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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.

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.