Commissioner Cary Erickson gives update on airport development, Ford Park and more

Published 12:38 am Friday, June 16, 2023

A half-year through his first term as Jefferson County Precinct 2 Commissioner, Cary Erickson on Thursday addressed some of the current issues facing the county.

Erickson, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School and Lamar University, began working with the City of Beaumont, where he stayed for seven years before becoming the first human resources director for Jefferson County.

“Cary and I got to know each other back in school. I had younger friends and older brothers, and we would commingle on occasion,” said Stuart Salter, immediate past president of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with him with the county’s risk management department for, I don’t know, 15-20 years now as a risk management consultant.”

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Erickson worked for the county for 29 years to the day before taking a spot on Commissioners Court.

“God put it on my heart to run for election …,” he said.

Following the March Primaries, Erickson ended up in a runoff against Alex Rupp, director for the Jack Brooks Regional Airport.

“It was the longest and shortest 18 months of my life, trying to get through that election. There were three of us that ran — all three county employees,” he said. “The other two guys are great guys, and … there was not one bad word said between any of the three of us. We all complimented each other, we all said what our qualifications were, and we went from there.”

Now Erickson represents the unincorporated areas of Nederland, Port Neches, Groves and a section of Port Arthur.

Economic development

“We are still booming, as y’all well know, around here — especially the industrial expansion,” Erickson said. “Sabine Pass gets a lot of the focus, but if you haven’t driven north along U.S. 69 going into Beaumont, all of that stuff where the dirt pit was on the right-hand side is being cleared.”

He cited two companies developing land in that area, one being a company that gasifies woodchips to make clean energy.

“All of these bring on construction jobs, and then they bring on permanent jobs,” he said. “Most of the jobs when we look at tax abatements are jobs making $85,000 or more before overtime, so they’re really, really good, solid jobs. I think they certainly fit in with the industry that we have around here. We’re so thankful for our industry.”

Ford Park

Erickson said a lot of people have questions regarding Ford Park, which was built approximately 20 years ago. Years of bids to purchase the facility have fallen through, and at the end of 2022 the naming rights for “Ford” expired.

“We’ve gone out for bids for naming rights and hopefully we’ll get somebody in for that,” the commissioner said.

The complex includes a highly-used area for baseball and softball games.

“We are looking at about a million and a half dollars in ballfield improvements,” Erickson said. “All of those turf fields need to be replaced. And so we’re working with the hotel/motel tax and Jefferson County Tourism Commission to split that cost.

“If you’ve driven past there any weekend — oh my gosh, it’s just crazy out there. And this time of year it’s just going nuts. So we really need to make those ballfield improvements.”

Work is expected to begin in August.

Airport land development

Erickson said they have leads on potential development for the land in front of Jack Brooks Regional Airport.

“You may or may not remember, as you drive by there, that there was a developer there,” he said. “That contract got canceled because there was really no movement, and after a while you just have to move on from that. We gave the individual as much time as we could, but the court ultimately has to make that call.

“It looks like there may be some further development there — a very, very positive opportunity.”

Jefferson County Correctional Facility

Erickson said one of the largest drains on the county’s budget stems from the Jefferson County Correctional Facility.

“One of the issues that we’re facing — we just signed a new contract for inmate healthcare at our Jefferson County jail,” he said. “And when you start talking about wanting to get crime rates lowered, it’s not just because we don’t want to see crime in our cities. We don’t want to see our young people or anybody in jail. That increase is about $3 million over the next year.”

Since COVID began, the inmate population increased from approximately 600 to 900. Erickson said COVID created a backlog in cases.

“Our judges are working really hard to keep the jail population down and look at diversionary programs,” he said. “We’ve got a good set of district judges and they work hard for us, but it goes back to a lot of things. We’ve got to get back to the work ethic, the nuclear family, working for what you want.”

This year the county is looking at $9 million in just healthcare costs.

“We have to provide them with dialysis if they need it. We have to provide them with life saving drugs,” he said. “We have to provide them with HIV drugs. We have to provide them with blood pressure medication. If they get in a fight in the jail, we have to pay for them to get stitched up. We just have to do a better job of keeping people out of that jail.”

Currently there are 40 openings at the county jail, resulting in large amounts of overtime to be paid. Erickson said while they do not receive state or federal funding to assist with the cost, the salaries budgeted for the vacant positions help with overtime costs.