Ramsey Tagged For Position 2 On HCHD Board Of Directors

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

The Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors unanimously voted to appoint Dr. Perry Ramsey, MD, to Position 2 on the board.
The action came during the regular meeting of the HCHD Tuesday, Sept. 16 in the ETMC Cafeteria.
Position 2 previously was held for many years by Dr. George Beeler, DVM, who passed away recently.
Ramsey was not present at the meeting, but Board President Dr. John Stovall, DDS, said afterwards that Ramsey has agreed to accept the position and will take the oath of office at the next board meeting.
Ramsey currently is a physician at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Palestine, a position he has held for about one year.
He previously worked at the ETMC First Physicians Clinic in Crockett, and before that, he had his own private practice and medical clinic in Crockett.
He and his wife, Theresa, are active in the Crockett and Houston County communities.
Also during the Tuesday meeting, the HCHD board unanimously voted to approve its 2014-2015 budget, which includes $250,000 for legal and professional expenses.
It also includes adjustments for the loss of income from ETMC that is anticipated after June 30, 2015 when the ETMC-HCHD lease agreement ends, dependent upon current litigation results. ETMC filed suit against the HCHD about 10 months ago.
Following the regular meeting, the HCHD board adjourned to convene an executive session to discuss that litigation with its attorney.

Latexo ISD To Provide ‘Hot Spots’ In Homes For Student Internet Access

By Gloria Neel

Increased access to the Internet and technoology is on the way to Latexo ISD students, courtesy of a $72,000 Texas Education Agency Lending Program Grant.

During the Monday, Sept. 15 meeting of the LISD Board of Trustees, technology instructors Lena Kelsey and Sandy Simpson provided the trustees with a technology update.

"A little update on what we've done in technology recently," Kelsey began. "We have Chrome books issued out to all 7th - 12th graders, and EliteBooks for a few."

She further announced the installation of Voice over IP (VoIP) phones in all of the classrooms for the teachers, the upgrading of all the xp machines to Windows 7, and implementation of a brand new school web site.

Simpson told the board that they tried something new for staff development this year by holding a mini-conference with fellow "techie" teachers and TCEA hosted sessions for their peers.

"We have class sets of Chrome books in grades 3-6, and Kunos for K-2," Simpson reported.
Kelsey and Simpson worked diligently on a grant which was approved by the board. With this money, the plan is to provide "hot spots" for homes without Internet access so those students have the same advantage as others who are already connected.

With that, Kelsey and Simpson presented Board President Edward Stockton an oversized check in the amount of $72,000.

Superintendent Don Elsom congratulated the teachers and commended them for bringing in over $120,000 in grant money the last three years.

The district also received a donation from the Latexo Youth Basketball Association in appreciation for use of school facilities last spring.

"On behalf of Latexo Youth Basketball I would like to donate this check for $2,500 to Latexo ISD," Stockton said as he handed a check to the superintendent.

Other board business included:
• 4-H was approved by the board as an extracurricular organization.
• The board approved an agreement with Crockett ISD to participate in the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) Co-op.
• Budget amended for stipend to Kelsey and Simpson for obtaining grant.
• Update on transfer students. A couple of classes are almost full.
After the action items on the agenda were addressed, principals from both campuses reported to the board.

Dr. Stacy Easterly, elementary principal, reported things are going well at the elementary campus. The PTO has met and scheduled this year's Fall Fest for Nov. 7.

High School Principal Adam Ivy praised Coach Jessica Cutshaw and Coach Mike Gain for the accomplishments in the cross country meets and volleyball.

He also reported "Meet The Teacher" was successful, especially the seventh grade orientation that was standing room only.

Elsom reported student enrollment is up from 502 last fall to currently 531 students with attendance at 98.21%.

He is waiting to hear back on a FEMA grant, and is working on this year's evacuation drill as well as preparing for fire drills. Fund raisers are in full swing, with fruit sales coming up next month.

After Superintendent Elsom discussed reimbursements, he had some information on the Equity Center, which leads a law suit against the state on funding.

"The cost of education index hasn't been updated in 20+ years," Elsom said. "Student enrollment in public schools is up 45.6% from 3.3 million to 4.9 million. Students qualifying for free and reduced lunch has gone from 1.3 million students to 3.03 million, which is up 129% increase and what's even more is that students enrolled in bilingual ESL programs is up 149% and the cost of education index has stayed the same." This is part of the reason the lawsuit has been filed.

The final item in open session was a power point presentation on building the vision and mission of Texas schools entitled "Creating A New Vision For Public Education in Texas." Elsom went through one of six parts entitled, "The New Digital Learning Environment".

After a 25-minute closed session, the board adjourned without taking any action.

Lovelady ISD Pleased With TEA Accountability Rating

By Kelly McChesney

The Lovelady Independent School District Board of Trustees Meeting was held on Monday, Sept. 15 at the LISD High School Library.

Lovelady High School and Junior High School Principal Robin Stowe reported the school met standards in the Texas Education Agency Accountability rating.

The campus also earned the distinction designation in the closing performance gaps index. In this index, Lovelady JHHS ranked ninth out of 40 schools of similar size.
"I'm very proud of our distinction," she said.

Attendance has improved for the first three weeks of this school year. Enrollment is 230 high school students and 282 elementary school students, according to Stowe.

Lovelady Elementary/Middle School also did very well.

"We had three distinctions. We were also compared with 40 schools, and in the closing performance gap index, we ranked third," said Elementary School Principal Deborah Harrelson. "I was proud of our campus," she said.

Harrelson reported the largest class size is 19 students, in Pre-K and Kindergarten.
Harrelson also said, "We are doing a sensory study working with students with Sensory Processing Disorder. There will be a control group and an experimental group."

All students participating in each group will have parental permission to participate. No names will be used nor distinguishing information. There will be recommendations for each student.

"Children do not always have a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder," said Harrelson. "I think this is a great opportunity for our school."

In other business, the trustees voted to accept the bid of $4,200 on a 12.454 acre landlocked piece of property noting that the district would receive $2563 and it would be put back on the tax roll. A bid on two acres was rejected.

Kindergarten teacher Jodi Carney addressed the board concerning the policy requiring teachers to pay for substitute teachers. "I was really surprised when I came into the district. We have to pay our own subs if we are absent for any reason. We have to pay $55 out of our paychecks. That $55 is a lot for a teacher," She said. "Everybody who teaches in this district is invested in this community. This is one of the best school districts around. But we also take a big pay cut to teach in Lovelady."

The board reviewed SBOE Policy Update 100 which included district campus improvement plans, teaching and working conditions, and insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
"We exceed insurance requirements," said Lovelady ISD Superintendent Dr. Micah Dyer.
The local policies spelled out legal ramifications of the Concealed Handgun Act.

The Board voted to accept bids for the design/ build of a new seamless roof over a portion of the high school.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, was the scheduled Kunos launch at the high School, and Thursday, Sept. 18, the Kunos will launch at the elementary school.

The Kuno - the name combines K (for K-12) and the Spanish number for one, 'Uno', to signify one-to-one student:tablet - is a rugged mobile tablet with e-books and teaching materials. Other districts already are teaching with the Kuno tablets. Dyer believes there will not be too many problems launching the Kunos.

"We learned from other districts' mistakes," Dyer said. "We are pushing our kids into the 21st Century and beyond," he said.

Grapeland City Council Hears Complaint About Garbage, Sewer Rates

By Robert Neel, Reporter

Asa Cascavilla and Rhonda Carpenter of Grapeland Apartments shared their concerns about utility rates at a regular meeting of the Grapeland City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Cascavilla made a presentation comparing garbage and utility rates of Grapeland to other surrounding cities where they own apartments.

According to their information, the price per apartment unit for garbage pickup is $24 in Grapeland, $6 in Henderson, $7 in Athens and $5 in Kilgore.

"We are basically paying four times as much for garbage pickup per apartment in Grapeland as we are elsewhere," Cascavilla said.

Total water and sewer costs for a month at apartment complexes in the various cities were also provided as follows:
• Kilgore had a water bill of $2,306 and a sewer bill of $2,387.
• Henderson had a water bill of $935 and a sewer bill of $821.
• Athens had a water bill of $629 and a sewer bill of $676.
• Another Athens apartment complex had a water bill of $464 and a sewer bill of $459.
• Grapeland Apartments had a water bill of $207 and a sewer bill of $897.
"Grapeland does not provide the 1:1 ratio of water to sewer prices we see at our other complexes," Cascavilla noted.

According to City Superintendent Shaun Wiley, the sewer bill for the Grapeland Apartments is based on a 4,000-gallon minimum per apartment, which is $28 per month. He proposes to reduce this minimum to 2,000 gallons, which cuts the monthly charge in half.

"For garbage there is not much we can do," Wiley said. "How much do you pay for your garbage?" he asked the council. "Twenty-four dollars," Mayor George Pierson replied. Wiley went on the say that each apartment is being charged the same rate as each residence.

"Henderson, Athens and Kilgore are much bigger towns than Grapeland. We are not comparing apples to apples," Pierson said. He asked Cascavilla to get him comparisons to towns similar in size and asked the council if the issue could be tabled. Cascavilla agreed to submit additional data and the council tabled the issue.

In other related utility actions the city council unanimously approved the following:
• Requirement to provide a mandatory water shut-off valve on the customer side of water meters.
• Eliminating the 50% discount for large water losses due to customer negligence. The discount will be reduced to 1/3 after Oct. 1 and no discounts will be allowed after Jan 1.
• Allow 45 days to pay late water bills.

Moving to other business, Pierson told the council he has made a request to the Texas Department of Transportation to close the southbound lane of Market St. during the Peanut Festival. This request was generated by a near accident where a child almost got run over at last year's festival. The closure also will allow greater access to the park for emergency vehicles, according to Pierson.
Next, the council approved the Certified Tax Roll and adopted a tax rate of $0.607344 per $100 of taxable value for Fiscal Year 2014-2015. This rate is up $0.03 from last year. There was no discussion or comment prior to this vote.

In other business the council unanimously approved the following:
• Appointment of Ben Childress and Marilyn Walker to fill vacancies on the Grapeland Economic Development Cooperation.
• Audit engagement letter from Todd, Hamaker & Johnson, LLP
• Proposal from ATS construction for fencing at the new city well site at a cost of $6,200.
• Amending the park closing time from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.(midnight) during Peanut Festival activities.

Commissioners Approve Creation Of HR Committee

By Robert Neel, Reporter

Houston County Commissioners Court approved County Judge Erin Ford's nominees to the County Human Resource Committee at a regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 26.

The first priority of this committee will be to review pay scales, Ford announced.

According to information provided by Ford, other duties will include reviewing and making recommendations on:
• Job descriptions,
• Benefits including health insurance, retiree benefits, longevity, etc.,
• Supplemental policies and
• Personnel Manual.

Ford recommended the following individuals to serve on the committee: County Attorney Daphne Session, County Tax Assessor/Collector Danette Millican, County Auditor Melissa Mosley, Road and Bridge Employee Frank Womack and Houston County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Gary Shearer.

The court unanimously voted to approve all nominated individuals.

County Treasurer Dina Herrera and District Clerk Carolyn Rains also will serve on the committee. Jan Pigford, human resources representative, will be a non-voting member of the board.
The action came because, at the Aug. 12 commissioners court meeting, District Judge Pam Fletcher requested a salary increase and title change for the district court administrator. The new job title would be district court coordinator.

At that time, the commissioners requested a job description and for the county's Salary Review Board to determine the salary for the coordinator position.

The Aug. 12 discussion of the matter revealed the membership of the board had not changed since it was created in July 2001. Only two of the original members still are county employees.

In other business, County Auditor Melissa Mosley shared a five-year overview of road and bridge funds prepared for the Texas Association of Counties (TAC).

"TAC is preparing for the next legislative session," Mosley reported. She said she hopes TAC will be able to get additional funds for the county.

Her information showed that revenues for roads and bridges are down almost a million dollars from 2009 to 2013, due mostly to the loss of allocation of timber funds from the federal government.

Road and bridge expenses have been reduced but the commissioner's road and bridge precinct fund balance is down from $505,284 at the beginning of 2009, to $43,418 at the close of 2013, according to Mosley.

She said the county was spending what it had, hoping the federal timber funds would come and trying to avoid raising taxes last year, but the funds didn't come.

"Three cents of last year's 4.9 cent tax increase went to roads and bridges," Ford added.

Next on the agenda, Ford presented the Houston County Historical Commission (HCHC) with the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission (THC). The THC issues Distinguished Service Awards each year to county historical commissions that demonstrate concerted efforts to preserve the history and character of Texas. In a press release, THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe said, "We commend these hardworking individuals for their efforts to save Texas history and look forward to promoting their accomplishments throughout the year."
Paul Stringer and Tom Streetman accepted the award on behalf of the HCHC.

In related business, the commissioners court approved Elizabeth McCoy and Vaden Caldwell as new appointees to the HCHC.

Kudos also went to Terri Meadows, court coordinator manager for the County Court at Law. Meadows recently graduated from the Texas Court Management Program.

"Terri Meadows is an outstanding court coordinator manager who has been recognized for her expertise by the State of Texas. I am so pleased that she has dedicated herself to continue to advance her training and knowledge and to serve with professionalism in Houston County," County Court at Law Judge Sarah Clark said.

A consulting agreement with Sturgis Web Services for the tax office website was presented by County Tax Assessor/Collector Danette Millican.

"Sturgis Web Services offers a much better website than our current consultant, Pritchard & Abbott, for the same amount of money," Millican told the court. The agreement was approved.
Also approved was the collection of a $60 permit fee for licensed beer and wine retailers. There are currently 31 active permits in the county, according to Millican, which must be renewed every two years.

Millican also presented the following high bids on four properties that have been "struck off" the tax rolls:
• $4,200 for 12.45 acres off of FM 2180 near Lovelady,
• $601 for 2.00 acres off of CR 4195 near Lovelady,
• $400 for 0.47 acres between Oak and Hackett streets in Crockett and
• $200 for 0.12 acres between Oak and Hackett streets in Crockett.

These properties have judgments against them for unpaid taxes and are currently not generating taxes, Millican reported. All four bids were approved unanimously.

Additional comments were held on safety issues at the Lock and Dam, which had been tabled at the last commissioners court meeting.

Game Warden Zak Benge again asked the court to consider restricting access to the middle wall, west wall and chute area of the Lock and Dam.

"We are all for safety," stated Leon County Judge Byron Ryder, "But there is a strong sentiment from the Leon County Commissioners Court to not eliminate access to the Lock and Dam."

"We are working with Texas Park and Wildlife Attorneys to determine who actually owns the structure," added County Attorney Daphne Session. The issue was tabled again.

Other actions taken were:
• Approved the acceptance of a grant from the Office of the Attorney General for the Victim Assistance Coordinator position within the County Attorney's office and
• Approved an application with the Texas Department of Agriculture for the "Texans Feeding Texans" Home Delivered Meal Program Grant.

Immediately prior to the regular meeting, a public hearing was held on the proposed 2014 ad valorem tax rate of 46.5 cents proposed at the Aug. 12 commissioners court meeting. This rate remains unchanged from last year according to Ford. No public comments were made.

Tourism Stash Proves ‘HOT’ Topic At County Commissioners Court

Jones Dorothy Harrison, president of the Houston County Museum aka Depot Museum (pictured above), has been on a mission of late to find operating and maintenance funds for the museum.  The county contributes budgeted funds for insurance payments, but on Tuesday, July 22, said “no” to a portion of the county’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds.  The museum has received recent assistance from the Crockett Rotary Club and the City of Crockett, which approved a portion of its HOT funds for the museum’s operation and advertising expenses. (Photo by Lynda Jones) Dorothy Harrison, president of the Houston County Museum aka Depot Museum (pictured above), has been on a mission of late to find operating and maintenance funds for the museum. The county contributes budgeted funds for insurance payments, but on Tuesday, July 22, said “no” to a portion of the county’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds. The museum has received recent assistance from the Crockett Rotary Club and the City of Crockett, which approved a portion of its HOT funds for the museum’s operation and advertising expenses. (Photo by Lynda Jones)

By Sherry Driskell, Courier Reporter

The Houston County Commissioners Court had standing room only for its regular meeting Tuesday, July 22.

Three entities asked for a portion of the Houston County Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds.

Those entities included the Houston County Museum (Depot Museum), Piney Woods Fine Arts Association and the Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation.

The commissioners unanimously denied the request for funds for the Houston County Museum.

Dorothy Harrison, president of the museum board, had submitted an application for $10,000 to be used for maintenance, advertising, utilities, alarm system fees and repairs.

The museum relies only on donations to operate annually. The museum houses historical items (such as an antique Crockett fire truck), pictures and over all history of the county.

Harrison's application states that the museum drew 293 visitors in 2013, with about 2/3 of them being from out of town and some even from out of state.

By state law (Tax Code 352), the County of Houston collects a Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) from hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other lodging facilities which may be used only to directly promote tourism and the hotel and convention industry including:

• Promotions of the Arts that Directly Promote Tourism and the Hotel and Convention Industry: the encouragement, promotion, improvement and application of the arts that can be shown to have some direct impact on tourism and the hotel/convention industry.
All forms of art include instrumental and vocal music, dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture, design and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, motion picture, radio, television, tape and sound recording, and other arts related to the presentation, performance, execution and exhibition of these major art forms will be considered.
• Historical Restoration and Preservation Activities that Directly Promote Tourism and the Hotel and Convention Industry: historical restoration and preservation projects or activities or advertising and conducting solicitation and promotional programs to encourage tourists and convention delegates to visit preserved historic sites or museums.

Harrison and Melissa Mosley, county auditor, spoke on behalf of the community and historians to preserve the museum for future generations.

Mosley said there is about a $140,000 balance in the county's HOT funds account.

During the discussion, Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchens said the tax is for "heads and beds" (i.e, it is intended to bring people to stay overnight at local lodging facilities) and that Harrison was unable to prove how many of the museum visitors actually patronized local hotels and motels.

In the same meeting, the commissioners granted Piney Woods Fine Arts $5,000 for country singer Merle Haggard's Sept. 1 performance, and $5,000 for Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation's NCHA Cutting event, benefit dinner, auction and concert in October.

Both PWFAA and the Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation had requested $10,000.

In the vote to give HOT funds to PWFAA, Precinct 3 Commissioner Pat Perry voted "no"; Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum abstained. Kitchens, along with Precinct 1 Commissioner Roger Dickey and County Judge Erin Ford voted "yes".

The vote to give funds to the Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation was unanimous.

UPDATE:  Houston County Auditor Melissa Mosley was not speaking on behalf of the museum.  She was explaining to commissioners and the public how the HOT funds can be spent.