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TxDOT seeking input on 10-year plan

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071422 TxDOT seeking input

Public invited to comment on transportation projects

From Staff Reports

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is seeking the public’s input on the draft 2023 Unified Transportation Program (UTP), the state’s 10-year transportation plan.

The UTP guides the development of projects around Texas to improve safety, address congestion and connectivity, and preserve roadways for Texas drivers. It is part of a comprehensive plan, according to TxDOT’s website, that details the planning activity of the state agency within the next 10 years.

In addition to highway projects, the UTP addresses public transportation, maritime, aviation, rail, freight and international trade, and bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.

“The Unified Transportation Program is TxDOT’s road map to developing projects across the state,” said Executive DirectorMarc Williams. “It is important to work with our transportation partners and hear from the public to guide transportation improvements that address congestion and enhance safety across our state.”

The public comment period for the draft 2023 UTP began on Friday, July 8, and ends Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at 4 p.m. (CST). Various methods to comment will be posted to the UTP Public Involvement webpage.

The presentations and recordings for the previous public meeting and hearing will be available for viewing on the UTP Public Involvement webpage.

TxDOT works with its transportation partners to identify projects to be included in the UTP. Public comments and feedback are also very important in developing the plan. Available in English and Spanish, the UTP Fact Sheet can be found on the same TxDOT.gov webpage and provides an overview of the program. According to the TxDOT website, the outcome of the UTP process is a list of projects TxDOT plans to develop, or begin constructing, over the next 10 years, as well as information on the available funding associated with the projects. The development process includes activities such as preliminary engineering and environmental studies.

The Texas Transportation Commission approves the UTP in accordance with Texas state law every August during the commission meeting and publishes the approved UTP on TxDOT.gov.

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Relief program payments available from USDA

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071422 emergency relief programUSDA is implementing ERP as a two-phased program, with the first phase utilizing existing claim data to provide relief expediently, and the second phase focusing on ensuring producers not covered by other programs receive assistance.

COLLEGE STATION – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced, agricultural producers nationwide have already received more than $4 billion through the Emergency Relief Program (ERP), representing nearly 67% of the more than $6 billion projected to be paid through this phase of the program. Eligible producers in Texas have received $557.5 million in funding to date. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) mailed out pre-filled applications in late May to producers with crop insurance who suffered losses due to natural disasters in 2020 and 2021. Commodity and specialty crop producers have until July 22 to complete applications.

“Over the course of the past two years, natural disaster events in Texas have resulted in catastrophic production and property losses for our agricultural producers,” said Kelly Adkins, State Executive Director for FSA in Texas. “Although these payments will not make these producers whole, they will help alleviate some of the financial stressors brought on by these severe and devastating weather events.”

USDA is implementing ERP as a two-phased program, with the first phase utilizing existing claim data to provide relief expediently, and the second phase focusing on ensuring producers not covered by other programs receive assistance. For phase one, USDA used crop insurance and Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) claim data.

Both ERP and the previously announced Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP) are funded by the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, which President Biden signed into law in 2021. The law provided $10 billion to help agricultural producers impacted by wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, winter storms and other eligible disasters experienced during calendar years 2020 and 2021. Eligible livestock producers received ELRP payments totaling more than $590 million since the program was rolled out in late March. Livestock producers in Texas have received $61.2 million in ELRP payments to offset the impacts of extreme drought conditions.

Pre-Filled Applications

Eligible producers with eligible crop insurance claims have received pre-filled applications, which included eligibility requirements and payment calculations. Producers received a separate application form for each program year in which they experienced an eligible loss.

Producers should check with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) at their local USDA Service Center to confirm eligibility and to ensure that all required farm program participation, adjusted gross income and conservation compliance forms are on file. Producers who have previously participated in FSA programs likely have these required forms already on file.

ERP provisions allow for a higher payment percentage for historically underserved producers, including beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged and military veteran producers. To qualify for the higher payment rate, individuals must have a Form CCC-860, Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer or Rancher Certification on file.
To receive a payment, producers must complete and submit their forms by the July 22 deadline. Once the completed ERP application for payment is submitted to and signed by the FSA, producers enrolled in direct deposit should look for their payment within three business days.

Additional Assistance through Phase One

FSA will be sending pre-filled applications for about 9,000 producers nationwide with NAP coverage in mid-July.

The federal crop insurance data used to populate ERP phase one pre-filled applications included claim data on file with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) as of May 2, 2022. At that time, claim data for the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), Enhanced Coverage Option (ECO), Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX), Margin Protection Plan (MP) or Area Risk Protection Insurance (ARPI) were not complete, so crop/units including these coverage options were not included in the pre-filled ERP application form. In late summer 2022, updated claim information will be used to generate a second pre-filled application for those crop/units on file with RMA not included in the first mailing.

More Information

ERP covers losses to crops, trees, bushes and vines due to a qualifying natural disaster event in calendar years 2020 and 2021. Eligible crops include all crops for which crop insurance or NAP coverage was available, except for crops intended for grazing. Qualifying natural disaster events include wildfires, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, winter storms, freeze (including a polar vortex), smoke exposure, excessive moisture, qualifying drought and related conditions.

All producers who receive ERP phase one payments are statutorily required to purchase crop insurance or NAP coverage where crop insurance is not available for the next two available crop years.

Producers should contact their local Service Center if they have questions. Additionally, other resources include:

• ERP fact sheet

• ERP webpage

• “Top 6 Emergency Relief Program Checklist” blog on farmers.gov

• May 16, 2022, news release

The second phase of both ERP and ELRP will fill gaps and provide assistance to producers who did not participate in or receive payments through the existing programs that are being leveraged for phase one implementation. Through proactive communication and outreach, USDA will keep producers and stakeholders informed as program details are made available.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit usda.gov.

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Budget talks dominate CEIDC meeting

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070722 budet talks

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – On Tuesday, June 28, the CEIDC board met to begin working out details of their 2023 budget.

The first order of business was to elect new board member Wade Thomas to the Vice-President position. The remainder of the meeting focused on budget amendments. One of the major topics concerning the budget was breaking items into categories that would clarify where the money was going. Some of the categories appeared to be vague such as “Consulting services,” in which funds were actually used for IT support or the purchase of computer equipment, or leased copy equipment that had been coded to “Supplies.” Board members agreed that creating a couple of new line items might better explain what certain funds are being used for.

Dick Murchison, who was recently hired to help the CEIDC with their financial reports and budget, reminded the board that when they raise the budget in one area, they need to lower it in another area to keep it balanced. “All in all, it doesn’t look bad, with the exception of the repairs [going over budget]. And those just happen. It’s just that you didn’t anticipate them. It’s not a problem.”

The changes will take place when the budget is amended in September. “You need to amend the budget,” Murchison said, “or the auditors will write you up.”

Executive Director James Gentry told the board that in looking at the current budget, they had targeted an average monthly sales tax of $50k, but that had increased over the last eight months, “And I project we’ll probably do as well this coming year.” He believes that the CEIDC is looking at $665k for next year over the $600k they received this year. Murchison concurred, “With the price of sales and services, the sales tax should definitely go up.”

Thomas asked the board to consider paying down one of the notes early, noting that it could save City or CEIDC $30 to $35k in interest by making a substantial payment on the loans. “If you wait much longer, you lose the effectiveness of making a move like that [to pay it down]. But we have money sitting there, and we just need to see if we made a payment, would it leave us with enough to feel comfortable if somebody came to town, and we could say we’ve got the money to make this happen.”

This precipitated a lengthy discussion about the controversial $1.5 million note procured by the CEIDC.

“This is the one,” Thomas said, “that the public gets in an uproar about and doesn’t understand the situation at the time. When the state school closed, that was devastating to this community and a loss of 200 jobs and everything else, so the city was in a panic.”

He added that “the city wasn’t exactly in a position financially where they could swing this deal, but the CEIDC board was. And so, with the city’s blessing and backing of the note, they went forward, borrowed the money and fixed up the school, and went on from there. If I had been on the board then, I would have asked what’s our equity position? That’s something where, here again, we were being nice and doing good for the community, and no good deed goes unpunished. So when this property has been sold twice, and entities in our community have profited from that because of the actions of this group, there was no thanks and no sharing of funds. They weren’t obligated to. I get it. I don’t know how it will be viewed in the public if we decide to pay down that note. I’d like to think that they would think that’s a positive thing.”

Board member NaTrenia Hicks interjected her thoughts. “The way I see the whole situation is that we just need to do the right thing. What we’re led to do the right thing, no matter how anyone perceives it. Everyone’s gonna have a different view. So we just need to do the right thing and do our part.”

“One thing that’s kind of confusing to me,” Murchison said, “is that you’ve budgeted $600k as income a draw note. I don’t get that terminology. A draw note is not income.”

Gentry replied, “Actually, that was before my time.”

“I understand,” replied Murchison, “but that doesn’t mean we need to go on that way. A $600k draw note is just not income. It’s cash, or you funds have the ability to access it, but it’s not income. I’m assuming the offset to that is the line item, Prospect Incentives. And I think Wade is correct in the fact that it’s the unknown that disturbs people.”

“When we got that $1,300,000, that’s when that draw note came into play,” said Gentry. “The city approved and backed us for that million and a half dollars. And prior to this spreadsheet, instead of $600k, it was a million and a half dollars put there.”
“So at a bank somewhere in this town, you have a line of credit for a million and a half,” asked Murchison.

“Now it’s $600k,” Gentry replied. “Because the city came back, and their retribution to us and said, no we want you just to have $600k. So we adjusted it.”

“Yeah, but that’s exempt. You don’t have a line of credit at Prosperity Bank. Do you?”

“Yes,” replied Gentry.

“You have a line of credit? I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m just asking if you call up Brandon and say I need to draw down on my line of credit, can I get it today? Can I get it tomorrow? And what’s your collateral?”
Gentry responded, “It’s the sales tax.”

“I can tell you from experience with the hospital district,” said Murchison, “when you borrow more than your annual revenue, you’re in violation. You are not supposed to be able to borrow more than you can pay back in one year. Because you are governmental, you can’t have a long-term debt without being bonded.

Well, a line of credit is something that normally if they provide you with a line-of-credit, you’re gonna pay a one-percent fee, even if you don’t use your line-of-credit. I do think it would be a good idea to have your banker come and say, listen we want to be sure we have a good understanding that if we are going to go out and spend $324k, can we look to you guys for the money and hopefully the answer is yes. And I’m assuming the city is going to co-sign or they’re going to stand for it, because you don’t have anything to offer for collateral. And I don’t really understand what the collateral is on your existing loan with Prosperity. It has to be with the endorsement of the city.”

Murchison also backed the idea of paying off the outstanding debt as soon as possible. “That’s a no-brainer.”

The proposal will be given to the city who has the ability to adjust the budget as they see fit. Gentry told the board that the city wanted them to submit their proposed budget by the end of July. “They can approve or disapprove,” Gentry said, “but normally they’ve approved it every year. The only adjustment they made four years ago with changing the one-and-a-half million to six-hundred thousand.

“I’d visit with your banker and see what that understanding is, and then make your budget decision from there. I wouldn’t have a draw that could potentially spend over the allowed amount.”

Thomas commented, “We may need to have a second workshop to bring in [Brandon] and have a conversation with us.”
Murchison interjected, “Or if he can just provide you a document showing what you have. That’s all you need is a document, and if that’s what you got, then that’s what you got, and you’re good.”

Gentry told the board, “If you have time, read the documents in your packet. And if you have questions, we can talk about them. It will give you all a better feel for when the finances were established over the last 10 or 12 years. It talks about not only the million-and-a-half dollars but the USDA loan as well.”

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Man accused of holding woman captive; sexual assault

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070722 YarbroughTrenton Edward YarbroughBy Chris Edwards
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CROCKETT – A man was arrested last week in Crockett and accused of holding a woman against her will and sexually assaulting her.
According to Crockett Chief of Police Clayton Smith, patrol officers with Crockett Police Department were dispatched last Monday, June 27, to meet with a complainant about an assault that occurred on a property within the city.

Smith said that while the complainant spoke with the officers, she alleged that Trenton Edward Yarbrough, a 33-year-old Crockett man, held her against her will and sexually assaulted her.

Yarbrough was later located walking in the 800 block of North Fourth Street and was taken into custody and interviewed with CPD’s sexual assault investigator.

Yarbrough was booked into the Houston County Jail on several charges: assault of a family or household member by impeding breath or circulation; sexual assault; unlawful restraint and possession of marijuana (<2 ounces).

The sexual assault charge is a second-degree felony and the assault charge a third-degree felony. Yarbrough remains in custody of the jail.

Smith issued a press release about the investigation and noted that it was “purposely left vague,” due to the fact that the alleged incident “was not a random act of violence, as the victim and Yarbrough were acquainted with each other.”

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, please call the Crockett Police Department at 936-544-2021 or the Family Crisis Center of East Texas at 1-800-828-SAFE (7233) or by text at 936-552-9256.

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TxDOT projects approved

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063022 txdot projects

LUFKIN – Texas Transportation Commissioners on Thursday approved more than $931 million in new construction projects statewide, with more than $100 million approved for the Lufkin District.

Houston County was approved for a $31.9 million construction project that is earmarked for a bridge replacement on SH 7 at the Trinity River. R. Construction Civil, LLC, of Buffalo, will serve as contractor for the construction project. No timeline for completion has been set.

Angelina County was approved for a $63.1 million construction project that will upgrade US 59 in Redland. The main lanes of US 59 will be reconstructed along with the construction of new northbound and southbound frontage roads from FM 2021 to .34 miles north of SL 287 in Lufkin.

The project was designed and is being built to interstate standards. US 59 serves as an evacuation route and the upgrade with enhance safety and mobility in the area. Longview Bridge and Road, LTD. Longview, will serve as contractor for the 2.5-mile construction project. Not timeline for completion has been set.

More than $4.8 million was approved for districtwide safety improvements and hazard elimination in various locations. AR Brothers Construction Services, Inc., San Augustine TX., will serve as contractor. No timeline for completion has been set.

As these projects begin, pre-construction meetings will be held to determine timelines. Signage will be set in work zones announcing pending construction. Motorists are advised to stay alert and be aware for workers and machinery near the lanes of traffic. Reduce speed and obey all traffic control. Fines double when workers are present.

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