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Houston County News - Breakout

Judge proclaims Oct 2-8 National 4-H Week

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Houston County Seal 1280x640By Jan White
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CROCKETT – The Houston County Commissioners Court meeting held on Tuesday, September 27, opened with a group of 4-H students who spoke to the Court about National 4-H Week and their roles in the local 4-H Program. Afterward, Judge Lovell read a proclamation declaring October 2-8 as National 4-H Week and commending the 4-H Youth Development Program of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the men and women who have made the program a success.

The month of October was proclaimed “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” October was first declared as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1989. Since then, October has been a time to acknowledge domestic violence survivors and be a voice for its victims.

Commissioners accepted a donation from the Crocket Elks Lodge of $2,000 for the Department of Aging Meals-on-Wheels program. 

The Hotel and Occupancy Tax Fund request from the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce for the 77th Annual Peanut Festival for $7,000 was granted. This year’s festival will be held at the Grapeland City Park on Oct. 13-15. A request was also granted to The Loft for $1,000 for the Curtis Grimes Concert, to be held on Nov. 4.

A lengthy discussion was held regarding the pay scale for county employees for FY 2023. City Auditor Melissa Jeter explained how the pay scale was calculated and what increases needed to be made to make the pay equitable to the position, after which the changes were approved by the Court.

Commissioners voted to retain the 9 a.m. meeting time for the 2023 Fiscal Year. Also passed was the motion to purchase a 16’ Bumper-pull Hydraulic Dump trailer.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, developers for a solar farm project spoke to commissioners about a proposed project in the Crockett area. No action was taken on the subject at this time.

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HCHD votes to increase ambulance payment

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Houston County Hospital District LogoBy Jan White
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CROCKETT – During the Hospital Board Meeting held on Tuesday, Sept. 20, members voted to increase the monthly payment for their ambulance contract. The Ambulance Committee, after meeting with Regional Director Pete Wolf, discovered they had misread the terms of the contract. 

According to their three-year contract, which began in April 2020, the board agreed to pay $20,417 per month with an increase on the date of their anniversary in April 2021 to $367 per month. But there was an oversight, and the payment was not increased beginning in 2021. If contract terms were now met, the Hospital District would owe over $6k in back fees. However, the ambulance service did not ask the board for past reimbursement but simply requested that for the last seven months of the contract, they pay the $367 increase, amounting to approximately $20,784 per month. 

The board voted to pay the increase beginning in September, at the same time thanking the ambulance service for their generosity in not requiring the back payments. 

The board also voted to make several minor amendments to the 2021-22 budget in order to align with expenditures and comply with requirements. 

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Crockett VFD receives surplus military truck through program

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firefighterFrom Staff Reports

CROCKETT — The Crockett Fire Department has received a surplus military vehicle provided through the Department of Defense Firefighter Property Program. It also received a $20,000 grant through the Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program to install a slip-on unit on the truck. 

The truck has been painted nonmilitary colors, which is a stipulation of receiving the truck, and it has been outfitted with a large water tank and pump unit. 

The truck will be able to go into brush and forested areas, which will serve the department well in the suppression of wildfires. It will also serve as a valuable resource in water rescue operations. The Crockett Fire Department is always looking for volunteers and provides training. For more information, call (936) 544-5553. 

The department would like to thank the Texas A&M Forest Service for providing grant opportunities. “This will help us better serve our community. We are a smaller department with limited funding, and this will help us provide the services that our community needs,” said Jason Frizzell, Crockett FD Fire Chief. As a member agency of the Texas A&M University System, Texas A&M Forest Service is committed to protecting lives and property through various fire department assistance programs. 

The Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program is funded by the Texas Legislature and provides cost-share funding to rural volunteer fire departments for the acquisition of firefighting vehicles, fire and rescue equipment, protective clothing, dry hydrants, computer systems and firefighter training. 

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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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