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Trustees approve proposed redistricting

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CrockettISD logoBy Jan White
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CROCKETT – On Monday, Dec. 12, the Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to approve the new redistricting map for Trustee districts.

The meeting began with a public hearing regarding the reappointment of Crockett ISD Single Member Trustee Districts. State law requires that whenever a new census comes out, the school district must review its district boundaries and make adjustments as necessary to comply with the voting rights act of 1969 and a 1992 lawsuit that ensures minority representation in school districts. Troy Bolen, an attorney with the Powell Law Group in Austin, gave a presentation showing the suggested redistricting map.

Bolen explained that with a population of 8,617, the goal was to have approximately 1,723 in each district. The current district map showed a breakdown of  2070 in District 1, 1797 in District 2, 1620 in District 3, 1228 in District 4, 1920 in District 5, and At-large Districts 6 and 7 4901, and 3716, respectively. The proposed changes would make the population grouping more equitable. The proposed new district map would redistribute the population to 1755 in District 1, 1734 in District 2, 1618 in District 3, 1753 in District 4, and 1757 in District 5, with 4,478 and 4,139 in the At-large Districts 6 and 7, respectively.

After the public portion of the meeting ended and the proposal was put to the vote, the motion to accept the redistricting changes passed unanimously.

The trustees also heard a presentation by Margaret Tuggle regarding the recommended Sex Education Curriculum required by the Texas School Health Advisory Council (SHAC). SHAC is a group appointed by the school to ensure that local community values are reflected in health education instruction. The Attorney General must approve the curriculum. Tuggle reported that the council had met several times during the year. After reviewing six options, the committee chose the “Big Decisions” curriculum, which is used in many schools across Texas and locally by Jacksonville and Lufkin. One of the deciding factors was that this curriculum includes teaching abstinence, which the course states “is the safest and healthiest choice to prevent a pregnancy while also preparing them with the knowledge and tools to reduce risks and have a healthy future.”  Tuggle also noted that the sex education course is “opt in” and requires parental consent. At the conclusion of the presentation, the motion to approve was put to the vote, and the trustees approved the curriculum.

Goodwin-Lasiter, Inc. was the architect, and engineering firm approved by the trustees to assist with facility upgrades to the Technology Suite and other improvement projects as needed. Goodwin Lasiter has assisted CISD previously on other projects. It was noted that this was a proposal only and that there were no projects in the works at this time.

Other agenda items approved were safety and security window film that fulfills the State requirement for a fence or window re-enforcement for ground-level windows in order to secure those entrances, a change in date and venue for the Board appreciation dinner, and the payment of stipends/bonuses awarded to teachers and paraprofessionals.


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DCA, P&Z hear pitches for downtown improvements

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SmallTownDownTown Stock

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – Members of the Downtown Crockett Association and the Crockett Planning and Zoning Commission gathered at City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 1, to hear presentations by Main Street America and Retail Strategies. The two organizations pitched their take on what might be done to improve and preserve the downtown district while attracting more businesses and tourism to the area.

Jan Harris, a representative of Main Street America, was the first to speak to the group via Zoom. Harris gave examples of how small towns could preserve their heritage, as well as receive grants and funding, were they to join the Main Street America program. Although there can be significant benefits to becoming a member, the program requires at least a three-year commitment and involves very specific requirements and standards for the city to meet in order to qualify for that membership.

Next up were Jenn Gregory and Christopher Bontrager of Retail Strategies, a business also involved with improving small towns with retail analysis, education, and resources, assisting with market analysis, strategic planning, tourism promotion, and transformative design. Like Main Street America, the Retail Strategies also works to enhance and revitalize downtown areas and requires a minimum program commitment.

Following the presentations, a discussion was held among attendees regarding their interest in the programs, the feasibility of funding, and concerns for downtown preservation.

City Administrator John Angerstein, who facilitated the meeting along with city employee Rebecca Huffman, indicated that funding for the programs could be supplied by the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds provided by The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Angerstein said that preliminary project priorities are on the agenda for the upcoming city council meeting.

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Council hears bucket list of possible projects

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Crockett City HallBy Jan White
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– At the meeting held of the Crockett City Council on Monday, Dec. 5, members were presented with a list of possible projects for using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds awarded to the city.

During the meeting, City Administrator John Angerstein reported that ARPA monies were still available that hadn’t been used. He said that Crockett had received over $1.5M in funds. Items purchased so far include laptops and printers for police vehicles, the purchase of an animal shelter, and a motor grader for road repairs, “But we have funding left on the table,” said Angerstein. “We have until 2025 to spend the funds.”

After speaking with council members and city employees, Agnerstein came up with a ‘top ten’ list of suggested ways to spend the money: 

1. Repair to wastewater plant sludge. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TECQ), this item is mandatory. Angerstein estimated that the project would cost anywhere from 100k to 200k, depending on the method they use.

2. New roof on City Hall. It was estimated that the building was constructed around 1988, with an upgrade a few years later. Angerstein estimated that the cost for replacement would be around $65k but hasn’t asked for actual bids yet.

3. Drum roller purchase. It was estimated that a new drum roller would be in the $30k range.

4. Parking lot beside Moosehead and behind Hearts Desire. The parking areas need upgrades, reworking the ground, stabilizing, and repairs.

5. Welcome to Crockett signs. Angerstein reported that there are six major highways that lead into Crockett and at this time five of them have metal signs that are rusted and dilapidated. He also said that designs were for a possible cinder-block style sign with raised metal lettering and backlighting that represented the city’s “Paradise in the Pines” logo.

6. Bathroom at Wheeler Park. Updates for the current restroom facility would include a new roof, paint, and new lighting, which would cost around $22k. It was also suggested to build a pavilion similar to the one in Davy Crockett park. Angerstein estimated the cost would be around $60k, but there have been no actual bids on the project.

7. Downtown Strategic Planning – Angerstein proposed hiring a strategic planning group to help with downtown planning and tourism. He said it would take commitment and work and that the city would have to commit to hiring a salaried employee, developing a budget, and other specific requirements. The program requires a three-year commitment of $25k per year and would include holding public meetings, sizing buildings, working with the downtown park and pavilion, and possibly creating a downtown visitor center.   

8. Gear and repairs for Fire Department – The fire department has requested four new sets of bunker gear, bay heaters for the Fire Station, and some repairs to the slab and footers.

9. Purchase of a vehicle for the Police Department. The police department has requested the replacement of its oldest Tahoe with a new one.

10. Refurbishing the pavilion in Davy Crockett Park. It was suggested that the pavilion in the park receive some needed repairs and paint to keep it updated.

After hearing the list and discussion among the council, Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher suggested that the agenda item be tabled until the next meeting when members have had a chance to go over the list and prioritize what they believe to be the most crucial ways to use the funds.

Other agenda items included the approval and authorization to execute a State Infrastructure Bank Loan agreement that will be used in conjunction with street improvement in the city, updates to the city’s Policy and Procedure Manual, and the sale or disposal of surplus items no longer serviceable for the city.

Council members also voted to increase the budget for the Crockett Economic Industrial and Development Corporation forensic audit based on the request from the auditors. Angerstein explained that the original proposal was based on a “sight unseen” situation. After the project began, the auditing firm realized that they would need additional funding to complete the project. It was projected that the auditors hope to finalize the report before Christmas. The proposal was to increase the budget up to $125k.

The final agenda item was to approve the bid from KSA Engineers along with an application for funding through the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) for the Texas Community Block Program Grant Program for wastewater improvements.

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Special meeting results in new vehicles

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Houston County Seal 1280x640By Jan White
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CROCKETT – During a special meeting held on Monday, December 5, the Houston County Commissioners Court approved the purchase of a 2022 half-ton crew cab pickup for the Precinct 2 Constable and the purchase of a 2022 half-ton crew cab pickup for Precinct 3 Road and Bridge.

The vehicles will be purchased from Cutshaw Chevrolet and will be funded through monies provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Grant.

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Unemployment up slightly for county

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Houston County Seal 1280x640By Chris Edwards
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AUSTIN – According to figures released last week by the Texas Workforce Commission, the unemployment rate in Houston County is up, slightly, from October’s percentage of jobless residents at 3.4%.

That figure is up by a tenth of a percentage point from 3.3% from the previous month, but a large reduction from the year-to-date figure of 4.2% from October 2021. Houston County experienced an average of 4.8% unemployment during 2021.

Of the county’s labor force of 10,764 workers, 365 are unemployed. The county’s record high of joblessness came in July 2009 with 10.5%, according to figures from TWC.

Neighboring Polk and Tyler counties are in the Top 50 of Texas counties with the highest unemployment rates, by a list compiled by the website Stacker.

The peak of unemployment during the pandemic came at an alarming 14.7%, nationwide, in April 2020, and economic experts predict a recession by next year. The last recession, which took place during 2008-2010, saw interest rates rise as much as up to 10% and it was not until the spring of 2019, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the unemployment rate finally went down to where it is at present.

Currently, according to statistics released nationally, the unemployment rate is at 3.4%, which is lower than it was in September at 3.7%.

The statewide unemployment rate is at 3.8%. According to TWC, Texas has added jobs throughout the year 2022, with 556K jobs added to the state’s employment rolls, according to projections. That represents, according to TWC, a 4.3% increase this year, up from 2021.

Texas also has the largest growing metro areas for the least amount of jobless residents. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is almost double the rate in the U.S., overall, for job growth.

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