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Lagging FEMA paybacks slow cash flow


Last updated 7/24/2018 at Noon

Cutline: Linda Hughes of Meals on Wheels poses with Orange County Commissioners Tuesday after they approved a $45,000 grant for the non-profit.

Dave Rogers

For The Record

The money wagon hit a bump in the road Tuesday afternoon at Orange County Commissioners’ Court.

A cash flow problem nearly scuttled an unexpected request to add $5,000 to an annual $40,000 grant from the county to keep Meals on Wheels on the road.

It came 10 minutes before the county deposited $325,000 in June ad valorem tax collections and another $412,000 in May sales tax receipts, paid $248,000 in bills and received a “clear” report for the 2017 financial report from Waco CPA Chris Pruitt.

The shortage in liquidity resulted from a shortage of reimbursement checks from FEMA after Tropical Storm Harvey.

Zilch is how much FEMA has repaid so far.

But a check for $9.2 million to reimburse the county for early debris hauling is expected “any day.”

“Joel, when are we getting the check?” Commissioner Johnny Trahan asked Joel Ardoin, the county’s emergency management coordinator, after commissioners considered tabling the request by Linda Hughes for a week or two.

“A couple of more weeks, according to their timeline,” Ardoin said.

“I think we’ll have the money,” Trahan said, putting up a motion to “go ahead and approve the motion for $45,000.”

It was a 5-0 vote to help keep alive a program that lost clients and state grant money after Harvey.

The annual financial report by Pattillo, Brown & Hill showed the county with a total fund balance of $9.9 million on Sept. 30, 2017, the end of the fiscal 2017 budget year.

That’s a loss of $2.5 million from the year-earlier balance of $12.4 million on Sept. 30, 2016.

“But you anticipated that,” Pruitt told commissioners, “and you’re actually $4 million better [than anticipated in the budget.]”

County Judge Dean Crooks, who just joined the court in May, listened intently.

“I appreciate that they were able to give us some information that, I hope dispelled some things, maybe clarified some things that had been said.

“One of the big things was the $12 million and it being found,” Crooks said.

He was referring to a story in this paper a year ago. In it, former County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton told how reductions in spending by employees and some luck -- like nearly $1 million in unexpected BP oil spill cleanup funds -- had combined to give the county a much-better bottom line than expected.

It was Pruitt who first brought up the $12 million “found” money when he presented a chart showing fund balances steadily increasing from $1.7 million in 2014 to $5.9 million in 2014 and $9.9 million in 2015.

“You can’t find $12 million,” the auditor said.

“Looking at the progression they had,” Crooks said, “this was an increase that had been happening over a course of time. We didn’t get into the details, but at least it showed there was no money hidden in a wall.”

Commissioners’ day Tuesday was stuffed. It began with the first of several public budget workshops, with staff projecting their needs in 2018. A 45-minute workshop about insurance immediately preceded the 2 p.m. court.

Near the end of the two-hour court session, commissioners voted 5-0 on a 2018 medical, prescription and dental insurance package for employees, dependents and retirees that is 8.3 percent higher than last year.

A year ago, the county paid a 14.8 percent increase on medical insurance.

Votes on a new vision plan and a wellness plan were set aside for a later meeting.

The county pays for its employees’ healthcare insurance and pays 40 percent of the cost of dependent healthcare insurance.

Commissioners also agreed to spend $1,143 for a system to videotape commissioners’ court meetings.


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