County budget hearings slated for next week

Published 4:52 pm Friday, July 17, 2015

Commissioners wary of new jobs, overzealous projects

BEAUMONT — The Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court may be looking ahead to the next fiscal year, but any county department looking to increase funding or add to its employee roster will face an uphill battle this year.

Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Jefferson County Commissioner for Precinct 3, said every department will be under a microscope during the county budget workshop next week, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Monday in the Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court.

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During Commissioners’ Court July 13, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said the county is in no position to grant personnel additions this year, but that won’t stop departments from trying.

“My concern is us having less revenue. Even if we come in at identical revenue to last year, we’re still well under the amount of money needed to fund this budget,” Branick said Monday. “We’re going to have to use our reserves, and that’s not sustainable. To look at adding personnel, to me, seems to be a waste of time.”

Eddie Arnold, Commissioner for Precinct 3, agreed with Branick, saying the court could not continue pulling from the reserves to balance the budget. But, Sinegal said, that’s exactly what the tentative budget will require if the county approves all the incoming requests.

“When we start these hearings Monday at 9:30 a.m., the first thing we’re doing is a budget overview. We’ve got to open the discussion with a look at where we are right now, based on all the requests from every department,” Sinegal said Friday. “With the way this very tentative and preliminary budget is set up right now, we would need to pull $1.8 million out of our reserves to balance our finances over the next year.”

Branick said Monday he refuses “to vote for a budget with personnel additions that will force us to reach into our reserves,” but Sinegal said employee requests aren’t the only problem this year.

“I will be scrutinizing what the District Attorney’s Office puts in front of us very thoroughly, because last year that office asked for $625,000. They said if they had that money, they wouldn’t be back this year asking for more. But they’re coming in at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and I’m going to be particularly interested in what they have to say, what their requests are,” Sinegal said. “I think the DA discussion will be interesting, as will our meetings with the constables (starting at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday) — they’re low on manpower, and I’m sure they’ll make a case for more hands on deck.”

Sinegal said the hearing to look forward to this year is the capital projects discussion at 2:30 pm. Thursday. He said it’s an opportunity for the community to get a “big picture” look at the county’s plans to protect and improve the coast and of course, get Texas 87 back on track.

“Thursday afternoon is where it’s at,” Sinegal said. “We’re going to talk about our beach restoration, our dune restoration, how we plan to fund these coastal improvement projects. Because our dune restoration is a chain reaction. Once we get the dunes and sand in place, we can start on the road mitigation and the siphons getting that salt water out of our farm land and back into the marsh where it belongs.

“The challenge is finding ways to move these necessary projects forward while we cut back on our spending. If we want a solid budget this year, we’re going to have to look at every department and see how we can scale back. Next week is the preliminary discussion of what everybody’s asking for so that we, as commissioners, can prioritize what’s a wish list item and what’s a necessity to move this county forward.”

The Jefferson County Commissioners’ Courtroom is located in the fourth floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1149 Pearl St. in Beaumont.

Twitter: @crhenderson90