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City makes tough decision, cancels Hometown Christmas

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carriage rideCARRIAGE RIDE FILE PHOTO - Livingston Hometown Christmas was canceled because of Covid-19 concerns. The annual event was scheduled to take place Saturday, Dec. 12.

By Jason Chlapek

LIVINGSTON — A popular annual event in Livingston will not take place this year.

Livingston Hometown Christmas, which was scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12, was canceled because of Covid-19. While there is public outrage over the annual event’s cancellation, Livingston city manager Bill Wiggins assures that he and his staff did everything it could to hold the event.

“We (City of Livingston staff) are just as disappointed about the cancellation of Hometown Christmas,” Wiggins said. “This is an event that me and my family look forward to every year. Me, my wife, our two children and our four (now five) grandchildren have all attended it.”

Wiggins said there were several alternate plans to save Hometown Christmas. But, after several talks with county health officials, the decision was made to cancel.

“This event brings in between 5,000-7,000 people, and we wouldn’t be able to control a crowd of that size,” Wiggins said. “There was nothing political about this decision. This decision was made with the safety and health of our citizens, vendors and staff.”

Hometown Christmas began in 2000, and had visitors from all over East Texas, according to Wiggins. Other events associated with Hometown Christmas, such as the Jingle Bell Fun Run and Lighted Christmas Parade have been canceled as well.

“We held off from making a final decision as much as we could,” Wiggins said. “But events like this require a lot of planning, and we couldn’t afford to wait until the last minute to make a decision.”

Although Hometown Christmas is canceled, Wiggins said the city still plans to put Christmas lights up around downtown, Pedigo Park and other parts of the city. The lighting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

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COVID CRUSADER: Retired physician taking stand against virus

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                               JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Retired U.S. Army Col. And Dr. Ronald Tolls is an advocate for Covid safety.

By Jason Chlapek

LIVINGSTON — Ronald Tolls has held a few titles during his 80 years of life.

Among those are U.S. Army Colonel and Doctor. Tolls has an unofficial title these days — Covid Crusader.

Inspired by friends who relocated from Houston to Livingston during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the retired doctor is taking it upon himself to help prevent the spread of the virus around the Livingston community. He believes it is easier to spread than other illnesses as well.

“The first thing that happened is we had a couple that I vaguely knew from our church who were displaced from Houston. They’ve been with us ever since,” Tolls said. “I became aware of it acutely that Covid had spread and was highly communicable. People who were in nursing homes have a high fatality rate. I’ve since been following the CDC recommendations and I think they were off track for a while because they thought it was spread like a common cold or the Spanish Influenza. But in fact, it can be spread via aerosol, which is akin to the smoke that we smell around a bonfire. In other words, it’s far beyond the six feet.”

Tolls has taken his mission to the Livingston Walmart. He believes the virus is more likely to be spread there as opposed to churches or schools.

“In our church, we have social distancing,” Tolls said. “But at Walmart, it has all fallen on the wayside. About a month ago, I did a tally at Walmart and I found that 50% of employees were wearing their masks improperly. I’m a staunch believer that the No. 1 spread of Covid is not in our churches or in the open marketplace. It’s in shops. Walmart is the principal retailer in town. A third of the people that come in are not even wearing masks. I am eager to raise awareness and what I’m proposing is that, with all respect to Walmart because next to (Livingston ISD) they’re our No. 1 employer in town, we get a systemized program at Walmart. They’re examples to the rest of our community. They can beat their chest and say ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re not killing you by selling cigarettes as much as we’re trying to save you from Covid.’ Cigarettes will shorten your lifespan by 10 years and those very same people have the audacity to go out and have a team on Relay For Life.”

During Tolls’ time at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, University of London, he learned about a man named Sir John Snow. During the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854, Snow figured out a way to slow down the spread of the disease.

“In the social area of London (in 1854), there were 500 fatalities in 10 days,” Tolls said. “Somebody asked John Snow what they should do about it. He said to take the handle off of the Broadstreet Pump. He had a box of pins and a map of that region. Essentially, in 1854, John Snow was a couple of generations ahead of his time. I will never be able to prove things like he did. I will never be able to prove with pins like he did. What I would like to do is promote a program at Walmart and other businesses will follow suit. I would like to see them do it in good face. I want our Walmart to be an example to the community.”

Tolls retired from practicing medicine three years ago. In addition to Walmart, he is interested in talking to other high-traffic businesses in Livingston.

“I think there’s something people need to know about and I think they need to know how to stop the spread of Covid,” Tolls said. “It’s killed 200,000 Americans. It behooves us to do something about it. I’d be quite willing to talk to other stores as well.”

He’s staying on the crusade.

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County commits funds to regional communications infrastructure

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                               JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Byron Lyons addresses commissioners about an agenda item that he wants tabled during Tuesday morning’s Commissioners Court. The item was tabled.

By Jason Chlapek

LIVINGSTON — Polk County commissioners approved a measure that will help not just their own county, but other counties as well during Commissioners Court Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.

The measure is a resolution authorizing the commitment of county funds and participation in a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project by the Deep East Texas Council Of Governments (DETCOG) for regional interoperable radio communications. Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy believes this is a good move.

“A few years ago, one of our Sheriff’s deputies was shot at and he was unable to get out and his radio wasn’t working so he couldn’t get help,” Murphy said. “What we’re trying to do is get interoperable communications with the entire 12-county DETCOG region and build a network across those counties that will allow us to have interoperability for emergency management, law enforcement, first responders or anybody that needs to be in communication in a crisis situation or circumstances. If we can get this done, then they’re asking for a commitment of 1 percent from the cog, which is huge. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these counties to be able to get good interoperability.”

The DETCOG region consists of 12 counties that include Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties. The project calls for some communication structure.

“It’s going to be upgraded technology where towers will be placed strategically,” Murphy said. “For example, let’s say Polk County ends up with a tower. That tower will be powerful enough to cover part of Liberty County, part of Trinity County or part of Tyler County depending on where the tower is located. The idea is to put ‘umbrellas’ over the entire DETCOG region to where everybody is covered regardless of where the location of the tower is. It’s a regional plan.”

Commissioners also approved a measure to submit a CDBG grant application for flood and drainage improvement in a subdivision in Precinct 1. The Precinct 1 Road & Bridge Department will match the funds.

“What happens when you receive these grants, there’s a matching portion,” Murphy said. “They don’t just give you the money. You have to have ‘skin in the game.’ It’s a matching grant. Some of the HUD requirements that those people be low to moderate income. To be LMI, it’s based on the average income for that county. The average income for Polk County is lower than the average income for Montgomery County based on the businesses and what people make. The cost of living is also higher in Montgomery County. The LMI is what qualifies certain areas. Let’s say you live by the lake and you have a home with a low monetary value, but it’s right next to a mansion. The mansion skews it and does not allow the person living in the smaller home to receive as much funding or assistance because the value for that area is so high. HUD has set up requirements for LMI and that gives you points for when you apply for those grants. The lower the income, the more assistance you will be providing and the more points you get when you make application. The LMI is what qualifies that subdivision based on the conditions and the amount of money the people living in that area make.”

Also approved was a measure for county transportation infrastructure. The Texas Department of Transportation is partnering with the county.

“Our agreement with TxDOT is to help replace some bridges and culverts or things like that,” Murphy said. “Our agreement is to allow them to proceed and each commissioner will communicate with TxDOT engineers to get what those precincts need. We’re trying to streamline the operation as much as possible and allow it to be simplified.”

The next Commissioners Court takes place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.

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Big Sandy bids farewell to board members

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                               JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Trustees Glen Goodwin (second from left) and Lee Ann Cain (second from right) receive a round of applause for their service with the Big Sandy ISD school board.Both Cain and Goodwin served their final meetings as trustees for the district. Neither one sought reelection for their terms, which expire Nov. 3.

By Jason Chlapek

POLK COUNTY — Monday night’s Big Sandy ISD school board meeting was the finalone as trustees for Lee Ann Cain and Glen Goodwin.

Both trustees’ terms expire on Nov. 3, and neither one sought reelection. Goodwin was with the school board for 15 years, while Cain served four.

“They really helped the district grow,” Big Sandy ISD Superintendent Eric Carpenter said. “They had good insight, good knowledge and worked well together. It’s a good board.”

Four trustee positions are up for elections with newcomer Darrell Murphy and current trustees Mark Duff and Quentin Matthews running unopposed for Positions 2, 5 and 6, respectively. William Handy Jr. and Kabe Murphy are running for Position 4. Carpenter announced to the board that the Texas Education Agency approved the district’s Asynchronous Learning Plan. The TEA approved it on the first try.

“It’s a compliment to our principals,” Carpenter said. “The Asynchronous Plan is how you’re going to utilize a learning management system, which for us is Google Classroom and how you’re going to instruct students virtually. The TEA had a template to work from and we received some good guidance from Region VI in Huntsville, who helped the administration develop it and even proofed it and gave it back to us and we made some adjustments before we submitted it.”

The school board also approved Native American Policies and Procedures for the 2020-21 school year. The Big Sandy ISD student body is approximately 25% Native American.

“We receive federal funds and have policies in place,” he said. “After meeting with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, particularly their Education Department, we developed those policies and procedures. We usually do this in October.”

The board also approved retrofit lighting to be installed in the gymnasium and a study on property values from 2012. Carpenter likes to perform retroactive property value studies.“You can do property value studies from past years to try to recoup money,” he said. “We use our tax attorneys to go and look at the data from our property values to try and garner additional funding.”

Big Sandy ISD meets again at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16.

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Point Blank bringing in revenue

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point blank doc

By Jason Chlapek

POINT BLANK — The City of Point Blank brought in nearly $10,000 more than expected during the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Point Blank Mayor Mark Wood reported to council aldermen during the monthly city council meeting on Oct. 12 that the total income for the previous fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 was $121,270. The projected total income for the fiscal year was $111,400.One of the things Wood believes helped the city was its sales tax revenue. It has gone up each of the last seven years from $40,964.50 in 2013-14 to $76,854.20 in 2019-20.

“One of the more interesting charts is the sales tax that the city’s received during the fiscal year,” Wood said. “In 2014, we were at $40,000, which averaged about $3,400 a month. Now we’re getting $76,000, which is averaging $6,400 a month. This substantial increase is due to getting all of the people on the tax rolls that needed to be. This has stayed constant.”

During the previous fiscal year, the lowest the city took in sales tax revenue was $4,177.51, which was during the statewide shutdown because of Covid-19. However, the city bounced back to collect more than $6,000 per month in each of the last five months of the fiscal year, including a seven-year high of $9,055.57 in August.

“This comes from people living up here as opposed to just using their summer or vacation homes,” Wood said. “Instead of going back to Houston, they’re either working up here or moving up here. If you look at Point Blank, you won’t see any houses for sale. This is unusual and I don’t know how long it’s going to last; if it’s purely Covid-related or if it’s an honest increase in population. This is Precinct 4 and this is where thepredominant development in San Jacinto County is. It’s a little hard to tell how much of this is actually from Covid and how much of it is real growth. We’re a retirement community and I don’t see anything dynamic. It’s pretty interesting.”

While there is some growth in Point Blank, Wood said that growth in commerce would be more beneficial as opposed to just residential growth. He also said there have been rumors going around that his city has been mentioned in the talks of being in or along the Interstate 14 corridor, which is expected to follow the US Highway 190 corridor.

"I don’t think a lot of people want growth,” Wood said. “It would be nice to have some jobs and industry here. There’s a lot of things going on.”

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