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Commissioners Receive Earful

CR 2210 Residents Want Their Share Of Road Funds

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The Houston County Commissioners Court received an earful about the conditions of County Roads 2210 and 4200 located in County Precincts 2 and 3, respectively, as well as related concerns during a lengthy discussion at a regular meeting of the court Tuesday, April 26.

After County Judge Erin Ford opened the floor to hear concerns from residents of CR 2210 in Precinct 2 about the condition of the road and possible use of County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone (CETRZ) funds to repair the road, Barrett Riess addressed the court.

Riess, representing himself, four other residents of CR 2210 and Grapeland Mayor George Pierson, who owns land on CR 2210, began the discussion with a presentation in which he addressed questions to the court about a "huge discrepancy in allocation of funds" between the two precincts and the condition of CR 2210, which is located in Precinct 2.

The four residents present at the meeting included Charlie Mae Burns, Hubert Burns, Mary Tryon and Herman Tryon.

"We're not here to complain about the commissioners; we're not here to criticize," Riess said. "We appreciate the hard job that all the commissioners do because it is a really challenging job with the budget limitations that we have in Houston County. But we are here; we're concerned about some discrepancies or differences in allocations of budgets."

Acknowledging that there are four precincts in Houston County, Riess said, "The General Road and Bridge Fund is not split equally between the precincts.... I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm sure there's a good reason. But, Precinct 3 has about 29 percent (or $593,688) of the Road & Bridge Fund and Precinct 2 has a quarter, 25 percent (or $487,564)" for 2015. "So, there's a difference there, and we're not exactly sure why; there's probably a simple answer," Riess said.

Ford explained that the allocation of road and bridge funds to a precinct is based on the total length of all the roads within that precinct, and noted that Precinct 3 has more miles of roads than does Precinct 2. He said there are 750 total miles of roads in the county.

Riess then turned his attention to the condition of the roads in his precinct. "I know everybody's roads need improving," he said. "We have a limitation on material. A lot of our base is clay.... Sometimes it's sand, and sometimes it's not good sand. And I know in Precinct 2 where I live, there's a lot of oil field traffic that tears up the road. It's 24 hours. They go across it. It's all-weather. They don't care if it rains and pours and monsoon. And they travel all throughout the night. We've had oil wells there. It's the Navarro Crossing Oil Field that's in that general area of Precinct 2. It's been around since the '30s."

Riess said there are three wells in the area of his and the other four residents' homes that "take up" on CR 2210 -- it's about eight miles of road -- and these wells have produced over a million barrels of oil and are still producing. As a result of the oil production from these wells, a lot of salt water is produced, requiring continuous truck traffic that severely damages the roads. "It's lots of trucks and traffic," Riess said. "We've pulled lots of people out of the roads, lots of regular citizens out of the road. They get stuck because those big trucks tear the road up."

He stated there's relatively little oil field truck traffic on roads in Precincts 1 and 4, unlike the heavy vehicle traffic in Precincts 2 and 3.

Then, Riess noted that Houston County is the recipient of state grant funds earmarked for infrastructure repairs and improvements that is available locally through the CETRZ program. He stated that there is a "huge discrepancy in the allocation of those funds" to the precincts within Houston County, as well.

According to Riess, Precinct 2 "only got $135,523, which is 17 percent of the CETRZ funds, and Precinct 3 received $644,935 so far, which is 82 percent. And we're not sure why; we wanted to ask that."

Ford explained that Texas' 254 counties were awarded $250 million from the state legislature through that state's infrastructure grant program to repair roads that had been damaged by heavy vehicle traffic. Out of that total $25 million was taken out for administrative use, leaving $225 million to be distributed to counties that applied for grants. Of that sum, Houston County, a 1,200-square-mile county, received $788,000 for the reinvestment zone that was established in the county.
The county was required to match 10 percent of that amount, which resulted in a total of $866,000 for the program. Once the reinvestment zone was established in the county, the whole county was open for any use of those funds. The legislature also granted the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $250 million through the initiative.
The Commissioners Court was required to set up a project list to submit to TxDOT in order to establish which roads needed work, Ford said. "Precinct 3 had the most damage in the county; it was sustaining incredible damage (due to oil well production traffic). And the commissioners, to their credit, decided that the majority, 80 percent, of the funds (should go to Precinct 3 where it would do the most good). Those funds had to be allocated to roads that had been damaged due to oil and gas traffic. They couldn't be used for general maintenance. So, the project was established with Precincts 1-4. Precinct 3 got $650,000 of the ($866,000), and the rest of the precincts" got the remainder. "So, it was really a self-sacrifice on the part of the other (three) precincts in order to help benefit Precinct 3," Ford said.
To the judge's explanation, Riess responded, "Well, I agree that it was a sacrifice. That's why we're here, because I think we (CR 2210 residents and other Precinct 2 residents) have sacrificed too much."
Riess continued, "So, we acknowledge the roads are bad in Precinct 3. They're also bad in Precinct 2." He said it just seems like an extreme differential in the allocations to the two precincts. "It seems excessive," he said. "That's why I want to bring it to the attention of the court," he said, adding, there was only about a mile of roadway improved in Precinct 2 through the auspices of the program while Precinct 3 had almost 7 ½ miles improved with CERTZ funds.
Pierson was in agreement with Riess. He said members of his family have lived in the CR 2210 area since the 1800s. He said he owns about 200 acres in the area and manages 400 acres there, and he is aware that there have been oil wells nearby dating "all the way back when."
He said he has been down most of Precinct 3 roads as an employee of the Texas Department of Corrections, responding to a lot of escapes from the Eastham state prison facility, and he has seen the roads.
However, he said, "somehow in this community of Cedar Branch (in Precinct 2), in that area down there, we just can't get any consideration." He asked, "What is it about this area that we just can't get any consideration? That's all we're asking. I mean, look at us. Look at our tax rolls. We're talking to all commissioners. We're talking to the whole county, whoever is in charge of the county. What is it about this area? We can't get any kind of consideration. I want an answer to that question. Look at my taxes, what I'm paying. Okay? And the other thing is, we had Sun Oil come in there. Sun Oil put blacktop on our road. This lasted a long time. While the other precincts were getting money for their roads, there was no money really allocated for that road in Cedar Branch because it was blacktopped. So you talk about give-and-take, give-and-take, I think our area gave, too. And for me to be able to manage my operation, and some of the other people down there, I think it's time that we get considered."
Pierson concluded, "We've been put on the back burner ever since I was knee high to a flea. We're pleading to the Commissioners Court. And what is the Commissioners Court? It is the county judge and the other four county commissioners. Just give us some consideration. That's all I got."
In addition, while receiving comments on the condition and related matters about CR 2210, the court heard from Sharon E. Berry, chair of the Democratic Party-Houston County, who resides off CR 4200 in Lovelady in Precinct 3. Berry voiced concerns about the poor condition of the road where she lives. Her husband, Reginald Berry, is a candidate for the Precinct 3 County Commissioner seat in the upcoming November general election.
"In listening to the Court," Berry said, "it seems that the majority of the funds are going to help the roads that have already been improved. From the history that I've heard, 4200 was back then supposed to be paved, and because of local politics, they chose another. I've been a part of this community 25 years. At some point or another, that road should have been done. We have school buses that cannot come, and if that money given to Commissioner (Pat) Perry (of Precinct 3) was in addition to a budget, there should be some financial accounting. There should be somewhere we could go to pull up on the Freedom of Information Act to see where that money went because it is not coming to our community, as the gentleman said."
"I'm representing the county," said Berry, "and of course it affects me. What's so disturbing is that if there was an emergency that we needed a fire truck or an ambulance, it would be virtually impossible for that to come to us. And the time that we get recognition or help is after three or four citizens call."
"And then, we get these huge, humongous rocks that cut your tires," Berry continued. "There has to be a system. There are machines that sometimes sit for three days without moving. And when it does, it scrapes the thing increasing the problem. Why don't we dig ditches. Stop putting a band-aide on the problem and let's build the road up. Let's do something. And the citizens of the county, we do more cutting limbs off trees. You're wrong if you don't leave your home with boots and a chainsaw. That is ridiculous. That is 1800, 1900 stuff. This is the 21st century and we deserve better consideration."
After the court heard additional concerns and discussed the conditions of the roads and related issues further, attention was refocused on the situation at CR 2210 and updating the priority list under the CETRZ program and the use of the balance of the available CETRZ funds in Houston County.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen offered a motion that would have allowed the remaining outstanding balance of about $3,995 of CETRZ program dollars to be used to fund repairs to CR 2210, but the motion died for lack of a second. The funds previously had been set aside for repairs to County Road 3575.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Lovell moved to add CR 1597 to the CETRZ project list and his motion was seconded by Kitchen before being approved on a 3-2 vote.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Pat Perry submitted a motion seeking to add CR 3575 and CR 3585 to the CETRZ project list, and the motion was seconded by Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum. The commissioners vote to pass the motion.
Then, Ford offered a motion to table any further discussion and action regarding the CETRZ project list and related issues to a future meeting. That will give him time to look into the matter and become better informed, he said. The motion was seconded by Kellum and passed on a vote.
In other business at the meeting, Bobby Bowlin and Kelly Stotts, representing the Crockett Housing Authority (CHA), asked the Commissioners Court to accept a payment of $4,802.86 to retire the authority's debt to the county. CHA owes the county roughly $19,000 that has accrued of the past four years as a result of CHA's failure to make agreed upon payments to the county in lieu of taxes. CHA asked the Commissioners Court to waive the balance.
Ford and the commissioners agreed to accept the reduced amount of $4,802.86 as payment in full of the CHA debt, but declined to issue a waiver of the balance. CHA asked to be allowed to pay the reduced amount because paying the entire balance would put the authority in a position of financial hardship.
CHA is a tax-exempt body and it entered a contract with the county in 1962 to make scheduled payments to the county in lieu of taxes (PILOT). During the last four years, the prior CHA executive director failed to make the agreed upon payments. The CHA is now making efforts to settle the matter with the county. Stotts became executive director in March. Bowlin has been a member of the CHA Board of Commissioners about six months and is the current president of the CHA board. Under the 1962 contract, CHA agreed to pay the county a percentage of its rent collections minus utilities in lieu of taxes.
Bowlin said the CHA wants "to make the past four years right." In requesting the waiver, CHA sought to have 75 percent of the $19,000 balance it owed the county nullified. Bowlin said the authority will probably request a 100-percent waiver of payments next year.
Kitchen told Bowlin and Stotts the Commissioners Court will accept the authority's payment of $4,802.86 as full payment of the amount in arrears, but the court would not sign a waiver of the balance because the court wants the record to show that it wasn't paid. Ford agreed.

Kennard ISD To Install Security Camera System

By Katie Duvall
Courier Reporter

Monday, March 14, was the day that the Kennard Board of Trustees met at 6:30 p.m. to oversee school matters. The board opened the meeting with prayer and then smoothly transitioned into the items listed on the agenda.

An item of pressing importance was discussed rather early in the meeting. Interim Superintendent Fred Rush went into the details of the upcoming installation of security cameras for the school. The board had questions about the two different cameras they were choosing between. One camera was an IP and the other was HD.

"There's really no difference between the two cameras. They are both HD cameras, the difference between the IP and HD cameras is really the cable that they operate on. The IP camera has to operate on a CAT 5 cable and the HD camera can operate on a CAT 5 and co-axle cable," Rush explained. Safe Code will be used to replace the camera system with a cost of $21,515 with a 10-year warranty and a three-year warranty on the hard drive.

Next up on the agenda was the cancelling of the School Trustee Election for May 7.

"Board members we have two positions up for election this cycle and we have two candidates that have signed up for the vacant positions so those have filled those two vacant positions. So we do not need to do that (hold an election)," Rush said. The motion was passed with all members in favor for the cancellation.

Counselor Amy Gladden was called upon to speak about two Students of the Month. The first student was Emily Walters, a seventh grader, who placed in district for UIL in writing and came first in district in Science. The second Student of the Month was high school student Lindsey Cole who is the Class Favorite, participates in UIL writing, was Homecoming Queen, played varsity softball and volleyball for four years, and is the FFA secretary this year.

All the items on the agenda were discussed and the board broke into their executive meeting at 7:06 p.m. The members came out from the meeting several minutes later to vote on personnel issues discussed in the closed session.

The board extended contracts for two individuals for one more year. Then the board approved the hiring of a new superintendent with all members in favor of the motion.

Malinda Lindsey will become the new superintendent of Kennard ISD in the upcoming weeks. Lindsey was named as the lone finalist for the position on Feb. 28.

The board meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. unless informed otherwise.

Stotts Named CHA Director

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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Kelly Stotts, a former office manager at the Crockett Housing Authority (CHA), will return to the CHA on Tuesday, March 1, as the new executive director.

The CHA Board of Commissioners met in executive session for about two hours. For approximately 30 minutes each, the board interviewed two appicants, Stotts and Maintenance Supervisor Mark Stephenson.

Commissioner Pam Wells said both candidates have a lot to add to the CHA, and her sentiments were echoed by Commissioners Danny Ory and Joni Clonts.

Ory made the motion to hire Stotts, with her salary to start at $52,000 with incentives that include contributions to a 401K plan totalling 13% of her gross income as well as contributions to medical and dental insurance. Stotts also will receive a $500/month car allowance until the CHA board decides to purchase a vehicle for CHA use.

The vote was unanimous in favor of hiring Stotts. Clonts said the commissioners wanted both Stotts and Stephenson, with Stephenson remaining as the maintenance supervisor. Stephenson said he thought it was "a great decision".
Clonts said, "These are the first steps to a new beginning (for the CHA)."

County Honors David Lamb

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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There were moments of laughter as well as tears at the retirement reception for Houston County Fire Marshal/Emergency Management Coordinator David Lamb on Tuesday, Feb. 9.  (Lynda Jones Photo)There were moments of laughter as well as tears at the retirement reception for Houston County Fire Marshal/Emergency Management Coordinator David Lamb on Tuesday, Feb. 9. (Lynda Jones Photo)The Houston County Commissioners recessed their Tuesday, Feb. 9, meeting to move next door to honor retiring County Fire Marshal/Emergency Management Coordinator David Lamb.

A reception was held for Lamb in the Community Room at First Community Bank, next door to the Commissioners Courtroom.
After Lamb was presented with a plaque of appreciation for his years of service, and a flag from the State Capitol that State Rep. Trent Ashby sent for the occasion, friends and family shared mostly humorous stories with Lamb.

Lamb served Houston County from 2008 - 2016. His retirement date is Feb. 19.

Before recessing for the reception, the commissioners received as information the January Environmental Control Report prepared by Ashley Perry, Environmental Control Officer.

The report indicates illegal dumping continues to be an issue in the county. Perry's report states, "There were a total of 5 complaints, 94 bags of refuse, estimated at 30 lbs. each for a total of 2,820 lbs. of refuse removed from county roads.

Environmental Control patrolled or removed refuse from CR 1272, 1720, 1725, 2076, 2035, 2080, FM 229, Fifth St., Pease, 231, 3400, 2130 and 1270."

Community service workers supervised by Perry assisted or completed several special projects, including cleaning up the grounds at the Crockett Public Library, buffing the floors of the old jail, hauling surplus furniture from the tax office and cleaning the pilot building at Houston County Airport.

In other business, the commissioners approved accepting the Juvenile Deputy Grant for the Sheriff's Office in the amount of $16,565.17 and the Body-Worn Camera Grant for $40,363.75 with 25% match (budgeted by the HCSO).

The court also granted approval for the HCSO to apply for three additional grants: a joint equipment grant between the Sheriff's Office and County Attorney's Office for interview recording system, computer and projector equipment; a Crime Victim Deputy Grant; and continuance of the Juvenile Deputy Grant.

Also, the court accepted as information the Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2 Financial Statement for FY 2015 and the annual presentation of the Houston County Historical Commission.

Ansel Bradshaw of Crockett appeared before the court to announce a lumber supply company began construction this week at the former Crockett Coca Cola facility on East Loop 304, and that the company hopes to be open by April.

At the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Dinner Tuesday night, Bradshaw announced the name of the company, Parker Building Supply. The company has headquarters in Port Arthur and several stores, including one in Woodville.

Commissioners Receive Auditor’s Road & Bridge Expenditure Report

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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Houston County spent $2,194,169.03 on county roads and bridges in all four precincts during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2015, according to the Texas County Lateral Road and Bridge Expendiures Yearly Report submitted by County Auditor Melissa Mosley.

Mosley explained during the Tuesday, Jan. 26, Houston County Commissioners Court meeting, that the report must be submitted to the state each year and is a composite of the expenditures made in all four county precincts.

She further explained the report only addresses funds designated exclusively for road and bridge projects. Those funds include monies from automobile registration fees, timber funds, fine money that comes through the court system. It does not include projects funded in other ways, such as FEMA grants. Those funds are tracked and reported in a different way, Mosley explained.

The report indicates the following expenditures: County Road Maintenance, $763,849.36; County Road Rehabilitation, $330,898.82; County Bridge Maintenance, $62,302.23; County Bridge Rehabilitation, $2,207.50; Right of Way Acquisition, $268.10; and Other Road Expenditures, $1,034,643.02. No expenditures were made on new construction of roads or bridges.

Mosley also reported she compiled an additional report showing a history of road and bridge expenditures over the past 20 years.

That report indicates the county spent $982,332.13 on its roads and bridges in 1995, compared to the $2,193,900.93 spent in 2015. The county first jumped over the $1 million expenditure mark in 1997, when the expenditures totaled $1,147,587.35.

The commissioners unanimously voted to accept the 2015 report as information.

In other business, the commissioners unanimously voted to approve a contract with Records Consultants, Inc. to upgrade the county's inventory management system with software that will allow the county auditor to create fixed asset depreciation reports.

Prior to the vote, Mosley told commissioners, "As you know, our outside auditor has been concerned about our inventory process. This is what our next step in that process."

Next she introduced Dan Gibbons, president and CEO of Records Consultants, Inc. Gibbons explained his San Antonio-based company works exclusively with government entities.

In a brief presentation before the court, Gibbons said , "This is a program we provide to counties like yourself to get a handle on your fixed assets. By rule, local government entities have to maintain their fixed assets on their balance sheet, their depreciated value. A fixed asset is in excess of $500 or more...."
He continued, "We developed software for our guys to come and complete inventory of every asset in the county, including technology that might be less than $500 and has a useful life of at least a year and sometimes might get misplaced. What we do is we come in and go through every facility in the county. We'll barcode the door going into that. We'll scan that in, name the room, and we'll tag every fixed asset in the room. Then we'll go back to Melissa and capture the date it was purchased and the amount that was paid for it...so she can create those depreciation reports as the auditor."

Gibbons estimated the project in Houston County will take six to eight weeks for completion. The company then will deliver a software program that runs on the network, allows the county maintain the inventory and commissioners will have access to see their fixed assets.

He further stated the Records Consultants employees completing the initial inventory have gone through drug screening, fingerprints, etc. Background checks are done annually on their employees, Gibbons said.
Mosley reminded commissioners the county already has policy requiring every asset valued at $500 or more be placed on inventory, as well everything with a serial number. This program will allow the auditor's office to create the depreciation reports.

The cost of the project will be $6,700. The county will pay $2,600 to begin the project and the balance when the project is complete.

Fire Marshal/OEMC Retiring

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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Houston County Fire Marshal and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator David Lamb will retire on Feb. 19. He has held the posts for 18 years.

During the Tuesday, Jan. 12 Houston County Commissioners Court meeting, County Judge Erin Ford made a motion to have two individuals fill the positions rather than just one.

"I've looked at separating the two positions into their respective functions. David's been unique in being able to assume both. Guys like David are scarce. In order fill the emergency management coordinator position, I want to make a motion that we separate these two positions," Ford said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen if the two positions "have" to be separated.

Ford responded that the two positions don't have to be separated, but it makes it harder to find an individual that meets the qualifications of fire marshal and EMC. They're not very common, and the real need at this point is a replacement EMC."
He continued, "I talked to the City of Crockett, and they're willing to assume any responsibility on fire investigations by Jason Frizzell, so we're covered on the fire marshal." Frizzell is fire marshal for the Crockett Fire Department.

Ford repeated his motion three times and it failed for lack of a second.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Roger Dickey then said, "Judge, .... I would still like to keep the jobs together. I don't want to restrict our movement forward..."

Ford said, "You're restricting the ability to get an individual for this county. Now the motion's been closed ... it's a closed issue."
In other business, the court unanimously voted to include the Community Supervision and Correction Department as county-owned buildings with courtroom or offices utilized by the courts for inclusion of the buildings where firearms are prohibited.

They also voted to adopt the Firearm Policy Section for the Employee Handbook and a related change to the Discipline Section as recommended by the Human Resources Committee.