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Houston County adopts tax rate, budget

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Houston County Seal 250By Alton Porter
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CROCKETT – Houston County’s commissioners have adopted the county’s tax year 2021 property tax rate and its budget for the coming fiscal year.

The members of the county’s commissioners court took the actions after offering to conduct a public hearing on the proposed ad valorem tax rate at a meeting Tuesday morning.

The adopted tax rate is 53 cents per $100 of appraised property value. The commissioners had voted to pass a motion, proposing that the rate be set at that amount at a meeting held on Aug. 24. A public hearing on the rate and the budget was held at a Sept. 7 meeting.

The maintenance and operations (M&O) rate, also known as the General Fund rate, which is the largest part of the overall property tax rate is 45.991 cents per 100 of property valuation. The interest and sinking (I&S), or Debt Service Fund rate, the other part of the total property rate, is 7.009 cents for each $100 of property value.

“Our tax rate is going down from 53.2,” said County Judge Jim Lovell. “So, we were able to lower out tax rate.”

The county’s 2020 adopted tax was 53.2 cents per $100 of appraised property value, with a M&O rate of 45.734 cents for each $100 of property value and an I&S rate of 7.466 cents per $100 of property value.

The county’s 2021 total adjusted tax property valuation is $1.624 billion, with certified values totaling $1.618 billion and the rolling stock value totaling $5.824 million.

Based on the calculation of the total adjusted value with the adopted tax rate, if 100% of property taxes are collected this year, the county’s total tax revenue would amount to $8.608 million.

However, $8.436 million (or 98%) of total amount is expected to be collected. A breakdown of that total indicates $6.027 million (or 71.4%) will be from the General Fund part of the tax rate, $1.293 million (or 15.3%) from collections by the road and bridge funds part of the rate and $1.115 million (or 13.2%) from the Debt Service Fund part.

Distribution of the projected tax revenue will include $7.320 million (or 86.7%) to M&O (or General Fund and road & bridge) and $1.115 (or 13.2%) to I&S (or debt service).

Projected income and anticipated expenses in the county’s adopted balanced budget both total $18,552 million.

As noted, “(t)he total amount of taxes levied for this budget, based on the above assessed valuation, is $8.608 million,” the Order Adopting the Budget for Fiscal Year 2022” states. “If this amount, it is estimated that 98%, or $8.436 million of the above tax will be collected within the current year.”

The budget of estimated revenues and expenditures, prepared by Judge Lovell, who was assisted by County Auditor Melissa Jeter, is for the period beginning Oct. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2022, the order states.

“This budget will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $264,906 or 3.74%, and of that amount $90,756.27 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year,” according to a statement on the front cover of the adopted budget document.

The commissioners passed a motion ratifying the 3.74% increase in property tax revenue. 

In other business, the commissioners approved the setting of salaries and wages for all county officers and employees for fiscal year 2022. “This includes the four percent raise and also includes the 27 pay period,” Jeter said. “So, this is going to go down next year, so don’t panic. Don’t look at it too much. It’s just the way it has to be presented.”

During a public hearing, a proposed FY 2021-2022 archival plan for the county clerk’s office for records management, preservation and restoration of the clerk’s records archives was discussed.

After County Clerk Terri Meadows’s presentation during the time set aside for the hearing, the commissioners voted to adopt the archival plan. According to a document laying out the plan, “Many of the documents identified are in danger of being lost or illegible if … preservation techniques are not completed.” The types of records drawing the greatest concern are county pre-1999 birth, death and marriage records, and deed of trust books.

The commissioners voted to approve a rental and use agreement with Crockett Civic Center representatives so that the county’s district court could conduct a jury selection session in the center earlier this week and so that such sessions may be held for the county court-at-law Oct. 12-14, Nov. 8-12 and Dec. 13-16.

A motion to receive as information an order setting the annual salary for the county court-at-law court reporter, carried on a vote taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners approved acceptance of a desk donated by Bob Reeves to be used by courthouse bailiffs and $1,000 donated by Gary Johnson to be used for improvements to County Road 4025 in Precinct 3.

A motion, approving Bare Metal Standard Service Vehicle cleaning service for Vent Hood at the county’s Senior Center for a one-time fee of $650 and inspection and cleaning semi-annually, was passed by the commissioners.

Another motion to reimburse Precinct 1 Constable Morris Luker for $354 he paid for fuel when using his personal vehicle to perform his job duties when his county assigned truck was inoperable carried on a vote taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners approved the issuance of a county event permit, requested by Pastor Joby C. Thomas, of St. Francis of the Tejas Catholic Church, asking that the church’s members and guests be allowed to peacefully assemble for an event and march around the county courthouse on Crockett’s downtown square on Sunday, Oct. 3, from 2-3:30 p.m. in observance of Respect Life month. 

And the commissioners approved an agreement for the acceptance of a grant by the county from the Texas Department of Transportation Routine Airport Maintenance Program (RAMP) for routine maintenance at the county airport during FY 2022.

The state’s financial assistance granted to the county is to be used solely and exclusively for airport maintenance and other incident items as approved by the state, according to a document that explains the grant and project.

The estimated project cost for general maintenance during the fiscal year is $10,000. The state is to cover 50% of the cost and the county is responsible for the other half. 

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Massage therapist arrested on sexual misconduct charges

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Jonathan Paul Sensat Jonathan Paul Sensat By Chris Edwards
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CROCKETT – An investigation of sexual misconduct at a Crockett massage parlor led to an arrest on Monday.

According to Crockett Police Chief Clayton Smith, investigators with CPD, along with Houston County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested 48-year-old Jonathan Paul Sensat at his home in Belott.

Smith said that the arrest was the conclusion of a month-long investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, some of which occurred while Sensat was giving massages at the Crockett business. 

It was also discovered that Sensat’s license to practice massage therapy has been expired. A search of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation database shows his license as having expired on August 31, 2020. 

Smith added that Sensat is also a licensed Texas Peace Officer but is not currently employed by any law enforcement agency.

In their investigation, Crockett Police investigators interviewed multiple victims who gave statements detailing sexual misconduct during massage sessions, and more than one victim reported that they were sexually abused by Sensat as a child.

Sensat was taken into custody and booked into the Houston County Jail. He is being held on a variety of charges, ranging from second-degree felony sexual assault and indecency with a child to a misdemeanor license violation.

His bonds were set at a combined $100K for the two second-degree felony charges.

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HCHD directors adopt 2021 tax rate, approve budget

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map of crockett tx 200By Alton Porter
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CROCKETT – Members of the Houston County Hospital District board held a hearing and special meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 31, adopting a lower ad valorem tax rate for the district.

The new rate will be levied later this year, and the directors also approved the district’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22.

The board members, who held the hearing and meeting, at First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall in Crockett, unanimously voted to pass a motion made by Place 5 Director Roy Langford and seconded by Place 6 Director Rhonda Brown, adopting the proposed 2021 property tax rate, which is 13 cents per $100 of appraised property value.

The 2021 adopted rate is 1.315 cents, or 9.18%, lower than the 2020 adopted rate, which was 14.315 cents per $100 of appraised property value.

The action to approve this year’s tax rate was taken after members of the HCHD board discussed the matter and heard a presentation given by county Tax Assessor-Collection Laronica Wooten Smith and comments by three district residents.

The three residents who addressed the directors are former HCHD Board President Bob Grier; former US Congressman Jim Turner; and Michael Brown, board member Rhonda Brown’s husband.

Current Board President and Place 1 Director Barbara Crowson had suggested that an effective, or no-new-revenue, tax rate of 14.052 cents per $100 of appraised property value, which is also lower than the 2020 rate, be adopted. Grier and Turner spoke of the in favor of the directors adopting that rate or keeping last year’s rate.

Michael Brown spoke in favor of the proposed 13 cents per $100 of appraised property value rate which was adopted.

Smith was asked by Crowson to make the presentation she gave in order to answer questions relating to an email message she sent to the directors. According to Crowson the message regarded “what would be required if this board—based on what you (Smith) published in the Courier, where you said that the rate would be 13 cents.”

What would be the repercussions if we went with the effective tax rate?” Crowson asked in addition to asking Smith to explain the matter.

Smith had placed a notice in the Aug. 26 edition of the Courier for the hospital district directors, reporting that the 13-cents rate was proposed by them and including other related information.

“With the Information that was provided to me, there was a proposed rate of 13 cents,” Smith said. “So, that’s what I’m required to publish in the paper, and I did so.

“And there’s a form that’s required to be published in the paper. You have a notice of a meeting to vote on the rate, which is what I published in the paper. You also have a notice of public hearing of tax increase, which I did not (publish) because you’re not doing tax increases.”

Smith added, “And when you did the notice of a meeting to vote on the tax rate of 13 cents, you can go below that 13 cents, but you cannot go above it. And so, that’s why I brought two different notices so you can see why you can’t do so (go beyond a rate of 13 cents).”

In answer to another question from Crowson, asking if the directors could not go beyond that rate at all or if they just could not do so without holding another hearing, Smith said she was informed by a previous Anderson County tax collector that in such situations, governing bodies may not vote on a higher rate than what was published, but it may vote on a lower rate than what was published, such as the proposed rate that she included in the notice that she had published in the Aug. 26 issue of the Courier.

HCHD directors had discussed the two suggested 2021 rates at a hospital district board meeting held on Aug. 17 and the district’s external accountant Dick Murchison had informed Smith that the 13-cents rate received a majority vote and therefore was approved as the proposed rate by the directors present at that meeting.

In other business, a motion offered by Brown and seconded by Place 8 Director Dina Pipes to approve the district’s 2021-2022 budget also carried on a unanimous vote taken by the directors. 

Part of the projected income in the approved budget will be generated by the levy of the adopted property tax rate.

The budget’s projected tax district revenue is expected to amount to $1,593,942, assuming that 95% of a possible $1,677,834 is collected, based on the district levying of the 13-cents rate. The $1,677, 834 is the total amount of tax revenue that would be generated if all district property owners paid their taxes and 100% of revenue is collected based on the overall total of $1,290,641,422 of appraised property value in the district.

Other revenue, including $1,543,632 in rental income the district is to receive from Crockett Medical Center, will bring the district’s proposed budgeted income to a total of $3,172,359.

Total expenses requested in the budget are projected to amount to $3,356,186, which is $183,827 more than projected income.

The directors anticipate the district will have projected cash totaling $503,957 on Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal year 2021-2022. They expect to have $320,130 in projected cash on Sept. 30, 2022, the last day of the upcoming fiscal year.

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Blaze claims Houston County mother, son

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house fire clipart 300CROCKETT – A housefire that occurred last Tuesday in Crockett resulted in the deaths of a mother and son.

According to Crockett Fire Chief Jason Frizzell, firemen responded to a call of a structure fire at 105 McLean Drive at 5:31 a.m. When they arrived, the residence was “heavily involved in fire,” Frizzell said.

“We rapidly began a search of the interior, as well as an offensive attack, to extinguish the fire,” he added.

They discovered 44-year-old Shelly McDaniel and her son dead inside the residence. 

Crockett Fire Department was assisted on the blaze by the volunteer fire departments of Latexo, Lovelady as well as personnel from the Houston County Fire Marshal’s Office, Crockett Police Department and Houston County EMS.

There is no word on a possible cause for the blaze at present. The fire department has turned over the investigation to the State Fire Marshal’s Office due to the city fire marshal being out on medical leave.

Frizzell, on behalf of the fire department and the city offered condolences to the family. “Our prayers are with those affected by this tragic loss,” he said.

McDaniel, who was employed with Crockett Eye Clinic, was paid tribute to on Facebook by the clinic on its page. “Please keep their family and friends in your thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time,” a post read, and added that the staff is deeply saddened by her loss.

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Ground broken on Latexo ISD bond

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Latexo ISD officials and administrators, along with representatives of one of their contractors, the Berry and Clay commercial construction company, broke ground for the school district’s $5 million bond project last Thursday. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)Latexo ISD officials and administrators, along with representatives of one of their contractors, the Berry and Clay commercial construction company, broke ground for the school district’s $5 million bond project last Thursday. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)

By Alton Porter

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LATEXO – Latexo ISD officials and staffers are set for contractors to begin constructing facilities planned for the district’s $5 million bond project.

The Latexo Independent School District Board of Directors, Superintendent Michael Woodard and others held a ground-breaking ceremony on Thursday morning, Aug. 19, to kick off initial aspects of the bond project. 

The project will include construction of a multi-purpose facility, which will be used as a gymnasium and a community events venue; a cafeteria/dining room for elementary school students; and a career and technical education (CTE) classrooms unit for high school students.

“We’re excited to get started—to finally get the fence up and start some building around here on both the elementary and high school (campuses),” Woodard told news reporters following the groundbreaking.

In answer to a question asking when construction will begin, Woodard said, it “probably starts next week (with) putting the fence (that will surround the construction site) up and (contractors will) get after it from there.”

Woodard said it is expected to take “probably a year or a year and a half” to complete the building of facilities in the bond construction project; “that depends on weather and, of course, materials.”

 The timeline includes construction of everything, hopefully, Woodard said, including the multi-purpose facility, the elementary cafeteria and CTE classrooms. “That’s the game plan,” he said.

Woodard added, the construction project is the result of an effort “in the community to bring this and it’s been a long time coming, for sure.”

Board President and Position 5 Trustee Kelly Nicol said “I’d like to just thank the community for having the trust in us to take on this project and we’re going to do a good job for them and have something that everybody can be really proud of.”

Nicol commented on the bond’s passage and called it “an overwhelming turn-out and win for us.”

“We had a two-to-one margin in the victory. It was obvious that the community wanted this,” he added.

The officials did not have documents with them at the groundbreaking showing the price the Berry and Clay commercial construction company submitted to them to oversee and carry out the project, but Nicol said “We started this whole process with the bond being passed.”

He explained that COVID pushed the election, which was initially slated for May 2020 back to November.

“And then, after Covid, everybody knows everything went skyrocketing—the price of steel, the price of fuel, concrete, all the building materials. No one passed a bond in this area (during that period) except us. The other people around the state are all over budget. All the contractors I’ve talked to—they’re like, ‘Man, we don’t know if a lot of these jobs are going to even happen because they’re so high over budget.’,” he said.

“(However,) we’re under budget. All of our projects are (included in the district’s construction project plan). It was just an unbelievable effort by our contractors to get this thing done and under budget. And we’re just proud to be part of it and we’ve got the right people behind us,” Nicol added.

About Vulcraft, one of the projects subcontractors, Nicol said, “Vulcraft has been a great partner for us, and we feel they’ll be a great partner in the future, not only in this building project but inside the walls of our school. They’re a great community partner, and we look forward to working with Vulcraft for many years.”

In concluding his and Nicol’s interview with news reporters, Woodard said, “We’re ready to get started—everybody is.”

Joe Sumner, of Berry and Clay, who attended the groundbreaking, along with the company’s vice president and project manager, Stephen Berry, will serve as the site superintendent for the bond construction project on behalf of the construction company.

He told the Courier his responsibility will be to oversee “overall site construction—to ensure the trades are performing their work, scheduling all the trades…, as well as meeting the different administrators or whatever may be taking place on the job; just overall site.

“That’s basically what my job is—ensure that the (facilities) are being built correctly. It’s a little bit of everything: everything from scheduling; (ensuring) it’s built correctly; meeting with the owners from the school district—stuff like that—quality control. Everything that goes into it is kind of what my job is.”


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