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HHSC launches substance abuse prevention campaign

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081122 hhsc prevention program

Agency to reduce drug use among Texas youth, families

AUSTIN – Texas Health and Human Services is launching a $23.2 million public awareness campaign to prevent substance use disorders and help Texans access necessary treatment and services.

“Substance use disorders can affect people from all walks of life and all age groups,” said Sonja Gaines, HHS deputy executive commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services. “I am excited to announce that the substance use prevention awareness campaign will help Texans learn about the signs and symptoms of addiction as well as connect people to needed services and supports for substance use.”

According to a 2020 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey, an estimated 11.3 million people in Texas were living with substance use disorder.

The substance use prevention awareness campaign aims to reach about 2.5 million people in Texas focusing on reducing stigma, building community connection and resilience, and changing social norms, to prevent substance use.

HHSC awarded a $16.7 million contract to FleishmanHillard, whose campaign strategy will be informed by results from a statewide study HHSC conducted from May to August 2021.

The campaign will focus on youth, young adults, and families in Texas who are most at risk, as well as community leaders who can best reach those communities.

In addition, HHSC awarded $6.5 million to The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Health Communication to develop an interactive digital tool to improve the referral process to existing substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services, and conduct research to support the development of prevention campaign messaging.

These projects are funded from the $252.8 million HHSC received in 2021 in federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant supplemental funds through H.R. 133 and the American Rescue Plan Act. SAMHSA directed states to use the funding to address local substance use disorders-related needs, improve efficiency, and improve planning and oversight of SUD prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services.

Texas residents can dial 2-1-1 to learn about programs and services.

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Commissioners Court receives tax rate estimates

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081122 tax rate estimates

By Jan White
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CROCKETT – At the regular session of the Houston County Commissioners Court, members received information regarding values and tax rates provided by Tax Assessor-Collector Laronica Smith. Smith presented a table showing last year and 2022 value and rate calculations for Commissioners to consider when determining this year’s tax rate. Following is the table that was presented to the Commissioners:

2021 Value and Tax Rate
$1,624,272,326 x .53000 = $8, 608,643.33
2022 Value and Tax Rate
$1,915,621,352 x .454022 = $8,697,342.37 (No New Revenue Rate FKA effective rate) $1,915,621,352 x .530000 = $10,152,793.17 (last year's adopted rate)
$1,915,621,352 x 474743 = $9,094,278.28 (Voter-approval Rate FKA rollback rate) $1,915,621,352 x .475494 = $9,108,664.59 (De minimus Rate)

The calculations are based on 100% collections. Houston County Tax collections are at 95.46% as of July 26, 2022.

“This will give us something to work with,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen. The calculations are used when determining next year’s budget needs.

Other agenda items included extending the County-wide burn ban, reappointing Lois Ball to the Board of Trustees for the Burke Center, and approval of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Latexo ISD and Lovelady ISD pending a map, hiring a part-time jailer, authorization of destruction of damaged uniforms, and disposal of accumulated metal as scrap.

The commissioners also voted to approve selling and purchasing of vehicles, accepting a donation from Dewayne Rogers Logging of $350 for road improvements, accepting bids for purchase and hauling of road materials, purchase of equipment upgrades for improving radio reception for Ratcliff and Lovelady law enforcement and fire department and purchase of vehicles through the American Rescue Plan Act Grant Fund, adopting the order for the November 8, 2022, General Election, and approval of the repairs to the “Violent Cell” at the jail.

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CEIDC wraps up budget talks

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081122 ceidic budget trackingThe main topic of discussion at the CEIDC meeting were the implementation of a new budget tracking system.

By Jan White
jThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CROCKETT – On July 28 the CEIDC met once more to discuss the budget before presenting them to the Crockett City Council for approval.

The main topics of discussion were the implementation of a new budget tracking system, developing a strategic plan, and determining what steps the CEIDC will take moving forward with repairs on the Westbrook House.

The new budget tracking system, designed by Ex-Officio member Lawyer Jolly, will provide a month-by-month spreadsheet that will be included in the financial packet received by the board. The system was designed to help track monthly expenditures and keep the board current on their monthly budget spending. As discussed in last month’s meeting, members of the board will work closely with accountant Dick Murchison to add additional line items to the chart of accounts to help clarify expenditures whose ambiguous descriptions had caused invoice coding confusion in the past.

Jolly reported that he had spoken with some of his associates at Texas A&M regarding developing a strategic planning goal. He suggested that the CEIDC come up with five or six needs, what they will need to accomplish those goals, and a way to review their plan to track whether those goals are being met. “Any business or organization has got to have a vision,” said Jolly. “It’s not enough to just do your best. You need to know what to do, then do your best.” Gentry added, “I don’t want to go another twelve months without us having a true strategic plan.” Members agreed that a strategic plan is a high priority.

The discussion then moved forward to the next steps to take regarding repairs to the Westbrook House, which is currently the home of artifacts for the Mary Allen College Museum. Several Board members, local pastors, and members of the Mary Allen Museum. Mr. Gentry read the entire contract to the group, which included the tenant and landlord responsibilities. The bulk of the conversation seemed to center around repair or replacement of the HVAC unit for the building to be accessible during the current heat conditions to facilitate inside repairs.

The board unanimously agreed. “It’s our asset. It’s our building,” stated President Gerald Barkley. “We need to take care of it.” During the meeting with MAM representatives, Dr. Thelma Douglass said that several events were scheduled at Westbrook House for the month of September.

Reverand Johnie Wood, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, committed to soliciting volunteers to help assist with the needed repairs. It was also implied that the museum might possibly have someone, such as a caretaker, occupy one of the rooms in the Westbrook House. Additionally, Dr. Douglass, David Beaulieu and Gentry will develop a punch list of items that need to be repaired. Gentry has requested estimates and a timeline for the repair of the HVAC system.

Board member Wade Thomas reiterated the gist of a discussion from last month’s meeting, reminding members that ultimately, the goal is to get the museum back up on College Hill. “Their forever home needs to be up there,” said Thomas. “So when we have the opportunity to find grants or build buildings, let’s be sure and bring that to their attention. That’s what we want for the town, that’s what we want for tourism, for them. This [Westbrook House] is not a permanent home for all their memorabilia. Just want us to keep that in mind as we go along. That was the intent when the lease was signed, and I think it still holds true.”
Jolly also suggested revising the contract to be more specific about tenant and landlord responsibilities for upkeep and repairs on the building.

When asked where the CEIDC stands on the Freedom of Information requests, Gentry reported that they have received approximately 12 requests and responded to the majority of them. In explaining the process, Gentry emphasized that they have to make sure the documents are redacted to secure information such as Social Security numbers, account numbers, and other non-public information as required by privacy laws. “We are trying to go by the attorney general’s guidelines,” said Gentry. “And as you know, I review all of those with them [the requestors], so we have a legal review. The only challenge is that we’ve had to go back 10 or 15 years on some of these documents. It just takes deep-dive research.”

Member NaTrenia Hicks stated that they had received complaints about charging for copies of documents. “While the information is free, the services and supplies are not free. You can’t just walk into someone’s office and ask for 1,000 sheets of paper and hours of their time. That’s coming out of their budget. That’s one thing that people need to understand. We only have one employee.” Hicks was referring to Carolyn McKnight, who has her own duties to complete on top of the information requests. Hicks commended McKnight for her work at the CEIDC.

The CEIDC intends to meet one additional time to finalize the budget before presenting it to the Crockett City Council at its

August 15 meeting.Two arrested on possession charges

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Water levels low on Houston County lake

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081122 hc lake levels low

By Jan White
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Texas Parks and Wildlife lists Houston County Lake is a 1330-acre, spring-fed lake nestled in the hills of the East Texas Forest Country.

Primarily fed by Little Elkhart Creek, the lake is surprisingly cool in all but the driest of weather. It’s considered to be a great kayak lake, and undeveloped coves allow a fisherman plenty of areas to fish for that record bass, catfish, crappie, or other varieties found in the brown-stained water.

Home to two islands, Paradise Island and Whispering Pines Island, the lake is roughly sixty percent fishing with forty percent or less usable by recreational boats. The east end of the lake is fairly remote and serene, and wildlife is abundant. For many, Houston County Lake is a hidden gem, not widely published, mostly enjoyed by locals who know the area.

But this gem is beginning to suffer from the drought that has left Houston County under a burn ban and residents wondering how long it will be before the area sees some relief from the deficiency.

A visit to the lake will show the surprising amount of tree stumps showing above the water line – a gauge that most lake residents use to determine water loss. But a more scientific determination of the water level of Houston County Lake. The following graphs are from the waterdatafortexas.org website. The website is a product of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) Water Science and Conservation Group. According to the site, the project is “part of our ongoing efforts to synthesize and communicate water-related data to scientists, policy-makers, and the public.” The precipitation and gross lake evaporation data is based on raw data collected by multiple organizations and processed by the method for spatial distribution.

On August 8, the graph shows Houston County Lake as 88.5% full.

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Ashby to visit Quest Academy

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080422 ashby quest academy

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – On Thursday, August 11, State Representative Trent Ashby is scheduled to visit Quest Collegiate Academy located at 1303 E. Houston Avenue in Crockett. Quest Academy is a tuition-free public charter school designed with the goal of creating responsible, goal-oriented students who are focused on academic success.

Ashby is scheduled to visit each of the classrooms before heading outside to present a new Texas Flag to the school. Jeannie Julian, a teacher at Quest, says that they have been trying to make arrangements for Ashby to visit the school for a while.

“We are so excited to have him here,” Julian said.

Both parents and the public are invited to attend the flag-raising event. Those wishing to attend the flag-raising should plan to be at the school between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Ashby’s flag, along with a new United State flag, will be erected at the event.

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