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Local News

July 29, 2013

County budget hearing Monday

BEAUMONT — It’s that time of year again.

The hearings for the 2013-2014 Jefferson County budget process kicked off at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, July 29, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1149 Pearl Street, Beaumont, with the budget overview.

This year sees a $7 million increase in requests from 2012, county auditor Patrick Swain said.

“We’re going to try to prioritize what the court's going to do,” Swain said. “We’ll have the final property tax numbers hopefully by the week after next. That'll give us an idea of what our revenue is going to be.”

The budget will be finalized at the end of September, Swain said.

Due to a recession, the county had to budget very conservatively in 2012, Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael “Shane” Sinegal said.

“We had to budget real tight last year,” Sinegal said. “But I would say 99 percent of the departments and elected officials came in, because where other areas were going through recessions, we came out pretty well.”

This year’s budget won’t be as tight, Sinegal said. However, it will be equally  conservative.

“My plan is to hold a tight line on my budget, but also make sure that we're prepared to take care of our constituents in the areas that we're legally supposed to take care of,” Sinegal said.

The few blemishes on the budget, Sinegal said, come in the form of lawsuits and subsidies for Jack Brooks Regional Airport and Ford Park.

“The lawsuits are always unknown until they're settled,” Sinegal said. “We’re having to subsidize airlines and the management firm for Ford Park. There's going to be some discussion. Other than that, I think we're in pretty good shape.”

This year’s projects are concentrated mainly in infrastructure. Work will continue on the Keith Lake Fish Pass baffle and boat ramp — both of which have been ongoing since 2004.

“We've expended a lot of money on all these projects already, and we need to get them completed,” said Don Rao, Jefferson County director of engineering. The Fish Pass involves building a baffle to limit the amount of saltwater intrusion into the marsh, Rao said.

“The Fish Pass is probably four times the size it was when originally constructed, so the amount of water is unacceptable,” he said. “And there’s no boat ramp now.”

With the study with the Corp of Engineers at Keith Lake nearly completely, Rao and his department have asked for $600,000 for the baffle and $500,000 for the boat ramp.

Additionally, Drainage District 6 is continuing to dredge all the way to Intercoastal Canal in order to ease flooding in Hamshire, Fannett and northern Beaumont, Sinegal said, and the Texas General Land Office has granted him permission to rebuild the Welfare 2 building on Lakeshore Drive.

“That building is costing us more money to maintain it than building a new structure,” Sinegal said. “GLO has given us the authority to build new building. 700 block of Lakeshore Drive.”

Architecture and design plans are already underway for the new facility, where more than $50,000 has already been expended. Precinct 3 was allotted $2.2 million for construction of the new building, but Sinegal hopes to  undercut that.

Overall, Sinegal said, he is optimistic about this year’s budget.

“I want to thank elected officials, all department heads and commissioners court, along with the judge, for understanding that being fiscally responsible is a priority,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a good year.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA

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