the new ceiling (only 400 hours would be eligible for buyback). If Employee Y only had 10 hours of sick-time as of the date of freezing, then only those 10 hours would be eligible for buyback for the remainder of their employment with the County. If Employee Z was hired after the date of freezing, then Employee Z will never have sick-time eligible for buyback. However, Employees X, Y, and Z will still accumulate sick-time per the current policy and can attain a maximum of 1440 hours.

- VA Inpatient Facility - The County is working with the City of Orange, Congressman Brian Babin, and other local and surrounding governmental agencies to request the establishment of a VA inpatient facility in Orange County. There are 6,000 veterans in Orange County and about 30,000 in surrounding counties. The closest inpatient VA facility is in Houston. This is a very long process and may take several years. If this were to happen though, it would be a major benefit to the entire veteran population of Southeast Texas.

- New County-wide Health Services - The County, City of Orange, and many other stakeholders are working to secure a new inpatient facility and a new clinic in Orange County. We have met with multiple interested organizations and are in the initial phases of beginning a feasibility study for new health services in Orange County. This is unfortunately a difficult process and may take a considerable amount of time.

- Economic Development - Every member of the Court has met with at least one interested party in bringing new business to Orange County. The County is on the path to securing another event similar to Bassmaster Elite and new businesses worth tens of millions of dollars. The County is working to revamp the Orange County Economic Development Corporation and many changes are coming. There is much work left to be done, but everybody is working hard to improve the economy of Orange County. A better economy and more businesses mean more homes, an increased tax base, and more funds available to provide County services.

- Proposed Projects - The Court is working with numerous entities on several proposed projects. These projects include the proposed Loop 299 in the Vidor area, the proposed FM 105T (T is for tollway) going from Vidor to Beaumont, and the proposed levee system to protect Orange County. 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.


Road and Bridge Department:

- Culvert Policy - The Court, on the recommendation of County Engineer Clark Slacum, voted to change the existing culvert policy. Residents will now pay the full cost of culvert installation instead of the previous 33% of the cost. Based on historical data, this could generate up to about $140,000 per year. While generating the full $140,000 is unlikely, the County will at a minimum break-even for culvert installations instead of taking a loss.

    - Road and Bridge Renovations - County Engineer Clark Slacum and the Court have various projects underway to repair, replace, or renovate bridges and sections of roadway throughout the County. Mr. Slacum has done a fantastic job in securing grant funds and matching funds from sources outside the County to accomplish these needed projects at an absolute minimum expense to the County.

Emergency Management Department:

- Debris Cleanup Contract Savings - Emergency Management Coordinator Ryan Peabody renegotiated our debris cleanup contract. The savings to the taxpayer, depending on the size of the disaster, could be in the millions of dollars.

    - Radio Tower Project - EMC Ryan Peabody is also working on a radio tower project in western Orange County. This project will help eliminate gaps in radio coverage for law enforcement, fire, EMS, and emergency management personnel. The project construction (valued around $1.4 million) should be fully funded through grants. The County and first responders should enjoy this capability at an annual cost to the County of about $1,000.

    - Ham-Radios - EMC Ryan Peabody is in talks with local industry to secure free radio equipment valued around $ 8 0,000. The equipment would be used by volunteers to provide long distance radio communication capabilities should Orange County be isolated due to the loss of telecommunications in a disaster event.

    - Disaster Declaration - The County, on the recommendation of EMC Ryan Peabody, issued a disaster declaration for Orange County in June. This declaration was in response to sustained flooding in parts of Orange County since May. This starts the process for Orange County and her residents to possibly be eligible for FEMA and state assistance to repair damage.

    - ID Badges - EMC Ryan Peabody has developed a plan to issue ID badges to all County employees. These badges have built-in security features and will help expedite County personnel returning to the County after an evacuation event. Mr. Peabody secured outside funding to cover over 50% of the cost of the ID badge printer and the badges themselves.

Risk Management Department:

- Risk Management Insurance Review - Missy Pillsbury reviewed the County's non-health insurance policies through TAC. She identified items we were insuring that the County has not owned since 2003. In all, she was able to remove about $2 million in property from our inventory. This, and other efforts on her part, helped reduce the County's insurance premiums on those policies by about $120,000 a year. Those savings were used to purchase Public Official and Law Enforcement insurance for the County. These two new insurance policies should cover the County against wrongful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful death, and excessive force litigation.

    - Flood Insurance - Missy Pillsbury has worked for months to secure NFIP flood insurance for County buildings and property. This is important because this type of insurance is needed for FEMA reimbursement purposes. Missy, Kurt Guidry, and I looked though information on every County building and structure and the contents within them to determine the level of insurance required. Additionally, Missy had to secure current or updated elevation certificates for each of those pieces of property. We are currently awaiting a quote for the total cost of this insurance.

Tax Assessor Collector Department:

- Texas Scofflaw Program - The Court, on the recommendation of Lynda Gunstream, instituted the Scofflaw Program. This program allows the Tax Assessor Collector Department to deny vehicle registration for people who owe fines, fees, or taxes to Orange County. While it is hard to quantify the amount collected due to Scofflaw as that data is not directly tracked, the County has caught residents affected by Scofflaw. Delinquent fines and fees from justice of the peace, county court at law, county clerk, and property taxes are all areas eligible for Scofflaw.

Maintenance Department:

- FEMA Properties - Maintenance Department Director Kurt Guidry identified dozens of pieces of property the County owns due to FEMA buyback programs after the hurricanes. The County is responsible for maintaining these pieces of property and cannot sell them. However, Kurt worked with Assistance County Attorney Doug Manning to develop a program whereby adjacent property owners can lease the property for a nominal fee ($1.00) from the County. This will help eliminate the County's expense in maintaining these properties during the lease period.

    - Energy Efficiency Program - The County interviewed two energy efficiency program companies and selected Way Services to help Orange County with its first energy efficiency program. This program will help to reduce energy and water costs. The cost savings are then used to update County equipment such as air conditioners, lighting, and generators. The County is guaranteed to save money by Way Services and Way Services will pay the County for the difference between realized savings and projected savings.

HR Department:

- Policy Manual Updates - The Court, working with the HR Department, Lori Ardoin (who was with the Sheriff's Department but is now the new HR Director), and other department heads and elected officials, have reviewed each and every employee policy. A handful of the policies were updated within the last three years, but the vast majority were last reviewed 16 years ago (Oct 1, 1999). The new policies will incorporate changes in the law (i.e. types of discrimination) since 1999, updated wording to reflect the annual review, voting responsibilities of the Court regarding certain policies and benefits, and policy changes the Court instituted throughout 2015. The Court and HR Director Ardoin hope to have the new Policy Manual posted before February 2016.

    - Health Fair - Through the guidance of former HR Director Minnie Hightower, the County held its first health fair. A total of over 100 employees and retirees attended during the 2 day event. Many received health screenings, literature, and presentations on how to improve their wellbeing. The County is already planning on holding the event again next year.
- Employee Health Incentive Program - The County entered into a health incentive program whereby employees must complete two out of eight basic, no-cost proactive health steps. The purpose of this program is to help incentivize employees to take ownership in their health care, create healthier employees, and eventually reduce health care costs to the County. If an employee chooses not to accomplish at least two of the steps, then that employee will contribute $40 per month to their health insurance premiums.
- Free Help - Minnie Hightower worked out an agreement with Workforce Solutions for the County to receive free help around the County. These individuals report to different departments to assist County business. Workforce Solutions covers the entire cost.

- Retiree Discrepancies - Minnie Hightower worked with the Auditor's office to identify ineligible former County employees receiving health insurance benefits. Two had left employment with the County, but did not retire. One passed away two years ago. The final one has been in jail for five years for embezzling from the County. Each one of the individuals cost the County about $7,500 per year in health insurance premiums. All told, Minnie Hightower has saved the County about $30,000 a year which it was spending unnecessarily.

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.

Thank you for visiting our page of accomplishments. Check back throughout 2016 for more accomplishments by Orange County!
Stephen Brint Carlton
Orange County Judge
Orange County Judge

2015  County Accomplishments

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