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City council talks tax increase

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 080422 tax increase talks

By Jan White
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CROCKETT– The 2023 fiscal year budget was the central topic at the Crockett City Council meeting on Monday.

City Manager John Angerstein opened the meeting by explaining that after the last budget workshop meeting, it had been decided that the council’s number one priority was to hire and retain city employees. Angerstein said that the hurdle was to try and come up with a solution.

At the last meeting, Angerstein had presented what he referred to as a “balanced budget,” based on what is known as the “voter approval rate” tax, which meant that there were no additional funds to assign towards employees’ salaries.

Due to the size of the city, there is not a lot of flexibility to bring in additional revenue. City revenues are basically comprised of 30% sales tax, 35% utilities, and 30% property taxes. Utility rates and property taxes are the only taxes that the city has control over. At this point, without any additional revenue, there would be no room in 2023 to increase employee salaries and benefits.

Angerstein went on to explain that there is a caveat that allows cities the size of Crockett to enact what is known as a “De Minimus” tax rate. This would let the city increase tax rates to allow up to $500k of additional taxes without requiring a city election. Based on numbers using that allowance, the budget was reworked, and the increased income was included in the budget for salaries and personnel costs. During these budget calculations, Angerstein conducted a survey requesting wage amounts from 23 cities and received responses from about half. A competitive employee salary range was assigned using those responses. Additionally, the budget committee developed salary ‘step pay’ rates to ensure parity for all the city departments, which the city had not previously had.

Much time was spent explaining the need for salary increases and retention plans for the town’s essential employees. Councilman Ernest Jackson addressed the group. “I’m joining in with the City Administrator to sound the alarm that we’ve got to do something. I’m a property owner. I don’t want to raise taxes. But we all may be called upon to do a little bit more. It’s not ‘my city,’ it’s ‘our city,’ and there’s no magic wand when you start having financial woes that will provide the money that we need.”

Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher stated, “I’m like everybody else. I don’t really like taxes, but I sure like what they do. And we like all the amenities that come with it.” Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Marsh also chimed in, “By all means, I don’t like taxes, but we have to do this for our employees, and I know it [the tax increase] is not being wasted. It’s going to help us hire and retain our employees. We’ve got to do something.”

Discussion then moved on to address the 2% water rate increase requested by the Houston County Water District. Angerstein showed a table explaining the proposed increase and how it would affect users’ water bills. Previously the council had asked that a member of the water department attend a council meeting and explain the reasoning behind the increase. Concerns were expressed over the terms of the city’s contract with the Water District regarding the quality and amount of water delivered. Angerstein explained that the amount of water the city was to receive was an estimate tied into a revenue bond agreed upon by the city several years ago, which didn’t leave much wiggle room for negotiations.

Angerstein said he would continue with talks regarding the rate increase.

Angerstein then moved on to explain more about the proposed tax rate increase. He presented a graph showing where Crockett stands in relation to the taxes of the 23 cities in the general area that were previously mentioned in the salary survey. Mayor Fisher asked Angerstein, “What is the smallest amount that we could increase [taxes] that would cover our budget expectations?”

Angerstein replied that using an average homeowner property value of $62k, the current year’s tax rate is $0.564 per hundred dollars. “The average annual tax for a Crockett resident taxpayer is $351.83. That is City of Crockett tax only, not school, county, hospital, ESD, or any of the others.” Based on that same average home value of $62k, using the “De Minimus” tax rate, property owners would see an approximate tax increase of $86.89 annually. “As your property value increases, your tax bill is going to increase,” Angerstein clarified. Homeowners with values lower than the average would see less of an increase.

Although property taxes increased by about $23M this past year, due to the tax laws, to bring about the same revenue as last year, the tax would drop from $0.56 to $0.52. “That voter approval tax rate is not even enough to cover fuel costs increases or health insurance. We are looking at almost $200k in those two categories alone.” Angerstein emphasized that none of the requested tax increase will go to anything other than to cover the increase in employee salaries.

“At this time,” said Angerstein, “I am asking for council to consider and adopt a tax rate increase. This tax rate will be posted. We have public hearings posted for our next meeting on August 15. That’s where it will be approved and finalized. We will post the hearing times in the newspaper and in the media. This will give the citizens adequate time, and if they have concerns, if they are for it or against it, they have opportunities to come as a taxpayer to say “no, we don’t want that money to go towards it” or “we’re all for it.” It’s up to them and Council at the end of the day to finalize and adopt the increase.”

“I don’t like it at all,” stated Marsh, “but if I need law enforcement and I call, I want them to be there. If I need my fire department and I call, I want them to be there. If I’m out of water and I call, I want them to be there.” Marsh then made the motion to approve going forward with the “De Minimus” tax rate, seconded by Jackson. The motion passed unanimously.

Approval of the Crockett Economic & Industrial Development budget was tabled until the next meeting, but the approval of a change in the wording of the CEIDC by-laws caused sparks between some members of the Council and CEIDC Director James Gentry. The agenda item requested approval to delete the words “for the previous fiscal year,” from Section 7.03 pertaining to the “Audit” section of the current by-laws. Apparently, the wording would affect both the scope [fiscal years] of the forensic audit of the CEIDC recommended by the Council, and also which entity might be required to pay for that audit.

Gentry argued that it was not the CEIDC who requested the audit, it was done by the City, so the burden of expense should not come from the CEIDC but the city. Fisher responded that the Council made the decision to do a forensic audit based on the Council’s perception of what their constituents wanted. Councilman Jones questioned why the wording of the by-laws had to be changed by the Council when all the other by-laws were changed by the CEIDC. Angerstein replied that the Economic Development Board could not change its own by-laws. “They cannot amend them, they cannot delete them, they cannot change them. They can make a recommendation to Council for amendments.” The

Council approved the motion to remove the wording.

Two additional agenda items were the approval of the City of Crockett to accept a generator and the security system and any other assets turned over to the City by Onshore Technology Services, Inc., in lieu of seeking litigation over the breach of contract by Onshore.

After a brief adjournment into Executive Session, the Council reconvened to vote on approving the purchase of property to be used as an animal shelter. The motion was made to allow $275k and an additional $4k from the American Rescue Plan Act Funds for the purchase. It was emphasized that none of the funding would come from taxes. The motion passed unanimously.

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Courier wins several awards

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080422 newspaper awareds

From Staff Reports

SAN MARCOS – The Houston County Courier won several awards from the Texas Press Association (TPA) at its annual conference and trade show, which was held last week in San Marcos.

The categories the newspaper won in range from the association’s contest highlighting sports photography to feature writing.

Polk County Publishing Company publisher Kelli Barnes, who attended the conference, said of the wins, “We have a great team at the Courier.

They are committed to quality community journalism and Houston County is stronger for having a legitimate news source. Thank you, readers and advertisers, for your continued support.”

TPA, which is headquartered in Austin, is one of the nation’s oldest and largest newspaper trade associations. It represents 429 Texas newspapers, which participate in the annual contest. The contest breaks down the publications into different divisions based on circulation numbers and frequency of publication.

The Courier, for this year’s contest, was in Division 5, which was also shared by sister paper the Tyler County Booster.

According to its website, the organization “promotes the welfare of Texas newspapers, encourages higher standards of journalism, and plays an important role in protecting the public’s right to know as an advocate of First Amendment liberties.”

The awards won by the Courier staff for work produced during last year’s span of eligibility for the contest are:

• Sports Photography – Third Place (Larry Lamb)

• Feature Writing – Fourth Place (Alton Porter and Jan White)

• Headline Writing – Fourth Place (Jan White and Larry Lamb)

• News Writing – Third Place (Chris Edwards)

Courier news editor Chris Edwards said being a part of such a prestigious trade organization was “an honor in of itself,” and added that it was “beyond awesome” for the newspaper to be adjudicated as one of the best in a crowded field.

The four other newspapers in the PCPC family: the Polk County Enterprise; San Jacinto News-Times; Trinity County Standard and the Tyler County Booster, also won multiple awards for their published works from last year.

The quarterly East Texan lifestyle magazine, from PCPC, also won an award in the “Best Magazine” category.

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Leos inducted by Turner

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080422 pineywoods leos club

By Joseph Tuggle,
Leo CommunicationsChairperson

On Sunday, July 31, The Piney Woods Leos were inducted by Jim Turner for the 2022-2023 term. Members are excited about the new year and serving our community.

Officers pictured include: John Mark Cariker-Service chair, Joseph Tuggle-Communications Chair, Ariana Gonzalez-President, Grace Nesbitt-Vice President, and Ayriel Parker-Secretary. (Not pictured are other incoming officers: Sabrina Stewart-Membership Chair, Alexander Burke-Treasurer, and Edward Kane-Chaplain.)

Turner presented the Leo Club gavel and gong to Leo Club President Ariana Gonzalez.

Photos courtesy Leo Club Advisor Ellen Brooks

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P&Z committee addresses downtown issues

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080422 pz commitee

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – The Crockett Planning and Zoning Committee met recently to discuss updates on topics related to improvements in the downtown area.

One discussion focused on the idea of a possible ‘matching funds’ project, whereby the City of Crockett could work with property owners to help with exterior updates and restorations. The city receives leases on locally owned property. It was suggested that the approximate $28k a year of lease funds, which have not been earmarked, could be set up in a matching funds account. If a downtown building owner wanted to fix doors, windows, or exterior painting, they could apply for a matching restoration grant. In addition, an offer to help property owners with matching funds might encourage them to rehab their buildings.

Committee member Connie Strban suggested using the grant as an opportunity to contact and guide property owners to use a particular color palette when renovating their buildings, similar to what historic towns like Mesquite or Fredricksburg use. Currently, there are no specific color requirements in Crockett for downtown business owners who want to update their storefronts. In order to enforce a particular color palette, such a requirement would need to be a part of the City Ordinance. Some historic cities have committees whose purpose is to help select compatible color palettes. Guidelines were also proposed as to who might be committee members.

Compliance with certificates of occupancy and sewer and water continue to challenge the committee. Only one of the four buildings that received letters regarding occupancy have responded to the request so far. Another courtesy letter will be sent to property owners before more stringent steps are taken. The committee also talked about the plumbing and water issues that plague some of the buildings located in the block that is bordered by Houston, Fourth, Goliad and Fifth streets. The systems that provide water and sewage are found in a little-known courtyard located in the center of the buildings. Between the narrow entry space and overgrowth and debris found in the courtyard, repairs will be complicated without drastic measures, such as the tear-down of one of the adjacent buildings.

TxDOT is still considering plans to reconfigure the downtown area to make it more pedestrian friendly. So far, the Department seems amenable to rerouting traffic out of the downtown area, which would provide more parking for shoppers, preserve the integrity of the older or decaying buildings from damage caused by vibrations from 18-wheelers, and allow for easier access to downtown businesses.

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Lovelady Celebrates 150 years of history

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080422 lovelady celebrates 150

By Jan White
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LOVELADY – The City of Lovelady began as a fuel stop on the railway line of the Houston & Great Northern Railway.

The town was named after Cyrus Lovelady, an early settler in the area, from whom the land was acquired. In those days, cities became ‘official’ when the U.S. Postal Service established a post office.

On November 8, 1872, the United States opened its doors, officially proclaiming Lovelady as a certified town.

This is why, on August 13, the City of Lovelady will celebrate 150 years of small-town Texas history. The city plans to open its city hall to allow residents and visitors to view artifacts, pictures, books, and other memorabilia commemorating the municipality’s sesquicentennial.

Although Lovelady has the reputation of being a little one-traffic-light “if you blink, you’ll miss it’ town, it also has a notable historic significance. The Porter Place Ranch, founded in 1912 by V.H. ‘Hoyt’ Porter, was the setting for many of the outstanding photos taken by his son in law, the late Guy Gillette.

Gillette, a local historian, spent many summers at the ranch with his wife Doris Porter Gillette and their two sons.

Gillette’s historic pictorial chronicled all the aspects of small-town life – activities such as church socials, homecomings, dinners on the ground, barbershops, Bible school, and other pursuits enjoyed by family and friends. A Family of the Land: The Texas Photography of Guy Gillette was a coffee-table book by Andy Wilkinson, showcasing some of Gillette’s outstanding photos.

Native Lovelady resident, Howard A. Wooten, went to Prairie View College on a football scholarship, but aviation was his passion. In 1940, Wooten dropped out of college to enlist in the U.S. Army and rose swiftly through the ranks, becoming a Staff Sergeant in the 46th Field Artillery Brigade by January 1942. Wooten applied to the Army Flight School at Tuskegee, Alabama. Wooten was assigned to several fighter pilot groups and was one of a select group of pilots who trained to fly North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, but the war ended before he and the rest of his group were sent overseas.

Wooten lost his life, not during combat, but several years later when he fell from a scaffold while painting the 12th Avenue Bridge in Seattle. It was decades later that Wooten was memorialized by the U.S. Air Force when they used his pilot’s photograph to represent the famed Tuskegee Airman and later adopted as the official image of the Tuskegee Airmen Foundation.

Lovelady is also known as a popular country music venue in East Texas. It wasn’t unusual for locals to hear music rocking the rafters at the old school gymnasium on weekends. Notable country music singers like Carl Acuff, jr., Hank Thompson, Johnny Rodriguez and Moe Bandy have played at the gym. “It’s a wonderful place to play,” Bandy said. “The folks are enthusiastic and you always leave with a wonderful feeling in your heart.” Lovelady is also proud to boast that Cody Johnson performed at the gym on his way to stardom.

When the old gymnasium began deteriorating, the 1952 valedictorian of Lovelady High School, Norma Dell Jones, led the charge to put together a restoration effort to save the gym. Thanks to their efforts, the venue is still used for local events like weddings, church gatherings, and family reunions.

One of the newest editions giving Lovelady bragging rights is the Stesti Brewing Company. The family-owned and operated Czech-style brewery offers a variety of craft beers, and delicious food and frequently offers a venue for local and regional musicians to perform.

And who could forget Lovelady’s most popular event – the city’s annual Lovelday Lovefest. The Lovelady Lovefest got its roots (pardon the pun) from an idea conceived by the Lovelady Civic Club, formerly the Lovelady Garden Club. The Garden Club was formed by a group of ladies interested in beautifying their beloved town. For several years the Garden Club’s main goal was to plant sustainable landscape plants and maintain the property next to the railroad tracks. After losing some of its founding members, the Lovelady Garden Club changed its name to the Lovelady Civic Club and shifted its focus to finding ways to promote the community and draw more visitors to the area. Thus the creation of the Lovefest.

The festival features the crowing of the Lovefest Queen along with several days of carnival-style rides, games, and vendor and food booths designed to entertain the entire family. The Lovelady Lovefest is held annually in February.
The City of Lovelady invites you to help them celebrate at the reception held on August 12, at the Lovelady City Hall, from 2-5 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and visitors will have the opportunity to view historical photos and documents.

The city is also looking for the history of Lovelady’s founding families to display at the reception. If you have any photos or documents you would like to loan for the event, please contact Debbie Wells at the Lovelady City Office 936-636-7313.

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