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Weldon VFD Receives Grant To Increase Firefighting Capabilities

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Texas A&M Forest Service recently awarded the Weldon Volunteer Fire Depart with a grant to purchase a new slip-on unit. The slip-on unit pictured above is a complete, self-contained fire-fighting apparatus designed for a pick-up or custom-built vehicle platform. (Courtesy Photo/Special to the HCCourier)

Special to the HCCourier
LOVELADY - Texas A&M Forest Service recently awarded Weldon Volunteer Fire Department with a $17,635 grant to purchase a new slip-on unit, through the Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Grant Program.

A slip-on unit is a complete, self-contained firefighting apparatus designed for a pickup truck or custom-built vehicle platforms. It is intended to become a fast, initial-attack firefighting component used for wildland firefighting, structure and automobile fires.

"This new slip-on unit is replacing one that was in service for about 10 years. It had a 400-gallon water tank that started leaking and needed a lot of repairs," said Weldon VFD Chief Dennis Taylor. "This new slip-on has a 500-gallon water tank and a 10-gallon foam tank."
The increase in water capacity is a benefit to the department.

"The challenge we have is water. Our area is rural and we don't have access to fire hydrants," Taylor explained. "We do have a relief valve near the fire station. It has connections that we can hook-up and fill our tanks but we have to haul water to all the fires in the area."

The unit has been put into service, but has not responded to any calls yet. "We received a lot of rain recently so that has helped to eliminate fire calls for a little while," said Taylor.
Texas A&M Forest Service is committed to protecting lives and property through the Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program, a cost-share program funded by the Texas State Legislature and administered by Texas A&M Forest Service. This program provides funding to rural VFDs for the acquisition of firefighting vehicles, fire and rescue equipment, protective clothing, dry-hydrants, computer systems and firefighter training.

State Comptroller Is Sending $251,985 In Sales Tax Revenue

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced on Thursday, Sept. 8, that Houston County cities will receive a total of $168,008.76 in local sales tax allocations for September, 4.32 percent less than in September 2015. Combined with the county's $83,977.21 allocation, that is a total of $251,985.97 coming this way.

Hegar reported that local sales tax allocations statewide for September totaled $629.2 million, 1.4 percent less than in September 2015.

These allocations are based on sales made in July by businesses that report tax monthly.
A look at the sum total of local sales tax 2016 Payments to Date to cities in Houston County is encouraging. So far this year, the five cities have received a total of $1,767,877.20, which is a 18.43 percent increase over the total of $1,492,696.45 received at this point in 2015.

The City of Crockett's allocation is $141,570.81 this month, a 1.90 percent decrease from the $144,324.58 received in September 2015. However, the city's 2016 payments to date total $1,516,521.80, a 20.54 percent increase over the $1,258,104.13 2015 payments to date.
Grapeland's allocation is $18,192.03, an 18.67 percent decrease from the $22,370.23 received in September 2015.

For the year so far, Grapeland has received $161,629.85, a 9.02 percent increase over the $148,245.35 received at this point in 2015.

Kennard had a healthy month, with its September payment totaling $1,652.53, a 26.08 percent increase over the $1,310.62 received in September 2015.

For the year to date, Kennard has received $16,673.45, a 24.34 percent increase over the $13,409.07 received to date in 2015.

The September 2016 allocation for Latexo is $1,586.01, a 3.77 percent increase over the $1,528.29 received in September 2015.

Latexo's 2016 payments to date total $13,680.48, a 22.45 percent decrease from the $17,642.98 received to date in 2015.

The City of Lovelady's September 2016 allocation is $5,007.38, a 17.60 percent decrease from the September 2015 payment of $6,077.23.

Lovelady's 2016 payments to date total $59,371.62, a 7.37 percent increase over the $55,294.92 received at this time last year.

Houston County's September 2016 allocation is $83,977.21, a 15.02 percent decrease from the $98,822.30 September 2015 allocation.

Looking at the year as a whole, the county has received $873,923.80 so far in 2016. This is a 3.94 percent decrease from the 2015 payments to date that equalled $909,789.65.

"The cities of Houston, Midland, San Antonio and Frisco saw decreases in sales tax allocation," Hegar said. "The cities of Dallas and Plano saw noticeable increases in sales tax allocations."

15 Septembers Later ... We Still Remember

County and city law enforcement personnel, firefighters, military personnel and other first responders, along with county and city officials – including County Judge Erin Ford and Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows – joined with friends and supportive citizens at The Moosehead Café on Friday, Sept. 9, to remember American heroes and others who perished in the national tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. (Judy Scott/Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce Photo)County and city law enforcement personnel, firefighters, military personnel and other first responders, along with county and city officials – including County Judge Erin Ford and Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows – joined with friends and supportive citizens at The Moosehead Café on Friday, Sept. 9, to remember American heroes and others who perished in the national tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. (Judy Scott/Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce Photo)

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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A modest crowd of citizens gathered at The Moosehead Café in Crockett on Friday, Sept. 9, to join in a precursor to the national day of remembrance and service honoring American heroes and others who perished on the tragic day of 9/11/01.

The event was sponsored by The Moosehead Café and the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce, in recognition of firefighters, law enforcement, first responders and military personnel, who give so dutifully to our country at-large and in individual communities. The public was invited to attend the remembrance.

Today, Sunday, Sept. 11, marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.

Sept. 11 is the day in 2001 when 19 terrorists associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four American airlines and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.

Two of the seized airplanes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City (NYC), a third commandeered plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington County, VA, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. And the fourth plane crashed in a field in rural Shanksville, PA.

The terroristic attacks resulted in extensive death, injuries and destruction – more than 3,000 people killed in the attacks in NYC and Washington, D.C. More than 400 of those murdered were firefighters, paramedics, police officers and other first responders. The day is recorded as the deadliest day in the history for NYC firefighters, as 343 of them perished.

Almost 10,000 other people were injured – many of them seriously – in the brutal attacks.
Joni Clonts, owner of The Moosehead Café opened the program in Crockett on Friday.
"Even though (a biggest part of the tragedy) happened up in New York, that was us," Clonts said. "And that's something we should never forget.

"And also, we're here today because we truly appreciate law enforcement, the fire department, first responders because, I'm telling you all, I don't think people really know what goes on when you all go out.

"We're here in a little bubble. Normal people do not know what you all do. We truly appreciate you all for everything you all do for our county.

"And, I don't know if I've ever said this before, but I think the Sheriff's (Office) and the Police Department have so much class. Our officers, the police department, firefighters, everybody. I think you all are outstanding people."

Then, Houston County Judge Erin Ford spoke to the audience.

"Every time there is a siren, every time there's a flashing light, every time there's a speeding police car or fire truck or EMS (emergency medical service vehicle), it's made up of people who dedicate their lives to this," Ford said. "They put themselves in harm's way. You guys put yourselves in harm's way.

"You do it without expecting ... appreciation. You do it because you're servants. You have a servant's heart. And, for us, we can only do the business of managing the county and the city and our government because we have you guys to protect us and take care of us and support us. So, it's a huge responsibility on your part. And you don't get the appreciation that you really deserve.

"Fifteen years ago, everyone of us should be able to remember what we were doing when 9/11 occurred. I remember exactly what I was doing. We're losing that right now. There's no major mention of it in the papers. There's no major mention of it in the news. There's no local memorial of this.

"I want to thank Joni for using this restaurant really to bring our communities together. This is a ministry for her to bring us all together. And God bless every one of you."
Next, Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows spoke.

"I'm not much on words, but I would like to also extend appreciation to Joni for not only remembering the significance of this date in our nation's history, but also, to give thanks to those who go out every day. And I think it was alluded to – really not knowing from one call to the next whether it's one of those little minor things that's more of a nuisance or if it's going to be a situation where your lives are actually put in jeopardy.

"And I personally cannot imagine what it would be like to have multiple calls every day, not knowing whether it's one of those minor things or a life-altering thing. And that takes a special person. It's a calling.

"And those who go into law enforcement or first responders – fire department – and are not called, get weeded out pretty quickly. But, those who have the longevity, the staying power, you're cut differently than other people. Most of us aren't made that way.

"And I, for one – along with these people gathered here – want to tell you how much we appreciate you. And the commemoration of this point 15 years ago in our country, changed everything. You know, that Mayberry feeling left most of us.

"Now, we're in a blessed area of the country. I feel like it. We still gather like this. And we still praise God and give Him thanks for His protection over us. But, we also still recognize, you guys aren't perfect – we're not perfect. But, you're doing a service that is – it's above needed. It's a necessity. And we just can't thank you enough.

"I know you don't hear it enough. You hear a lot of negative things. But, we're here to tell you we appreciate you, and we appreciate how you serve and the way you serve."

Then, Meadows read a letter from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to all Texans, in which Cornyn stated in part, "we can take comfort by remembering how, in the aftermath of these attacks and in the 15 years since, Americans overcame tragedy by joining together and lifting each other up.

"We remember how so many Americans selflessly responded to those in need that day. Firefighters, policemen, emergency medical personnel, and thousands of patriotic citizens put their lives on the line to offer every bit of assistance they could, whether clearing debris, carrying victims, or simply providing a glimmer of hope and a helping hand.

"Out of that tragedy rose countless American heroes, and those heroes have come to define part of the spirit and soul of the United States of America.

"As we continue to fight the evil that still exists in the world, I join with others in honoring the American heroes who rose to the occasion on that day, and the heroes that continue to keep us safe.

"May God bless and bring comfort to the survivors of 9/11, the families and friends of victims, all those who answered the call to help their fellow Americans that day, and our servicemen and women who stepped into harm's way at home and overseas in the weeks and months and years that followed."

Closing out the remarks at the remembrance ceremony was Jeannie Julian, executive director of the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce.

"God bless America, the land that I love," Julian began. "I'm so sorry that we're not standing beside her and we're not guiding her like we have in the past. Today, I say thanks be to God for all the great things He's given us and an opportunity to use our gifts on His behalf.
"As we leave this place today, I hope that everyone will note that you were here for a reason. So, God bless America, land that I love."

After the conclusion of the remarks, Pastor and Evangelist Darryl Bennett of Eastgate Family Church, closed the ceremony in prayer.

Smith County Deputy Accepts Grapeland Police Chief Position

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The City of Grapeland now has a new police chief.

Don Myers, who currently works with the Smith County Sheriff's Office, has accepted the position as chief of the Grapeland Police Department, effective around Tuesday or Wednesday, Sept. 20 or Sept. 21, according to Grapeland Mayor Balis Dailey.

Dailey said Myers accepted the position over the past weekend, and Dailey announced the acceptance late Tuesday morning. He said Myers' acceptance of the position and his hiring will be confirmed at a Grapeland City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

Myers "is the one who has verbally accepted the position (of police chief)," Dailey said. "Yesterday (Monday) was a holiday and we haven't seen him in. If everything goes well, we would expect his first day to be around Sept. 20 or 21.

"He accepted it over the weekend. We just didn't want to release it until after he had a chance to think about it. Actually, it was late Friday (when he accepted). And then, I just kind of let it sit for a couple of days to make sure I haven't had any calls back."

Dailey said Myers "comes from Smith County" where he is employed by the sheriff's department there.

"He has extensive experience in various areas of law enforcement. He brings with him a very impressive list of licenses, certifications and training in law enforcement. And he also comes with a plan he presented to us on things he's going to work to implement within the police department. And a lot of them have to do with community. He was impressive in that area.
"All of the candidates were strong. All were good. He just – in his interviews and all – presented the best interview, the best documentation of his skills."

The city council has already taken action to approve the offer and acceptance of Myers as chief (at a meeting Thursday, Sept. 1), so any comments made at the Sept. 13 meeting will just be for the purpose of "confirmation" of him as chief, Dailey said.

Myers told the Courier Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 6), "I have, in fact, graciously accepted the offer of the position of police chief, and I look forward to serving the citizens of Grapeland, Texas. Just to give you an idea, I am due to start, I think, effectively on the 20th (of September).

He said his current position with the Smith County Sheriff's Office is that of patrol deputy, and he has been in law enforcement since 1989.

"I've had various jobs (in the field of law enforcement)," Myers said, adding, he started as a patrol officer for the City of Jacksonville Police Department, after graduating from from the police academy at Kilgore Junior College.

Then, he moved back home to Palestine and Anderson County, where he served as an investigator for "quite a few years" in that county's sheriff department.

From there, he said, he went to work for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the State of Texas, where he worked criminal and administrative cases in the OIG's northern region of the state.

After a "short break in service," he returned to Anderson County, where he worked about five years before moving on to the Smith County Sheriff's Office, "where I have worked for a good while now."

Hospital District To Keep Same Tax Rate

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Tommy Driskell of Crockett, the newest member of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors takes the board’s oath of office and is sworn in at a regular board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 23.  Driskell recently replaced Board President Patrick Evans on the board, after Evans resigned in June to accept a transfer from his pastoral position at First United Methodist Church in Crockett to Hardy United Methodist Church in Texarkana. (Photo by Alton Porter/HCCourier)Tommy Driskell of Crockett, the newest member of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors takes the board’s oath of office and is sworn in at a regular board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 23. Driskell recently replaced Board President Patrick Evans on the board, after Evans resigned in June to accept a transfer from his pastoral position at First United Methodist Church in Crockett to Hardy United Methodist Church in Texarkana. (Photo by Alton Porter/HCCourier)Most Houston County residents can expect to pay close to the same amount in hospital taxes next year that they paid this year, thanks to the bylaws of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) and a vote taken by the district's board of directors at a regular meeting Tuesday, August 23.

The six board members present at the meeting – Robert Grier, Dr. Perry Ramsey, Tommy Driskell, Barbara Crowson, Larry Robbins and Deborah Blackwell – unanimously voted to pass a motion adopting the same tax rate for next year that was in effect this year – 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The motion was offered by Grier and seconded by Crowson.

Board members Carol Dawson, Jim Dowell and Dr. John Stovall were absent.

In placing the matter before the board, Blackwell – recently elected president of the board – said, "A letter dated July 27 from (Houston County) Tax Assessor-Collector Danette Millican lets everybody know the 2015 value and rate are $1,097,976,750 (valuation) and our rate was 15 cents. So, last year, our assessed taxes were $1,646,965.13."
Blackwell added, "The 2016 value is actually down -- $1,075,661,890 – and our effective tax rate is (15.0762 cents).

That is the rate that would allow us to collect the same amount of taxes next year as we did this year."
She explained, however, "By our bylaws, we are not allowed to raise our taxes over 15 cents. So, that's our limit that will bring us $1,613,492.84 based on last year's rate. It's the rate we're limited to this year.

Another motion unanimously approved by the board requires the hospital district to pay the full amount of a subsidy for Lifeguard Ambulance Service.

"At the last meeting, (Houston County) Judge (Erin) Ford came and spoke with us regarding the hospital district absorbing the entire subsidy," said Blackwell. "The county was previously paying 25 percent, and we were paying 75 percent.

"So, the intent, as we kind of discussed last month, is to go ahead and absorb the entire amount" which is $245,000.
In other business, five of the board members voted to pass a motion approving a resolution, calling for reduction of authorized beds from 49 to 25 at Houston County Medical Center in order for the hospital to become a critical care access facility. Robbins offered the motion, and Ramsey seconded it. Driskell abstained from voting on the motion because he said didn't feel he was prepared to vote on the matter.

Before the vote was taken, Grier asked HCMC Administrator Robert Torres how such a reduction would affect hospital staffing, and Torres said, "It will not change our staffing at this point in time because we have been operating at a minimal amount of beds."

Blackwell said, "By becoming a critical access hospital, our reimbursement from ... Medicaid is higher," and Torres said that is correct.

"That's really the reason for doing that," Blackwell added.

Robbins asked, "Can we add to it, expand it later? Is that an option?" Torres responded, "Yes, that's always an option. We could take a look at it if the need arises."

In a non-action item on the meeting agenda, Torres gave board members an update on Little River Healthcare (LRH), which serves as HCMC's overseer and provides administrative and management services to the hospital.

First, he noted that LRH brought aboard Dr. Phillip Myatt, a board certified internal medicine and cardiovascular disease provider, on Aug. 18.

And four other doctors and a physician's assistant will follow in the near future. They are Dr. Daniel Dawson, a board certified obstetrics and gynecology physician, who will start with LRH on Sept. 7; Dr. J. Michael Cochran, who will care for nursing home patients and will start on Nov. 1; Dr. J. Patrick Walker, who will start on Oct. 1; and Scott Shaver, a family medicine physician's assistant, who will join the LRH staff on Oct. 1. Torres said LRH took on a total of 12 new hires in July.

In addition, Torres shared with board members a summary of the results of a recent patient survey of the rural healthcare clinic conducted by HCMC. He said 99.5 percent of the survey respondents said the receptionist they encountered was respectful and courteous, but only 78.9 percent said they were seen within 10 minutes of their scheduled appointments.

Some 99.1 percent of the respondents said their medical provider was respectful and courteous and 98.7 percent of them said they believed their provider listened to them and attended to their needs.

While 78.2 percent of respondents rated their visits with their providers as a "5" on a five-point scale – where 5 means "perfect" – 95.9 percent of respondents said they would recommend the clinic to a family member or friend.
Torres said. "We will continue to monitor for the duration of the third quarter. And I will submit the final data at that time. So, we had really good, positive responses from the patients that we're seeing...."

In addition, LRH has decided to convert the electronic medical record (EMR) to Greenway, which is another EMR system, Torres said, but the timeline for that conversion has not been set.

Blackwell told Torres, "I want to commend Little River Healthcare for all of this positive news and all of these providers that we're going to have in the community. It's an exciting time."

HCHD Lease Discussions With Little River Healthcare Progress

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Officials of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) optimistically thought they would be able to approve lease and related agreements with Little River Healthcare (LRH), Houston County Medical Center's (HCMC) current overseer, at their meeting Tuesday, Aug. 23.

The officials gave notice that they would take "possible action to approve" a lease and the related agreements with LRH and placed the item on the board of director's agenda for the meeting.

However, when it came time on the agenda at the meeting to go into closed, executive session to discuss the items, Board President Deborah Blackwell announced the board would not be returning to open, public session after the closed session to act on the agreements. She stated that the matter will be taken up at a future meeting.

On the agenda, an item indicated the board would go into executive session. During the closed session, the board was to discuss a lease agreement with Little River, an operations transfer agreement with Little River and an indigent care affiliation agreement with Little River, according to the agenda in the notice.

Then, after the executive session, the board was to reconvene "to discuss and possibly take action on items discussed" in the closed session, according to the posted agenda.

However, at the point just before the board closed the open, public part of the meeting to go into executive session, Blackwell said, "We're going to ... go into executive session. We were optimistic to think that we were going to really be able to finalize anything tonight.

"We're just going to go again and discuss the lease agreement, operations transfer agreement and indigent care agreement we're going to be signing with Little River. But, we will not be coming back to take action tonight (in open session). That will probably be in a future special, called meeting."

Little River Healthcare currently only has an administrative and management agreement with the HCHD for the HCMC.