Most County Roads In ‘Fair’ Or ‘Poor’ Shape

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Most roads in Houston County are in fair or poor condition.

That's the essence of the latest assessments made by the county's four commissioners, who are responsible for having the roads maintained.

The commissioners memorialized statements on their assessments of the roads in their precincts in notarized annual road reports they submitted to the commissioners court and voted to accept at their Tuesday, Aug. 22, regular semimonthly meeting.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen offered the motion to receive the reports as information and the motion was seconded by Commissioners Gary Lovell (Precinct 1) and Kennon Kellum (Precinct 4). It unanimously passed.

"Most roads are in poor condition (in Precinct 1)," Lovell wrote in his report in answer to a query soliciting information on the "(c)ondition of each road, culvert, bridge in the precinct and the primary cause of any road, culvert or bridge degradation."

"Some roads are in poor condition because of trucks owned by Sanderson Farms," Lovell continued. "Much work will have to be done on all to repair."
In response to that same item, Kitchen wrote, "Majority of the roads are in fair condition (in Precinct 2)."

Perry simply wrote Precinct 3 roads, culverts and bridges are "BAD," and Kellum noted they are "Fair" in Precinct 4.

In response to an item calling for information on the "(a)mount of money necessary for maintenance of the precinct roads during the next fiscal year," Lovell wrote $1 million for Precinct 1 roads, and Kitchen noted $7 million for Precinct 2 roads.

Perry jotted down $780,000 is needed to maintain Precinct 3 roads and Kellum wrote $2 million is needed for Precinct 4 road maintenance.

Lovell and Perry noted none of the traffic control devices in Precincts 1 and 3 are defaced or torn down, while Kitchen wrote five devices in Precinct 2 are in such condition and Kellum answered 10 devices in Precinct 4 are defaced or torn down.

In response to a question asking whether there's "(a)ny new road that should be opened in the precinct," all of the commissioners answered "none."

Answering a query that asks if (a)ny bridges, culverts or other improvements (are) necessary to place the precinct roads in good condition, and the probable cost of the improvements," Lovell wrote $25,000 for culverts in Precinct 1, Kitchen noted replacement of a bridge on CR 2055 in Precinct 2 without giving a cost estimate and Perry estimated $40,000 for a 30-foot bridge structure on CR 3455. Kellum wrote, "(c)reek bridge on CR 1060, several culverts (and) need rock on all roads," without estimating costs.

Grapeland ISD Discusses Drainage Plans

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Engineers and architects hired to draw up plans for the proposed new Grapeland Elementary School are on schedule in their planning, according to President Eddie Childress of the Grapeland Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Childress reported that news to the rest of the trustees and others present during an update and discussion on the elementary school building project at a regular meeting of the board Monday, Aug. 21.

In answer to a question from trustee Melissa Cobb, asking how plans are coming with the new elementary, Childress said, "As far as they (Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong architects) are concerned, they're on schedule. They said it would be mid-November before we have final plans."

After plans are completed, bids for construction of school facilities will be solicited by district administrators from then through mid-January, Childress said. Then, construction would begin in mid-January or February, he explained. "Everything that they're showing us, I'm excited about. I think it's where it's supposed to be."

Most of the update and related discussion about the elementary school project centered around efforts being made for the drainage of rainwater on and around the site of the proposed school during heavy rainstorms that produce accumulations of six or more inches of water in a short period of time.

GISD Superintendent Don Jackson said he, Childress, Grapeland Mayor Balis Dailey and Grapeland City Councilmembers George R. Pierson and Will Watson met last week with Larry Lasiter, Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong (GLS) vice president, and Jed Morris, one of the corporation's engineers, to discuss the drainage matter.

"I guess the main thing I want everybody to know is we're making an effort (to address a potential problem) because we know the issues we have with drainage in this part of town," Childress said.

"We're making an effort to do everything we can to keep water off other people's property. We wanted to make sure everybody is on the same page as far as that we recapture as much of the water that's coming off our property and that it stays on our property."

He said Grapeland school district and city officials will meet again with GLS representatives to discuss the matter further, and Texas Department of Transportation staffers will get involved in the drainage planning process after the planning proceeds further along.

On a related matter, trustee Mitchell Huff said progress is being made in relocating the district's baseball field from property near the current elementary school and where part of the new school will be erected to a site that includes the football and softball fields and will be named the Athletic Complex.

Huff said he is hopeful the new baseball field will be ready in time for school children and youth to play on it next spring.

In other business, the trustees:
• Heard a report given by Ginger Arbuckle, GISD director of instruction, on the 2016-2017 accountability ratings for the district and its campuses, noting the district, and the elementary, junior high and high schools all received "met standard" ratings from the Texas Education Agency, based on most of four indices – student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and post-secondary readiness;

• Passed, on a unanimous vote, a motion offered by Board Secretary Paul Oliver and seconded by trustee Allen Cheatham, approving sealed bids for three tax-delinquent properties – two half-acre tracts and a 10.5-acre tract – that are listed by the Houston County Appraisal District;

• All voted passage of a Cheatham motion – seconded by trustee Josh Goolsby – increasing incentive pay for teachers with exemplary (or perfect) attendance from $100 per semester to $150 a semester;

• Unanimously voted to pass a motion made by Cobb – seconded by Huff – approving slightly revised student and faculty handbooks for the 2017-2018 school year;

• All agreed to an Oliver motion – seconded by Board Vice President James Martin – delegating contractual authority to obligate the district under Texas Education Code (TEC) 11.1511(c)(4) to Jackson as superintendent, solely for obligating the district under TEC Chapter 41, Subchapters A and D, and related rules;
• Heard reports from new elementary school Principal Cassie Satterwhite and grounds supervisor Jed Mobley; and
•Welcomed new teacher Krystal Burleson and teacher-coach Tyler Terry.

Jackson noted that total attendance on opening day of the 2017-2018 GISD school year Monday was 512 students – 246 elementary pupils, 120 junior high school students and 146 high school youths.

County Commissioners Downsize Proposed Tax Rate

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Houston County commissioners have downsized the amount they propose to raise the county's real property tax rate to be levied later this year.

At a regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 22, the commissioners unanimously voted to amend the proposed ad valorem tax rate of 55 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation they set at an Aug. 8 meeting, reducing the proposed rate to 54 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation.

The successful motion amending the proposed rate was offered by Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen and seconded by Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum.

Because the commissioners are proposing a new rate, they are required to hold public hearings on the rate. They unanimously voted to pass a motion offered by Kitchen – seconded by Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Lovell – scheduling the required hearings for Friday, Sept. 1, and Tuesday, Sept. 5. Both hearings slated to begin at 8 a.m.

Immediately before the meeting at which the commissioners took those actions, they held a public hearing on the proposed property tax rate, at which one county resident, who expressly declined to identify herself for the media, spoke out against the 1.6 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation tax hike. Last year's Houston County property tax rate was 52.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
In opening up the floor for discussion on the matter at the hearing, Houston County Judge Jim Lovell said, "We have worked on this some more (since the last meeting) and we are able to actually lower this proposed rate (55 cents per $100 of assessed value) one cent to 54 cents per $100 (of assessed value).

"We're proposing that, which brings us to only an increase of little over a cent and a half per $100. That's 1.6 cents per $100 of value."

The resident, who said she has owned property in Houston County since 2008 and chose not to identify herself said, "I'm just here to urge you all to vote against the increase. I'm retired. My income doesn't increase. I get the same every month.

"And I moved up here to retire and not to spend my retirement on taxes. This makes the fourth year that you all have gone up on the tax rate since 2013. This makes the third year in a row that you have gone up on the tax rate."

She continued, "And I'm just asking you, from a hardworking American, middle-class family, and that's enough. If it's not the county wanting more money, it's the school wanting more money, the city wanting more money. And now, the hospital district wants more money. I don't know where we're going to get it from. And you can't strap the taxpayers with all of it.

"I understand you have a county to run, you have expenses, you have employees you have to pay. I understand all of that, but you can't saddle the taxpayers with it – every little tax increase each year."

Judge Lovell responded, "Thank you for being here and for your comments. Believe me, we feel your pain. That's why we've been working hard to get it (the tax rate) down."

The resident fired back, "Obviously, I'm the only voice here – the Houston County voter that's here – who seems to be concerned. It seems like the whole county is either complacent or they're not aware of what's going on or they just don't care. They're just going to just sit back and take it. I'm tired of sitting back and taking it. I'm just here to let you all know that I'm opposed to it."

Lovell then explained, "There are several reasons why we have to go up this one and a half cents. There are a lot of unfunded mandates that are put on local government by our legislature that we don't have a choice on. They come up with some ideas and pass a law, but they don't give us the money to do it."

He concluded, "We feel your concern. We're going to work just as hard as we can to keep the tax rate as low as we can and still provide the services that were mandated to us to provide."
Kitchen added the commissioners are "not the opponent" of county property taxpayers, adding, "the opponent is in Austin and Washington, D.C." "We're the underdog," he said. "So, if you would like to help us, ... your voice needs to be heard at a higher level. We're the victims, just like you are. We take the blunt of the blame because we're mandated to.... We don't have a choice. If we say no to (the unfunded mandates), then we lose even more. So, the state has us under their thumb."

Kitchen said inflation in the costs of goods and services the county purchases also is a reason for rate increases.

He encouraged the resident to "take your same points you made (to the commissioners) and let those be heard at a higher level. And take some friends with you. We can certainly use more people than the ones sitting here voicing those concerns about unfunded mandates."

After further discussion, the public hearing was concluded, and the regular meeting was called to order. During the meeting, Houston County Tax Assessor-Collector Danette Millican suggested that the commissioners not reduce the proposed property tax rate from 55 cents to 54 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The county's property taxes are used to help support the county's budget. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, projects $14.5 million in both expected revenue and requested expenditures.

CEIDC Hears Update On Dealership From Gentry At Meeting

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation Board of Directors had planned to hear updates on the three proposed new facilities at the corporation's industrial park at a meeting Friday, Aug. 18.

Those facilities are the firefighters training center, planned by the Houston County Firefighters Association and Emergency Services District No. 2; the Muscles and Curves business owned by Houston County Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen; and the Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram of Crockett auto dealership.

However, due to a medical emergency in CEIDC Executive Director James Gentry's family and the inability of some of the scheduled updates presenters to attend the meeting, it was shortened and only an update of the car dealership was given.

The review of progress toward the firefighter training facility was tabled, and the CEIDC board members agreed to reschedule Kitchen's update on efforts toward the establishment of his business in Crockett Industrial Park.

Gentry, who received a letter he requested from planned partial dealership owners Bill and Marinda Sweatt, presented the update on the dealership.

"One of the things I know everybody is interested in knowing, both the board and the city as whole, is our Chrysler dealership status," Gentry said. "Last month, we had talked about a temporary facility to make a presence here sooner than later."

However, "they (the proposed dealership's owners) went before the Chrysler Corp. at a national meeting in Florida, ...and they were encouraged to forego the temporary and go full board," Gentry said. "With that in mind, they (the owners) were told that they (corporation representatives) wanted them to go back and meet with the Chrysler Capital people.

"They met in Houston two weeks ago. Part of that involves some more paperwork or documentation or rebidding because they (the owners) had already done a lot of work with contractors lining up for the temporary.

"Well, they have almost shuffled the board now and come back with a full package. That was a little frustrating on their (the owners) part that they had to do that. But, the positive of that is that the Chrysler is doing the full financing."

Gentry said he met with Chrysler Capital representatives, who visited Crockett two weeks ago, and they were "quite impressed" after touring the proposed dealership site and the City of Crockett.

"They told me, 'It's on us to get this (complete the paperwork for the financing) done before the end of the year,'" Gentry added. "So, they're in the process of doing the reappraisals, all of that, right now."

Gentry explained, the corporation representatives and dealership owners project that construction of the proposed $8 million dealership will take between seven and 10 months after all financial agreements are signed, approvals are given and decisions on contractors are made. And that is projected to take place by November.

CEIDC Board President Ansel Bradshaw noted, the Crockett City Council voted Aug. 15, 2016, to abate property taxes to be levied on the dealership for a number of years.

"So, it's good that the word is finally getting out that everything is trying to come together because there's been a year to where it's just kind of set there," Bradshaw said.

"That's encouraging news because it (building the dealership) certainly creates opportunities for the City of Crockett, the citizens of Crockett, as well as Houston County."

In other business, the CEIDC board members accepted the resignation of Board Vice President Gene Glover, who stated in a letter, he has accepted a full-time position with the Rice Consolidated ISD.

"(I) will not be able to drive the distance to serve in the capacity (of board member) as needed and required," Glover said.
Glover was appointed to a two-year term on the CEIDC board by the Crockett City Council on Jan. 9, and was elected vice president by board members on Feb. 20.

Crockett Council Approves $8.8 Million Budget

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The Crockett City Council adopted an $8.8 million fiscal year 2018 budget Monday, Aug. 14, at a relatively short regular meeting during which four public hearings were held.

Following time set aside for public hearing on the proposed budget – during which no comments were made – a motion to adopt it was offered by Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson. All five councilmembers were present and unanimously voted to pass the motion.

In addition to adopting the budget, the successful motion included approval of an ordinance making appropriation for support of the city during the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and the appropriation of money to the city's sinking fund to pay interest and principal due on the city's indebtedness.

All total, the 21-page budget, drawn up and submitted by City Administrator John Angerstein, projects $8,818,209 in revenue in all funds and $14,767 more than that -- $8,832,976 – in requested expenditures in all funds.

On the revenue side, the largest category, General Administration – which includes planned ad valorem and other tax collections; fines and forfeitures; miscellaneous licenses, permits and fees; and use of money and property – totals $5,059,879.
In the second category, Water and Sewer Departments, revenue is projected at $3,457,162 and in the third, Debt Service, $301,168 in income is expected.

Turning to expenditures, requested General Administration expenses – including those for personnel services; materials and supplies; contract services and maintenance; and capital outlay – total $744,002.

Requested Street Department expenses – covering those same sub-categories – are set at $562,113; Park and Recreation Department expenses at $162,779; and Crockett Police Department expenses at $1,369,552.

The budget sets requested Crockett Fire Department expenses at $426,655, Sanitation Department expenditures at $1,186,173 and Crockett Economic and Industrial Development costs at $140,317.

A total of $154,718 is budgeted for Crockett Public Library, $131,309 for the mechanic shop and $106,394 for Crockett Civic Center and Porth Ag Arena.

Some $75,272 is requested for the city's fire marshal/emergency coordinator, $2,204,087 for the Water Department, $3,471,294 for the Sewer Department and $302,368 for Debt Service.

In another public hearing, time was set aside for comments on the city's proposed 2017 ad valorem (or property) tax rate, during which there also were no comments, except for Mayor Joni Clonts noting the proposed rate is 58.6094 cents per $100 of assessed real property valuation, an increase of 5.2271 cents over the 2016 rate, which was 53.3823 cents for each $100 of assessed value.

During yet another public hearing, Kelle Odom, a senior project manager with the GrantWorks, Inc., grant management firm, presented an overview of the city's planned submission of an application for a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Grants of up to $75,000 are available through TPWD's Small Community Grant Program to city's such as Crockett to help finance development and/or improvement of new or existing outdoor recreational facilities and counties with populations of less than 20,000. Applications must be submitted no later than Oct. 1. Funds would be awarded in March 2018.

The initiative is a dollar-for-dollar (or 50-percent matching grant) and reimbursement program, meaning a locality awarded a grant must spend the funds to complete a development or improvement project. Then, TPWD will reimburse the entity 50 percent of a project's costs.
Projects eligible for grant funds can include such things as new development or renovation of ball fields; picnic facilities such as pavilions, tables, grills and so forth; gazebos; playground equipment; aquatic facilities; hiking/biking/jogging trails; sport courts; golf courses; camping facilities; water-related activities including boating and fishing; hunting; gardens; beautification; and cultural and exhibit facilities.

During the remaining public hearing, Odom summarized the city's plan to participate in the 2017 Texas Community Development Block Grant Program's Texas Capital Fund-Downtown Revitalization Grant Program.

Under this program, grants of up to $250,000 are awarded to rural Texas cities to make public improvements – including eliminating architectural barriers for the handicapped and upgrading lighting, sidewalks and parking lots – within a designated historic downtown commercial district. Grant award recipients are required to provide a match of at least 10 percent of the award. The application deadline is Oct. 16 and awards will be made in February or March.

Clonts announced that due to their personal business interests in downtown Crockett, she and Angerstein were recusing themselves from discussions about the CDGB downtown revitalization grant program.

In other business, the councilmembers unanimously:
• Voted to pass a motion made by Marsh – seconded by Precinct 1 Councilmember Butch Calvert – approving a resolution of support authorizing submission of an application to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for the Texas Home Investment Partnerships Program and authorizing Clonts to act as the city's chief executive officer and authorized representative in all matters pertaining to the city's participation in the program; and
• Passed a Marsh motion – seconded by Jackson – approving a request from the Crockett Police Department and the Crockett Fire Department to close the 1100 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (W. Curtis Street to Oak Street) 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, for Back-to-School Fun Day.

Petitioners Request Election To Raise Hospital Tax Cap

Special to the HCCourier

Thursday, Aug. 10, the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD)was presented with a petition signed by over 100 registered voters of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) requesting an election under Texas Health Safety Code 285.231 to authorize the increase of the maximum tax rate of Houston County Hospital District from $0.15 to up to the maximum statutory rate of $0.75.

Accordingly, Houston County Hospital District orders that a hearing be held on the request on Monday, Aug. 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the cafeteria of Houston County Medical Center.

If, after the hearing, the HCHD determines that the petition is in proper form and that an increase of the maximum tax rate would benefit the HCHD, then the election will be ordered and held on Nov. 7, 2017.

Deborah Blackwell, HCHD president, wanted to clarify that if approved by a majority of the voters at the Nov. 7, 2017, election, it would merely allow the district, if it deems necessary, to raise taxes in the future above the current $0.15 maximum rate. The earliest that the tax rate could be raised would be 2018 and any increase that exceeds the rollback rate would be subject to the rollback election procedures as set forth in the Tax code.

The HCHD Board of Directors is continuing to work on finalizing a lease with Christus Trinity Mother Francis Health System which opened its Crockett clinic Monday, Aug. 14.

The district is also working hard to find a way, if at all possible, to reopen the emergency department and hospital and will continue to provide updates as more information becomes known, according to a HCHD news release.