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Council approves sewer service for OSB plant

By Lew Vail
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CORRIGAN – Corrigan City Council and RoyOMartin company, signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday evening establishing sewer connections and rates for service for the oriented strand board (OSB) plant now under construction just outside of the city.

The agreement was approved following discussion with the city's financial advisor, David Waxman, as well as a representative from Goodwin Lasiter Engineers and RoyOMartin's local management. A presentation is planned this week before the Polk County Commissioners Court in Livingston to finalize the water service to the manufacturing plant, which is set to open in September 2017.
With the sewer agreement now in place, the city can upgrade its current sewer processing facility and to prepare for that upgrade they selected Goodwin Lasiter Engineers for that specific endeavor. Waxman has been preparing the financing requests for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and expects to have a hearing sometime in June.

In other business, the council appointed Inez Wiser as election judge for this year's city council election and tentatively named Cecil Hance and Beaulah Hood to the early voting ballot board.

After a discussion regarding the possible changes in garbage collection with a contract to Pineywoods Garbage service, council tabled the matter until a special called meeting set for Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, to allow for more citizen input regarding the change to once a week pickup. While the rate will stay the same — any increase would have to be approved by council — residential users currently have twice a week pickup.

Corrigan-Camden Independent School District Superintendent Sherry Hughes addressed the council regarding the activities at the school with regard to the recent bond election and the progress of the security changes being implemented using the bond money. She also told council the school would like to be more proactive in the lives of the students after school and in the community and asked council to join with the district in providing incentives to youth to stay out of trouble and have good role models.

Council reviewed the financial reports, passed a resolution regarding the signature cards at Citizen State Bank due to the appointment last month of a new city secretary, adding Carrie Casper to the cards with Darrian Hudman, Mayor Jonathan Clark, and Johnna Lowe Gibson, as signers. They also approved the minutes from the January meeting.

Police Chief Darrell Gibson reported 18 arrests for the period Jan. 20 through Feb.15 as well as 1,003 citations issued, 177 calls for service, 1,315 building checks and a total of 17 investigations, with 14 being forwarded to the Polk County Criminal District Attorney's office for prosecution. There was only one vehicle accident with no fatalities.

The fire department responded to 10 incidents including three car fires, two each of structure and grass fires and one each vehicle wreck, burn victim and gas spill.

During council forum Johnna Lowe-Gibson asked why the other city departments were not in attendance at council meetings as requested in January. The librarian was present along with Chief Gibson. Hudman said he would follow-up and have representatives next month. Lowe-Gibson also suggested, for safety reasons, having two or more officers present at large events, such as when the football stadium is used for parties. She also stated that people in town complained about the police ticketing "local" drivers. She wanted everyone know that state law makes no provisions for only ticketing out-of-town offenders. "We all have to obey the laws," she said.

Johnnie Marie Brooks said the city should have better grass and weed control, adding before the spring growing season starts she doesn't want to see snakes hiding in the bushes. She asked the maintenance department to get to work on the matter.

Polk County eyes energy savings plan

By Brian Besch
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LIVINGSTON – Tuesday's meeting of the Polk County Commissioners Court heard a presentation from Way Companies and Polk Central Appraisal District.

The Way Companies informed the court of a program that could potentially save the county money on its energy. The company's objective is to fund infrastructure upgrades to create a positive cash flow so that money may be invested back into the county.

The count would spend no capital upfront and would pay the Way Company fees from the difference in energy savings.

The projects usually last around 10-15 years. A team of engineers, financial advisors and technical employees toured the county during a feasibility study, monitoring buildings and infrastructure.

The company is looking to go a step further, with what they call a "detailed audit," where they would confirm findings to this point and work with the county to find solutions.

The group would install LED lighting countywide, retrofit old air conditioners and install a computer control system in the jail. The latter of those would save water, maintenance and operational costs by giving corrections officers more control over the cells without having to be inside them.

The annual savings for the county is expected to be around $234,000, something that is expected to increase three percent yearly as energy costs rise. The fees Way Companies would charge would total approximately $197,000 each year, creating a 15-year savings of nearly $1.4 million.

According to the State of Texas, the agreement would be a performance contract, which must be guaranteed by Way Companies and is audited every year. At the end of the year, if the savings do not match what the company says they are, the company must write a check to the county for the difference.

The program was established in the mid-1980s and has already been installed in Liberty County, where representatives have given positive reviews. If approved, the program could start by May of next year.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet made a motion to approve the program, but Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis suggested it be tabled for research. The item will be revisited in two weeks.

The court heard a report from the Polk Central Appraisal District regarding the 2015 mineral valuations. Mineral investor contractors have made several miscues impacting the overall total amount reported.

One error is large, totaling $8 million in value, equating to around $50,000 in county tax money. The errors were said to be clerical data entry mistakes into the Polk CAD appraisal system. Other counties have also experienced errors.

The district is putting steps in place to prevent similar oversights from occurring. Contractors have completely revamped their quality control systems. The CAD will require any mineral contractor to have at least $1 million insurance in error and omission insurance. Every signed settlement and waiver will be sent to management for review.

Willis suggested that the Polk CAD "look long and hard before they renew that contract."

The county's yearly activity report revealed that a total of 124 positions within the county have been posted over the past year. The human resources department has processed 38 resignations, 17 retirements, seven dismissals and seven separations.

Commissioners approve abatement ordinance; burn ban continues

By Brian Besch
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LIVINGSTON — Tuesday's meeting of the Polk County Commissioners Court approved an abatement ordinance to handle nuisance property in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The discussion over a policy to handle dilapidated and abandoned structures has continued for weeks, with commissioners concerned about invading the property rights of landowners when it comes to overgrown lots or acreage.

State law allows counties to tear down structures that pose a health hazard, but the policy commissioners considered expanding that to buildings that pose a nuisance.

Commissioners accepted a recommendation from Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Pitts to not lift the current burn ban at this time.

"Same song, different verse from two weeks ago," Pitts said of the ban. "Basically, nothing has changed and the numbers are a little bit worse."

A reconsideration of personnel to reclassify a staff position at the district attorney's office was approved, pending the additional resources come from an appellate fund.

Polk County District Attorney Lee Hon said he wished to approve a pay increase to a staff member by $3,155, who was performing the same job as his victim assistance coordinator. Hon felt the money fell under grants that the office had earlier procured.

The move, County Judge Sydney Murphy argued, would need a corresponding action to amend the budget, which had been set for the year.

"The only limitations (Hon) had was some miscellaneous items and we did that across the board," Murphy said. "We did that with everybody. Given that most of his budget is personnel, we did not want to reduce excessively. If we did, that would mean people would be laid off and we're trying to avoid that. I'm trying to balance a budget,"

"You're trying to balance it out of my operating budget, which has already been reduced by 16 percent," Hon answered. "You're just taking money out of one pocket and sticking it in another, as far as I'm concerned."

The money for the salary was taken from funds earmarked for the district attorney's office if a case is taken to appellate court. Murphy argued that by using that money, the budget would remain balanced and if a case was taken to appellate court, the county would be required to finance any such case.

Lower Trinity Groundwater Conservation District General Manager Gary Ashmore said of all the 14 counties and districts covered, Polk and San Jacinto County is "water rich," with the largest water limit of any of the surrounding counties.

"It is wonderful for economic development," Ashmore said. "It is a big draw, because places like Conroe and Montgomery County are not allowed to sink wells. It is against regulations. No one can have a private well and they have to reduce all of their groundwater usage by 60 percent in the next two years. It is a nice opportunity — in my personal opinion — for San Jacinto and Polk County to appeal to companies that want to come here, because we have a big margin for water usage." Ashmore said the Groundwater Conservation District also monitors for drought conditions and that the county is currently in a level two drought. If level three is reached for 90 consecutive days, there are state guidelines that go into place for utility companies.

Since 2006, there have been 1,000 private wells registered in Polk and San Jacinto County. In 2014, 7,900 acre-feet of water was pumped in the area. The limit for the area is 53,000 acre-feet, meaning about 14 percent was pumped.

The commissioners approved a service agreement contract with the IAH secure adult detention facility by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to extend the period of performance through March of 2016.

The facility will operate under the standards of ICE. It will not need various services required for a population of Texas jails, which include anything from the worst offenders to processing. The main impact will be a decrease in operating costs at the facility by about $70,000 per month and reduction in staffing costs.

Also approved was the installation of cameras, recorders and exercise equipment to be purchased and installed by IAH operators. ICE will reimburse the operators through contract modification.

Smith selected as court clerk

By Lew Vail
Enterprise staff
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CORRIGAN – Municipal Judge Wayne Yankie presented a review of the process he used in selecting new court clerk, Sheila Smith.
He indicated his choice for the position has experience in county government (currently working for Polk County) and has a background that fits with his court procedures. He will hire Smith with a six-month probationary period.

Yankie asked council to approve the hiring, effective Oct. 1, to which, council voted in favor. During the review of the current month's expenses and financials, council asked city manager Darrian Hudman to place the codes for department categories at the bottom of a page of the printout.

It will facilitate their defining where funds are allocated. Council approved the reports and expenditures.

Council approved the minutes of the August meetings, with one correction noted by Hudman. Having reviewed the 2015-16 budget during workshops, council passed a $2,681,111 budget by unanimous vote. Action on setting the ad valorem tax rate was tabled until a procedural question could be addressed.

Hudman said he would have an answer early Wednesday and council would be able to decide whether a special meeting would be necessary or if the action could wait until the regular October meeting. A copy of the budget is available at city hall during business hours.

Police Chief Darrell Gibson reported the department arrested 15 persons during the period of Aug. 18 – Sept. 14. The number of citations written was not available, due to a clerk's illness. They made 205 calls for service and performed 1,843 building checks and opened 16 cases, one of which was forwarded to the district attorney's office for prosecution.

There was a discussion regarding the recent armed robbery and the fact that the person who committed the crime, was under age 18. Council asked Gibson what could be done about these young people breaking curfew and roaming the streets.

Gibson answered, "We can't make the parents take care of them, they get fined and just don't seem to care." Gibson added that there are several who do not seem to have a home to go to and just spend their nights on the street.

There was no fire department report for August and no city manager's report given, as Hudman is still shorthanded in city hall working both his position and the city secretary's. The meeting adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

C-CISD board reviews utility costs

CORRIGAN – A review of utility costs was among the items presented to the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District's board of trustees Monday.
Superintendent Sherry Hughes reported that transportation services benefited by the lower fuel costs of this spring.

The board also approved the consent agenda consisting of minutes from the July 20 meeting, the 2015-16 NCLB grant award and teacher evaluations. They also approved a resolution to sanction 4-H as an extracurricular activity for the 2015-16 school year.

Also approved was the C-CISD Board Operating Procedures Manual, which had undergone a review in an earlier meeting. They also approved the C-CISD District Improvement Team Goals and Objectives report and the board meeting calendar for 2015-16. They set the date of Aug. 25 at 6:30 p.m. for the tax rate and proposed budget public hearing.

During the Superintendent's report Hughes reviewed the UIL guidelines and calendar for the 2015-16 school year and the projected enrollment figures for each campus. She noted the Student Engagement Local Accountability Ratings showed strong involvement this year.

The board held a brief executive session but no action was taken after reconvening the regular session and adjourning.

Commissioners vote to maintain tax rate

LIVINGSTON – Although final approval will be made in September, Polk County commissioners formally voted Tuesday to propose maintaining the current tax rate when the 2016 budget cycle begins on Oct. 1.

During their regular meeting, commissioners confirmed an agreement made at last week's budget workshop to propose a tax rate of $0.6461 per $100 in assessed value. While this is the same rate used for the current 2015 budget, it does exceed the "effective rate" of $0.6417, which means it constitutes a tax increase under state law.

The effective rate is the amount the county would need to generate the same amount of income as the prior year.

If given final approval, the $0.6417 rate would mean a taxpayer with $100,000 in taxable value after exemptions would pay $646.10 in county taxes under the 2016 budget. If the effective rate of $0.6417 were adopted, the same taxpayer would be assessed $641.70.

Under the plan stated Tuesday, the overall county tax rate will be broken into three parts -- $0.1234 being allocated to retire existing county debt; $0.1429 to the road and bridge fund; and $0.3798 to fund everything else covered in the general fund.

Public hearings on the proposed tax rate are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25, and 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1. A hearing on the county's 2016 budget will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8. All will be held in the third-floor commissioners courtroom in the Polk County Courthouse in Livingston.

Just three months ago, commissioners were faced with the possibility of having to increase the tax rate to overcome a projected $1.4 million deficit in the 2016 budget. The loss of more than $850,000 in funds previously received from the IAH Adult Detention Facility near Livingston and other factors were expected to create the shortfall.

Led by County Judge Sydney Murphy, the commissioners have worked to cut spending, agreed to not replace some personnel who have left and converted some positions from fulltime to part-time employees. Commissioners also agreed to give up $209,000 in tax income that had previously been allocated to their road and bridge budgets and turn that over to the county's general fund to help balance the new budget.

During last week's budget workshop, they also voted to trim 1.8 percent – about $66,000 -- off the sheriff's department's budget, but wanted to get input from Sheriff Kenneth Hammack as to where the cuts would be made.

At Tuesday's meeting, the amount needed to be cut by the sheriff had been reduced to 1.46% or $53,164.51.

Although Hammack reluctantly agreed to cut one currently vacant patrol deputy's position, he promised to be back before the court asking for it to be reinstated as soon as possible.

"You're singing to the choir, brother," said Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet noted every department was being hit, including the commissioners' road and bridge funds. "We (the four commissioners) each have given up over $50,000 so we're all bleeding together," he said.

Other business
During the meeting, commissioners also:
•Authorized the issuance of $1.06 million in tax notes to cover a number of capital purchases made during the past year. The notes are being sold at an interest rate of 1.93 percent.
•Tabled action on a lease of 643 acres of land owned by the county's school districts in Throckmorton County in North Central Texas. Although the land is administered by the county, the income from oil and gas leases and surface leases is divided among the school districts. Polk County Agrilife Extension Agent Mark Currie reported that one of seven leases is available due to the death of the man who had leased the property. He noted at least three of the adjoining leaseholders have expressed interest in the land, but action was tabled due to the absence of Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis.
• Approved a resolution in support of an application for an $80,227.53 grant being made by the Polk County Sheriff's Department to the Governor's Homeland Security Grants Division for three consoles.
• Approved trading two large generators that had previously been declared as surplus for two new, smaller generators to be installed at the county's maintenance fuel pumps and at the Corrigan Sub-Courthouse. The estimated cost of installing the equipment was listed at $2,500.
• Approved the list of salaries and benefits for the elected county officials. It was noted that the only change from last year was the addition of longevity pay. Murphy noted in the proposed budget, the only salary change included for any official or employee was the addition of the previously approved longevity pay.