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Taxes Are On The Rise

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Crockett home and other real property owners can expect to pay 5 percent more in city property taxes in the upcoming year over what they paid this year.

The Crockett City Council approved an effective tax rate of 58.6094 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation for next year at a meeting Monday, Aug. 7.

This year's rate is 53.3823 cents per $100 of assessed value, and last year's rate was 56.8834 cents per $100 of assessed value.

City Administrator John Angerstein explained, "Whereas our 2015-2016 property values actually increased by a considerable amount, our tax rate was lowered to bring in the same amount of revenue. This year, we're seeing the opposite happen. We're seeing the property values go back down. So, I'm requesting that council approve the effective tax rate to bring in the same amount of money."
A motion setting the new effective tax rate was offered by Precinct 1 Councilmember Butch Calvert and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson. It unanimously carried, with Precinct 2 Councilmember Darrell Jones and Precinct 4 Councilmember Rita Rodriguez joining them in voting for the motion. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Marsh, the Precinct 5 councilmember, was absent.

According to Angerstein's computations, the proposed new rate means the owner of a median or average home valued at $82,600 in the city would pay $484.12 a year in property taxes in the coming year, compared to $440.94 for a home of that value at this year's rate and $469.85 at last year's rate. That's about $43 more next year than this year for a house of that value and about $14 more than last year, he noted.
The four councilmembers present unanimously voted to schedule two public hearings – Monday, Aug. 14, and Monday, Aug. 21 – on the proposed 2018 ad valorem tax rate and a session to approve the rate Monday, Aug. 28.

Comments on the city's proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget – which projects $8,683,366 in revenue and $8,681,094 in requested expenses – also will be heard at the Aug. 14 public hearing.

In a letter Angerstein read and presented to the councilmembers, he noted, "I am providing you with the proposed 2017-2018 municipal operating budget and tax rate to support this budget.

"From an operation standpoint, this is a very lean budget, with most resources being used to maintain existing service levels and to absorb increases, such as an 8 percent increase in health insurance.
"Under this budget (which is balanced), all of the capital equipment purchases are being funded through sanitation contingency fund and a small portion from our general contingency. One position in the Street Department and the position of finance clerk remain unfilled to balance the 2017-2018 budget."

He added, "The 2017-2018 proposed levy represents no change in ad valorem tax revenue for general government services from the previous levy."

In other business, the councilmembers passed a motion made by Calvert and seconded by Jones, approving FY 2018 capital requests, which amount to $178,000 in total revenue and $177,955 in total equipment-project requests costs.

The revenue sources and amounts are: sanitation contingency, $160,000; and general fund contingency, $18,000.

The equipment-project request costs include: a pickup truck for General Administration, $17,000; Street Department expenses of $28,000 for equipment and a personnel haul truck and $54,950 for a tractor and mower; and $4,500 for a welder for the mechanics staff.

In addition, these costs include: a $12,000 payment for Fire Department parking lot improvement, $44,505 for a five-year lease payment for replacement of self-contained breathing apparatuses for the Fire Department and $17,000 for a pickup truck for the Park and Recreation Department.

The four councilmembers also unanimously voted to:
- Pass a motion made by Calvert – seconded by Jackson – to award a bid submitted by GrantWorks, Inc., a grant management firm, to assist the city in applying for a 2017 Downtown Revitalization and Main Street Fund Grant from the Texas Community Development Block Grant program and to provide grant management services to the city in the event it is awarded the grant; and
- Go forward on a motion offered by Jackson – seconded by Calvert – authorizing Angerstein to issue a request for proposals from contractors to remove and install roof shingles atop the Crockett Public Library building.

Council Approves ‘Slight’ Tax Increase In Kennard

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The Kennard City Council voted without discussion to approve its 2016 property tax rate and proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2016-2017 at a council meeting on Monday, Sept. 12.

The city council set the tax rate at 26.2675 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, and that rate is "a slight increase" of little more than one and a half cents over last year's rate of 24.5711 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation, according to Kennard Mayor Jesse Stephens.

Alderperson Mary Ann Davis offered the motion to approve the rate, and the motion was seconded by Alderperson Donald Lamb Sr. The motion adopting the rate was unanimously approved on a vote by the city's five alderpersons.

In bringing the budget up to be voted on by the alderpersons, Stephens said, "We've got a budget for the city and utility for next year. It's pretty basic. We tried to factor in the fire department expenditures we're going to have next year when we won't have any income coming in (to the fire department from the Houston County Emergency Service District #2). Hopefully it will work out. It's really nice to have sales tax coming in from the Family Dollar store."

Lamb made a motion to approve the budget as presented, and the motion was seconded by Alderperson G.M. McClinton before being unanimously approved by the council.

Kennard City Administrator Mike Deckard said the city has two separate categories for its budget: a water and sewer utility category and a "city budget" category.

He said officials project $144,000 in revenue and an equal amount in expenses in this year's water and sewer utility budget and $24,500 in revenue and expenses in the FY 2016-2017 city budget. Therefore, the city's budget for the upcoming year is balanced, according to Deckard.

CEIDC Approaches County To Consider Tax Abatement For Potential Car Dealership

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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As a result of the diligent work of Flint Brent, executive director of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation, the City of Crockett has the potential for a new car dealership to be located here.

To help in attracting the unnamed dealer to the city, Brent asked county officials to abate a portion of the taxes that would be levied against the business during its first six years of operation in the city.
Brent submitted the request to the county commissioners at a meeting of the commissioners court on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Houston County Judge Erin Ford said the matter would have to be placed on the agenda for the next commissioners court meeting and voted on at that meeting.

"We have a potential for a new auto dealership here in the county, specifically the City of Crockett," Brent told the commissioners. "And what I'm asking for is permission to offer property tax abatements to the facility.

"Now, I calculated out – this is on 2015-2016 fiscal year tax rates for the county, the school district and the hospital district," Brent said referring to a document he had prepared and distributed to the commissioners.

"Annually, it would be about $95,200 once they're paid in full – that they're paying for the three entities," he said. "Specifically, $25,200 (for the county) on a $5 million facility. The one in Jacksonville (that he visited) was like $8 million.

"This one might be smaller, it might be the same size. I have no idea. But, this is just an extimated calculation of what potential property taxes are. Also, for the county, you get inventory taxes, and you get the registration taxes, which the city does not get. So, that's what I'm asking for.

Dr. John McCall, who was present at the meeting, told Brent that Willie Josey, the owner of Josey's Auto Parts, told him a few months ago he would be willing to sell his facility to a dealer willing to locate an auto dealership in Crockett. And Brent said he had shown that facility, as well as several other properties, to the potential new dealership owner.

"I'm just asking for tax abatements right now...," Brent said.

According to Brent's calculation – based on the 2015-2016 county tax rate of 50.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation – a new $5 million development would pay the county $75,600 over the next six years.

Under the proposed abatement the county would receive no taxes from the new dealership in year one, $5,040 in taxes in year two and $10,080 in year three. In the fourth year, the county would receive $15,120 in taxes from the dealership and $20,160 in the fifth year. The dealership would pay its full amount of taxes ($25,200) beginning in the sixth year of its operations.

Crockett City Council Approves CEIDC Budget

Third Time's The Charm

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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After failing to receive the blessing of the Crockett City Council on two previous occasions, the fiscal year 2016-2017 proposed budget of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) was approved by the council at a meeting Monday, Aug. 22.

The council voted 4-1 to pass a motion – offered by Precinct 4 Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Muriel Williams and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson – approving the budget. Precinct 2 Councilmember Ray Bruner casted the lone vote in opposition to the motion.

The motion did not pass before two concessions were made by CEIDC Executive Director Flint Brent and CEIDC Board of Directors President Chris von Doenhoff and the matter received comments – both for and against -- from Mayor Robert Meadows, council members and members in the audience speaking at the meeting.

Brent, who received praise from some for the competent and diligent manner in which he has handled CEIDC business affairs since becoming executive director, agreed to submit all contracts of the corporation not approved in the budget or in a city tax abatement agreement that require expenditures in excess of $15,000 to the city council before payment on the contracts is made, and to report on the affairs of the corporation to the council on a monthly basis.
The proposed budget projects income from sales taxes in the amount of $530,000 and expenses totaling $542,550. In the current (2015-2016) fiscal year budget expenses amount to $548,710.

Meadows, Jackson and Williams were strong proponents speaking for approval of CEIDC's proposed budget during the portion of the meeting set aside for comments from the audience and council and when the motion was made to approve it.

They were joined by Precinct 1 residents Bill Brown, a Crockett High School teacher, and Dave Deming, a State of Texas employee, in making statements in support of CEIDC and passage of the budget during the comments period.
Although Precinct 1 Councilmember Jeannie Julian and Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh eventually voted to approve the budget, they voiced skepticism about CEIDC during the comments period and when the motion was made to approve the budget.

They were joined by Holiday Inn Express Owner Joby David Hardwick in voicing concerns about CEIDC. Hardwick said he believed CEIDC should not be encouraging other hotels to move here at a time when his hotel is "operating in a trailing 12-month combined occupancy of less than 50 percent."

Meadows noted that much of the discontent with CEIDC came to light during the last mayoral election, before Brent took the reins of the corporation. He said he had the opportunity to spend several hours with Brent almost three weeks ago, and "I don't think anyone would argue that we know he's working very diligently to bring in the business."
"It's my hope that we can pass this budget," Meadows said.

"These are all elected officials just like I am," he said, referring to the council. "They all have their right to say what's on their minds. They represent people just like I do. But, my point being is – I even had a text before the meeting today about, 'I hope you pass this.' It's not a me thing. It's an us thing. And it has to be a majority.

"So, it is my hope that we do give Mr. Brent the opportunity, at least this year going forward. He's done the footwork. He is still in the pipeline. And I trust that some of these things (he is working on, such as bringing a car dealership to Crockett) will come to fruition. And I ... believe they will.

"So, all I'm saying is this. Obviously, some issues have been brought to light in terms of our (CEIDC), and we will have to address those. I do believe that we have a lot going for us to move forward."

Jackson said the city "has failed in the oversight of the corporation. There are things that were put in place from the very inception (of CEIDC) that were not honored – that were not carried out. But, Jackson noted these were things of the past, not the present.

"Now, here we are now," he said. "What do we do now? Well, I have to admit there is a glimmer of hope. There is a light that the leadership of our corporation now is such that they're doing things that hadn't been done in the past that should have been done in the past.

"And I know when you look back in hindsight there are a lot of things that you can point out and pinpoint. 'That this wasn't done right. Money wasn't spent right here. Decisions were made here that were not in the best interest of the city, et cetera. We could all nitpick the corporation, and even this council if we so choose. But, now there is a glimmer of hope with the leadership we have in Flint Brent. And I believe, if given the opportunity, this current board and this current director (will bring about positive change for the city).

"In closing, let me ask this council if we would approve the budget so we can get beyond this stalemate and allow the corporation to do what it was designed to do...."

Repeating Jackson's question, Williams stated "'What do we do, council?' That was the question that Councilman Jackson quoted. I think in good wisdom we forget those things that are behind us, and we have to press forward. We cannot undo things that were done in times past. But, we have now to press forward.

"And, with all due respect, I think we would do a great injustice to Brent by not passing this budget. In all fairness, he has to have the opportunity to show himself. He can't undo things that were done before his time. But, he has now to go forward.

"And I agree with Councilman Jackson, we all failed – the council, (CEIDC). We all failed.... So, there's no need to point a finger on who dropped the ball. We all dropped the ball. But, we have now to press forward. And I would love to see this budget pass. But, there are some other things that council will get together on – some changes that need to be made concerning (CEIDC). We can't hold against him (Brent) what others have done."

Julian stated, "I and I think everybody here on this board has expressed that they are for economic development. It brings jobs into this town, and that's what we're looking for. And it brings businesses which will bring the livelihood and the life back into this place. I want all of that just like everyone else, but I am totally against waste. I feel like there needs to be some changes in the way things are being run. Our money is too limited, so I have a few questions that I haven't really been able to get answers to."

In her questions, Julian asked, how much total debt does CEIDC have ($500,000 or $5 million), what projects are covered in that debt (one or five), how many jobs did each one of those projects create and are those jobs still with us.

"This is a present council that wants to make a change, that wants to see things get better, that wants to help people like Mr. Hardwick, who has brought us lots of things in here," Julian said. "I would never stand in the way of economic development. But, I want to see some things change. And that's what I'm all about. I want more transparency and more accountability as we go into this process.

"'Where are we at this point?' is my biggest question," she said.

Meadows encouraged Julian to get with Brent or von Doenhoff and have them answer the questions she posed and others she might have.

School Health Advisory Council Brings Family, Community Involvement To Crockett Schools

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Two board members were re-seated and six high school athletes commended for recent outstanding finishes in state-level competition at the Monday, May 23, meeting of the Crockett Independent School District's Board of Trustees.

Returning Board Trustees Joshua S. Crabtree and Trey Young, who ran unopposed and were re-elected to three-year terms on the board were re-seated as trustees after re-taking the oath of office, administered by CISD Executive Secretary Angela Fudge.

Senior William Holcomb was among the student athletes who received kudos from the trustees. He led a team of five golfers recognized by the board for their distinguished performances in Class 3A state competition. Holcomb is this year's Class 3A Medalist State Champion and has signed with Sam Houston State University.

In addition to Holcomb's individual accomplishment, he and four other Crockett High School students -- Case Robinson, Tyler Dowell, Colby Davenport and Grant Brannen -- formed the group that placed fourth as a team in the UIL state boys golf tournament.

Also commended by the trustees was Senior DaMarkus Griffin, who placed fifth in the Class 3A triple jump event at the Friday, May 12, University Interscholastic League State Track and Field Meet in Austin. To place in the top five in the event, he put forth an effort that gave him a jump of 45 feet, 8-1/4 inches. On the way to the state meet, he won the regional competition he participated in with a jump of 46 feet, 4-1/2 inches.

During the Superintendent's Report part of the board's meeting, Assistant Superintendent Wendy Tullos gave the annual report of the activities of the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), a group state law requires the district to have. It meets four times a year, according to Superintendent Terry Myers, who said there are student, parent, teacher and school representatives on the council.

Tullos added, there is "great family and community involvement" in SHAC activities. She said the council met in October, December, February and April, and there was "good turnout at most meetings."

According to Tullos, some of the things SHAC accomplished this school year include putting on a highly-successful Parent Fair on Nov. 10, 2015 and working with National Honor Society (NHS) students who donated more than 100 cans of food for families in need and worked as volunteers in the community. She said the NHS students and some parents will offer their services during a two-day field day event at Crockett Elementary School.

In addition, she said, the district was fortunate in receiving a "buckle-up grant for free car seats" which made it possible for the council to provide seats for a number of parents who needed them.

Logging another accomplishment, the district saw "an increase in report card pickups this year," Tullos said, adding "and we attribute that to the mass communication system. Parents seem to really like that. A reminder the day before is helpful. So (we've received) good feedback on that."

In the area of health services, Tullos said the council provided shot clinics, and over 50 employees took advantage of that offering. She said, "We brought the mobile clinic in this year for the first time and parents seemed to really like that. Our little ones at the Early Childhood cannot start school anymore without those. Actually, we have the first day of school." Shots are also available for older students, including high school students," who need them in order to move on, she said.

In reference to "the counseling, guidance portion of the SHAC committee," Tullos said, "We've brought in through the counseling grant a lot of professional development this year. We're doing social lessons in the classroom ... (but) we have not been able to facilitate that as well because we weren't able to provide the curriculum."

She added, Crockett Bank has funded a financial literacy program that gives youth the opportunity to receive certification for financial literacy, and four students have participated in it so far.

In the area of Nutrition Services, the Back Pack Program continues to grow, Tullos said. "We've got over 40 students right now receiving Back Pack Program services," adding, SHAC is now preparing for the Summer Feeding Program.

The Breakfast in the Classrooms Program at the Junior High School wasn't popular at the start of the year, but it is now, Tullos said. "They wouldn't go back; they love it. It calms our kids in the morning, gives us the opportunity to talk to them and build a relationship with them. It's really been a good thing."

She said the program is also being offered again at the high school, adding, it's always harder to carry out such programs at that level. "No matter what we do with breakfast, our older students just don't eat it," she added. "We're going to keep tweaking it to see what we can do."

In the area of fitness, Tullos said, "We are in the final stages of the fitness area back here. We've had lots of questions about that. We are waiting on the evaluator of the grant to come and sign off. As soon as she does, we can get the word out to the community. I love seeing these kids back here playing basketball in the afternoons. I counted 15 or 16 out there the other day. I think it's a good, safe place for our kids to be playing and congregating."

She said all but two pieces of fitness equipment have arrived and been set up, adding, "I think that's going to be a really good thing. In fact, our P.E. classes have been coming over and taking advantage of it."

For security purposes, Tullos said, "We have cameras just about at every angle. There's really not a spot that you can't see on the camera system. We've got good security out there." She said no security fence, wall or other barrier was built around the equipment "because we want it to be available to the community. That was sort of the point of that. We went with high security, and we're going to see how that goes.

Tullos said the equipment is very durable, adding, "We got a good quality product."

Turning her attention to the early childhood facility and another campus, Tullos said, buzzers were installed on the doors for safety reasons. Now, people "can buzz in and out of the buildings," she said, adding CISD is pleased with having the presence of police officers at the schools.

Myers said the district has received numerous comments from parents and others who like the idea of having resource officers present at the schools.

In addition, Tullos said all automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are in their rightful places for safety in the schools and all the coaches for the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes are in place to train teachers, staff and students.

She said, the schools have salad bars and drinking water that came through SHAC. Also, as a part of SHAC, a group of teachers at the elementary school participate in group walks and other exercises, Tullos added. Myers noted that the track around the football field is available to the community and groups, including some police officers and firefighters, who use the facility as a place to work out.

"I want to thank the people who served on this committee because sometimes the meetings get long," Tullos said. "It doesn't turn into a gripe session. They (SHAC members) really bring good things to our schools...."

Grapeland Inducts Mayor Balis Dailey

Mayor-Balis-Dailey

Balis Dailey was sworn in as the new mayor of the City of Grapeland by Municipal Judge Kathy Bush at a special called meeting of the Grapeland City Council on Tuesday, May 17. Dailey received the handoff of the mayoral torch from retiring Mayor George R. Pierson and began serving his first term of office as mayor immediately after taking the oath of office at the meeting. In addition, at the meeting, newly elected At-Large Council Member Justin Lumbreraz was sworn in and re-elected At-Large Council Member Michael Chapman was re-administered the oath of office. (By Alton Porter/HC Courier)