County kicks off budget hearings

Published 5:23 pm Monday, July 20, 2015

Jack Brooks Regional Airport lands in no-fly zone

BEAUMONT — It’s going to be a long week in the Jefferson County Commissioners’ Courtroom.

The county commissioners kicked off budget hearings for the 2015-16 fiscal year Monday, meeting with several departments that requested significant changes, minimal raises or personnel additions.

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But the commissioners are staying mindful of the $1.8 million estimated to come out of reserves in the next fiscal year, just to keep the county budget even if each department’s requests are approved.

They made it apparent early in the hearings, which kicked off early Monday morning at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont, that any requests for raises or new employees would have to wait.

Alex Rupp, Jack Brooks Regional Airport manager, started off his hearing session by asking for raises for the groundskeeper positions — which are currently maxed out at $13.50 an hour — but Eddie Arnold, Jefferson County Commissioner for Precinct 1, was quick to remind Rupp raises are currently off the table.

“We are going to do all personnel at once, once we get our certified tax rolls in,” Arnold said.

Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Commissioner for Precinct 3, said the annual budget hearings are the best way to learn the ins-and-outs of each department. Rupp was questioned about everything from fuel prices and fire truck repairs to mosquito control and aviation certifications.

Commissioners took the most interest in Rupp’s request to repair the airport’s passenger boarding bridge. Rupp explained the airport used to have three boarding bridges that connected to each airplane as it parked beside its gate for passengers to exit the aircraft safely and, maybe most importantly, out of the Southeast Texas sun.

“We have two out there now, but the one in question has had these issues for the last three months that just keep escalating,” Rupp said. “What we’ve been doing is take parts from Bridge A and putting them into Bridge B. But now we’re at the point where neither bridge is working well — and by that, I mean it’s not working at all. The hardware and software is out of date on our boarding bridge.”

Rupp told the commissioners he’s received a quote to replace the control system in one of the bridges for $55,000 — “not counting labor or any other defects the bridge may have” — but he’s also looked into mobile canopies and simpler covered ramps like the commercial airlines have.

Brent Weaver, Commissioner for Precinct 2, said it would be illogical to spend the $55,000 needed to repair the boarding bridge’s control panel.

“To spend this kind of money on one of these old bridges, to me, doesn’t make sense. It’s not cost efficient,” he said.

Rupp said since Hurricane Rita in 2005, the Jack Brooks Regional Airport has spent more than $250,000 repairing its passenger boarding bridges.

“We bought these bridges in the ’90s. They didn’t even have air conditioning then — we installed that as an added service,” Rupp said. “But then Hurricane Rita hit and we didn’t finish refurbishing them until 2009. There are grants that can help with this. But even if I’m successful in getting a grant for a new boarding, air conditioned, whole-nine-yards bridge, it’ll take a while for construction.

“If you’d rather look into these temporary solutions — the portable canopies or the covered ramps — I’d rather move some funds around in my current budget so I can purchase those now. It’ll at least provide some temporary relief, and if I am successful with the grant it’ll kill two birds with one stone. We’d have those canopies or those ramps to use along with any new equipment.”

Weaver commended Rupp and his staff on “a tremendous job,” but requested Rupp come back with solid figures on all the airport’s options for relief. Rupp said he will return with hard figures next week, so the commissioners can decide whether to repair the existing bridges or scrap them for portable coverings.

The budget hearings will resume at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Commissioners’ Courtroom on the fourth floor in the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1149 Pearl St. in Beaumont.

Twitter: @crhenderson90