County approves $4M "Tax Anticipation" note
Last updated 11/3/2020 at 10:20pm
Orange County Commissioners agreed Tuesday morning to borrow $4 million to avoid end-of-the-calendar-year cash shortfalls that could potentially arise from Hurricane Laura.
Because the new county budget year begins in October each year and county tax payments are not due until Dec. 31, the county normally uses a bit of its reserve funds to tide the county over the gap.
But the county is looking at $12 million in bills from debris cleanup after Hurricane Laura blew through Aug. 27, an amount that would zero out its reserve funds.
So far, the storm bills have not been authorized for reimbursement by FEMA or other state and federal agencies.
So, the commissioners voted to issue the $4 million county tax and revenue anticipation note. "Financially, the county is in good shape," County Judge John Gothia said. "But you never anticipate having to pay out $12 million at the end of the year. Unfortunately, that's when storms happen.
"We want to be sure we have money to use, if we need it. I hope we don't [need it]."
Reimbursement response from Washington and Austin have been slow in coming, compared to recent disasters like Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The election and/or an extra busy season of named tropical storms impacting the country could be behind the delay.
"If we can get state and federal government to declare a disaster, we'll be in pretty good shape," Gothia said. "We'll quickly receive 75 percent of that money."
While the county continues to receive FEMA reimbursement money three years after Harvey, a record-breaking flooding event, Tropical Storm Imelda, in 2018, was never declared a federal disaster and the county had to pay for more than $1 million in damages from its reserve fund that won't be reimbursed.
Then-County Judge Dean Crooks had the county take out an $8 million loan as a short-term loan and paid back the loan in January, before accruing interest. But there were loan fees.
"There are two different ways," Gothia said. "Like a loan. You pay no matter what.
"During Imelda, the county did a loan and we ended up not using that money, but we had to pay the fees. [Earlier] Judge Thibodeaux [Carl Thibodeaux, county judge from 1997-2016 and part of 2019] did loans a couple of times, but you only had to pay fees on the money you spent.
"We did this one so it won't cost us anything if we don't use any of the money."