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CEIDC votes to retire debt

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CDIDC LogoBy Jan White
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CROCKETT – In their monthly meeting on September 13, the CEIDC voted to retire their debt of approximately $328k. 

Board member Wade Thomas spoke to the group about his reasons for wanting to pay off the loan. “We have spent the last few weeks talking with financial advisors, bankers, and attorneys, both individually and as members of this Board. To my knowledge, we did not talk to anyone at any level that said we should not pay this off.” Thomas spoke to Brandon Bridges, who is not only the Economic Development’s banker but also involved in ED, who told Thomas that it was an old loan, and they were three owners past having anything to do with the loan.

Bridges had been involved with the initial loan and reminded Thomas of the state of the town when that loan was taken out. “The state school had closed, and we lost two-hundred jobs on that day. This city was in a panic. That was a huge hit for us.” In order to continue for the property to be used as a viable facility, repairs needed to be made. The CEIDC, with the support of the town and the city council, borrowed the money necessary to improve the facility. 

Thomas said that members of the Board had spoken to the attorney for the City of Crockett and the CEIDC, Bill Pemberton, who told them they were at liberty to do what they wanted – either pay off the loan or keep paying on it.

“But we went beyond that,” Thomas stated. “We have talked to other legal council. We have talked to bond managers in Austin. We have talked to no one who has said there was anything wrong with the way the loan was done.”

Thomas went on to expound on the loan issue. “We were taken to school a little bit about the difference between a loan using sales tax and a loan using ad Valorem tax and bonds, which is what the city does. Those are handled through the attorney general’s office. This organization is different than that. We put up sales tax funds to secure our notes. So there is a difference. There seemed to be some confusion caused by people here in town that got us confused. But that’s okay. We went to school on it.”

Thomas said that the organization “has the funds, and I would like to save the interest we are paying over the next four years and get rid of this loan. This loan was taken out years ago by the good people who sat here. We weren’t there. But we’re still answering the questions about something that was done six years ago. We’re still getting the darts thrown at us. Let’s get rid of it.”

Questions were raised about the financial aspect of paying off the loan and what position it would put the CEIDC in. Said Thomas, “We will have an account with $200k in it. We are increasing that balance by around $20k a month, and it would also give us the $7,400 a month back into our account, which we are currently paying on that loan.” 

Board members also brought up upcoming expenses that were not specified in the budget, such as the CEIDC’s share of the forensic audit, the cost of the new A/C unit they committed to purchasing for the Mary Allen Museum Heritage House, and a financial commitment to the “Early Morning” project, possible roofing repairs, and the four-inch gas line. 

Thomas’ contention was, “If we need to borrow money, our banker has sat right here and said, ‘You people are good with us. Come in and talk to us any time you need money.’ I don’t want to wait to pay off this old loan thinking that maybe we’ll need some money that we can’t cover somewhere down the road.”

Each Board member was offered the chance to voice their opinion on paying off the loan, but in the end, the motion was made and passed that the loan obligation to Prosperity Bank be paid off and that the proposal to pay off the loan would be submitted to the city for their consideration as soon as possible.

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City Council designates street repairs

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City Crockett LogoBy Jan White
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CROCKETT – In the Crockett City Council meeting held on Monday, Sept. 19, the three council members present voiced their choices for streets in their precinct designated to receive repairs or updates.

During the meeting, City Manager John Angerstein showed the Council a spreadsheet that listed streets in their precincts that qualified and asked their representatives to elect their top choices for those repairs. Each precinct had approximately $40k at its disposal. The spreadsheet showed a breakdown of what types of repairs each street needed and the approximate cost of those repairs.

Precinct 1 Councilman Gene Caldwell selected 8th Street, Redbud, Easy, and Woodland Circle. Precinct 3 Councilman Ernest Jackson picked North Third, Sycamore to Burleson, and Second to Pease and Councilwoman Marquita Beasley chose Curtis Street, Thomas Street, Second to the Dead End and Southwestern.

Angerstein pointed out that these repairs need to be made every few years so that the streets don’t wind up in the same poor condition they were in before.

The Council also voted to approve the request for a zoning change from C2 Commercial to R3 Multiple-family residential for Josh and Ashley Crabtree. The Crabtree’s intent is to transform the property, located at 406 E. Bonham, from an office building to small apartments or “kitchenettes” for short-term rentals such as an Airbnb-type property or long-term rentals. 

Other approvals included the City of Crockett’s Hazard Mitigation Plan, which will aid in getting FEMA funding, amendments to the 2022 Fiscal Year Budget, awarding of the bid for Administrative Services for the 2023 Community Development Block Grant program administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the temporary closure of the state Right of Way for the annual Christmas in Crockett celebration. 

Also approved was the reappointment of David Tyer and Greg Simon to the Planning and Zoning Commission. 

After some discussion, the Council approved the CEIDC’s request to retire the balance of their loan to Prosperity Bank, which amounts to approximately $315,284. 

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Court approves $0.474 tax rate

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Houston County Seal 1280x640By Jan White
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CROCKETT – The Houston County Commissioners covered a lot of territory during their September 13 meeting. On the table for approval were contracts, funds, the county budget, the 2023 Fiscal Year tax rate and Houston County officer and employee salaries.

After a Public Hearing in which no participants spoke, the court voted to adopt the voter-approval Tax Rate of $0.474. While the rate is a decrease from last year’s tax rate of $0.53, tax revenue will increase 5.63% because property tax valuations have risen. The “Maintenance and Operations” portion of the tax allocation is $0.474 of the tax rate, and the “Interest in Sinking” portion is $0.054 of the rate.

The commissioners also voted to approve the Houston County Budget for the Fiscal Year 2023. The budget was based on projections that took into account the proposed revenue increase. Of the increase, $91,127 will be from the new property added to this year’s tax roll. After the budget discussion and approval, the Commissioners took a moment to praise Houston County Auditor Melissa Jeter for her hard work. 

Among the contract approvals were Pritchard & Abbott, Inc. for tax collection software, the contract with Lexis Nexis for legal research for the County and District Attorney offices, and the agreement with Rene Baters Auctioneers, Inc. to conduct online auctions for used equipment and surplus supplies.

Although the court has already reached the budget cap for the Hotel Occupancy Tax Fund for the current fiscal year, County Auditor Melissa Jeter told the court that they had enough money in the budget to approve the requests. Jeter also reminded the court that the funds were for the fiscal, not the calendar year, so they will renew on Oct. 1.

 The court then approved the request for the Fiddlers Festival on Sept. 23-24 at Porth Ag Arena, and the Pineywoods Fine Arts concert with Cory Morrow on Nov. 18 at the Crockett Civic Center, and The Loft for Ariel Hutchins and Band concert on Nov. 19. 

The commissioners went on to receive a donation on behalf of the Senior Citizens Center for $821 from Stesti Beer Garden, reappoint Dr. Chris Haeckler as County Health Authority, refinance a lease/purchase of $122k for a 2022 Mack Truck with a dump bed for Precinct 2 for thirteen months, and voted to advertise a bid for purchase and hauling of 2k tons of State road base.

A “Premises Use” policy was given to St. Francis of the Tejas for the Life Chain event on Oct. 2.

The court also approved payment to Pennington Water Supply for $16,329 for moving a water line due to the TxDOT bridge replacement project on CR 4555 in Precinct 4 and made the necessary budget amendments. It was reported that the work had already been completed, which was mostly a formality.

Approval was also given to move funds from the Title III Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act grant to Title I. for the fiscal year 2023 timber revenues, authorize the Houston County Sheriff’s Department to use Title III funding up to $74,336 for the previously authorized pickup trucks and approve modified service rates for inmate Lab Services for an increase of 6% provided by Quest Diagnostics, and transfer funds from the General Fund to Precinct 2 in the amount of 50k for DR 4223 receivable.

Because the November election includes widespread candidate races such as the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Gubernatorial races, Houston County Election Administrator Cynthia Lum requested a change in the Early Voting hours and locations. For voters to be able to vote before work, Ms. Lum asked that the hours of operation be changed. Currently, the polls open at 9 a.m. Lum’s request was to change the open time to 8 a.m. 

Lum also requested that additional voting locations be available for Early Voting. Her recommendations are: for Lovelady -the Lovelady Community Center – Building 2, located at 122 E. Cox Street; for Grapeland, the First United Methodist Church, located at 715 US Hwy. 287 N., and for Kennard, the First Baptist Church, located at 300 Carson Street. The Court approved both of Lum’s requests.

The commissioners approved accepting grants from the District Attorney’s office for the Victim Coordinator and Liaison, the Routine Airport Maintenance Program from TxDOT, and the Statewide Automated Victim Notification Service, also from the District Attorney’s office. Approval was also given for the “Hazard Mitigation Plan” and the acceptance of an Emergency Notification System agreement with DETCOG to participate in their public mass notification system. 

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Crockett City Council approves utility rates

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Photo cutline: Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher with FFA winners and sponsors. PHOTO BY LIZ GUZMAN | HCCCrockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher with FFA winners and sponsors. PHOTO BY LIZ GUZMAN | HCC

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – The Crockett City Council meeting opened with congratulations to Crockett High School FFA members, who won State Recognition awards for their leadership and participation in recent Future Farmers of America competitions. 

Mayor Ianthia Fisher presented the teams with Certificates of Excellence, recognizing the students for their accomplishments. Each team took a few minutes to tell attendees about the projects which won them their awards.

From there, the meeting moved on to their regular business session. The first item of business was to consider and approve the increase in utility rates. City Administrator John Angerstein explained that this was not an increase in base rates, but the increase will be on the consumption side, raising the cost to $0.06 per 100 gallons of water used. 

“This is the first time we’ve seen our water rates increase since 2016,” stated Angerstein. “Due to some of the construction that city has been able to take on, and the employee raises that were in the budget, this is enough to cover that.”

Mike Marsh spoke out to address criticism aimed at Angerstein during the public comments portion of the meeting. “I’d like to say that our City Administrator did NOT [instigate the increase in rates]. The water district went up on us. So we had to pass it on. We’re not getting any “extra” here. It’s just the amount they went up on us. So just to clarify that the City Administrator had nothing to do with this.”

The increase in the water district utility rate was approved.

Business moved on to amend some of the ordinances in the garbage and trash collection code, including the requirement that all loose refuse and kitchen garbage be placed inside garbage bags. 

Angerstein said that if a residence has garbage that repeatedly extends to outside bags, Piney Woods Sanitation has asked that they upgrade and get additional carts, but when occasional extenuating circumstances like holidays generate more trash, the sanitation department will allow up to three extra bags outside the poly cart. Angerstein also said that initially, the department said they would pick up two large items once a month for free. 

Due to the number of residents, the department has now agreed to pick up two large items for free on a weekly basis. “Their only request,” said Angerstein, “is that you call the day before, so they will know in advance that large items need to be picked up on their route.” Angerstein also said that the sanitation department would not pick up items on one’s property, but those items have to be curbside.

Council was asked to vote on a requested increase of 6% from the Piney Woods Sanitation Department. There was some dissent regarding the increase, but as Gene Caldwell pointed out, “You have to also take into consideration that through the tornadoes and all that stuff, they donated, I don’t know how many dumpsters, and hauled off and cleaned up a considerable amount of area throughout all of our precincts. And that was a great cost on their behalf that we didn’t have to take care of.” Marquita Beasley also reminded the group that during a previous budget meeting, the concerns over the increase had already been discussed, and the 6% had already been included in the 2023 budget. The council then approved the increase.

The next item of business was the approval of a lease agreement with South Pine Animal Hospital. The city had purchased the property, but due to construction on their new facility, the hospital asked that they be able to remain on the property and lease it until the new facility is completed and they can relocate. Angerstein stated that the animal hospital would eventually be used as an animal shelter. “We look forward to being able to finally address our animal shelter issue.”

Fisher said “I think it’s a good thing that we’ve gone from conversation to actually having a building. We’re in business now, give or take a little time in between. I’m excited about it.” 

The council was then asked to review the sealed proposals to perform the forensic audit of the Crockett Economic & Industrial Development Corporation from qualified Certified Public Accountant firms and approve the selection of the firm. 

After reviewing the packets, a motion was made by Marquita Beasley to accept the bid from Weaver. The board voted unanimously to approve the motion.

The final agenda item was to authorize Mayor Fisher to act on behalf of the city in matters related to the contract with the firm performing the forensic audit and to approve the recommendation that both the City of Crockett and the CEIDC share the cost of the audit. 

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