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Broadband heading to northern Polk County

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081122 broadband north polk county

To be paid for with ARPA funds

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The Polk County Commissioners Court approved action regarding a request for proposals for rural internet connectivity to be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds during its regular meeting Tuesday.

“A little bit of history – previously we formed a committee in 2018 or 2019 that included our local vendors. We invited everyone to the table. It also had DETCOG representation. This was pre-COVID, pre-knowing we were going to get ARPA funds, this was pre pre pre,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said.

“The broadband committee appointed by the Court has been meeting since October 2021 to develop the plan to provide fiber access to all areas of the county that do not currently have service and specifically making sure that the black hole that currently exists in Precinct 3 starts closing some of those gaps.

“In November, the Court accepted water and interconnectivity in the unincorporated areas of the county as the primary projects that would be funded with ARPA funds. A request for proposals for rural internet connectivity for Polk County was issued on June 16 of 2022. We received proposals from Charter Communications, Eastex Telephone and LivCom and the broadband committee was given the opportunity to review the proposals and score them.

“The committee recommends to fund LivCom’s Option 1 which is backbone construction on Highway 59, 190 and 146 for a total county portion of $326,574.50 which is a 50/50 match. The committee further recommends funding the full proposal from Eastex for a total cost to the county of $4,268,025 which is a 40/60 match for a total project cost of just over $10 million.

“These projects are scheduled to be completed by the beginning of 2024. Basically, what these projects would do is fulfill the original goal of the committee to build a backbone or structure where children, local business and local residents would have access to internet communications.”

An interlocal agreement between the county and the Texas Department of Public Safety for a permanent commercial driver’s license facility in Polk County was approved.

“The purpose of this agreement is for the county to provide DPS a permanent CDL facility in Polk County in order for DPS to provide CDL skills testing. It will be located on county property adjacent to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff is okay with it. He’s reviewed everything. The current construction plan includes testing lanes, inspection, canopy range, office space, equipment storage and restrooms. The initial agreement has a 10-year term,” Murphy said.

A request from the Texas Department of Transportation for a special use permit for the bridge replacement on Sunflower Road/County Road 1077 over Big Sandy Creek in Precinct 4 was approved. “This is a formality with TxDOT through the national parks service to give them easement down there,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said.

Based on the recommendation of the appointed scoring committee, the Court approved the selection of J.C. Stoddard Construction as the construction manager for the two phases of the historic restoration of the Polk County Courthouse. The first phase will be selective demolition and the second phase will be the restoration and rehabilitation project. The extensive historic restoration and ensuing construction is part of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, a grant program administered through the Texas Historical Commission.

A prepositioned contract for disaster debris removal services with DRC Emergency Services was approved. The Court had previously approved DRC as secondary and TFR as primary, but upon further review learned that DRC was actually cheaper than TFR. While both have contracts, per FEMA requirement, the county must accept the lower bid, therefore, the Court approved changing the sequence and naming DRC primary, thus making TFR secondary.

The Court approved receiving and recording the district judges’ orders setting the FY2023 compensation for the county auditor, assistant auditors and 258th and 411th district court reporters, court coordinators, bailiffs and labor pool staff pursuant to Local Government Code.

A request from the City of Onalaska for the collection of their ad valorem taxes by Polk County Tax Assessor-Collector Leslie Jones Burks was approved.

Based on a request from the auditor’s office to begin the process of the FY2023 annual bids for precinct road materials, limestone, tires, oil and grease, gas, diesel, pest control services and motor grader blades, the Court approved advertising for bids.

In personnel matters the Court reviewed and approved personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting and also reviewed an authorized emergency hiring in the district attorney’s office. FY2022 budget revisions and amendments, as presented by the county auditor’s office, were also approved.

Although the Court was slated to discuss and consider award on the 2017 GLO DR 4332 (Harvey) Program, GLO Contract No. 20-065-018-C064 in old business, the item was tabled at the request of Precinct 1 Commissioner Guylene Robertson who wants to get more information.

During information reports, Murphy took the opportunity to review the Texas County & District Retirement System plan assessment.

“We received and approved this June 14, 2022. We wanted to revisit it because some people don’t realize the extent of this benefit.

Based on the different lengths of service to the county from 10 to 30 years of employment, it pays out 25% to 99% of your salary respectively. This is in addition to the health benefits. Through the basic plan option, the employee deposit rate is 7%. The county matches it by 250%. That’s a heck of a retirement plan.”

Murphy recognized Casey Lowrie, the county’s information technology and systems administrator, for her reappointment to the Texas Association of Counties Information Technology Advisory Council for 2022-2023. Lowrie is one of 11 across the state who was invited to join the advisory council.

Murphy also offered congratulations to Emily Banks Wooten and the Polk County Enterprise on recently receiving multiple awards at the annual Texas Press Association Convention.

Items on the consent agenda included:

• Approval of the schedules of bills;

• Approval of an update to the master street address guide;

• Approval to file a claim with the state comptroller, pursuant to Government Code Section 61.0015(B) for the reimbursement of a portion of the juror fees paid by Polk County during the period of April 1 through June 30;

• Ratification of an order authorizing a donation to Habitat for Humanity;

• Receipt of the treasurer’s FY2022 third quarter report;

• Approval of a request from the treasurer to open a new TexPool investment account for the American Rescue Plan Act funds;

• Approval of FY2023 budget for the contract with Texas Department of Family and Protective Services relating to Title IV-E Child Welfare Program;

• Ratification of a Statewide Automated Victim Notification Service (SAVN) FY2022 amendment; and

• Approval of the renewal of an agreement with Texas Document Solutions for printer/copier equipment services.

Joel McMahon, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Livingston, opened the
meeting with prayer.

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Former cia operative speaks

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080722 former cia agent speaks

James M. Olson, a former undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), recently spoke to the Republican Club of Polk County and its guests. Olson spoke about working undercover for seven past presidents, commenting that none of those years were as dire as what the country is presently facing. Olson is the author of two books, “Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying” and “To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence.” This is the second time Olson has spoken to the club, having also visited in August 2021. He served for over 30 years in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA, mostly overseas in clandestine operations. In addition to several foreign assignments, he was Chief of Counterintelligence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. Courtesy photo

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Big Sandy ISD information corrected

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080722 big sandy school

From Enterprise Staff

All of the back-to-school information for the Big Sandy Independent School District that ran in the special back-to-school supplement in the July 31 issue of the Polk County Enterprise was incorrect, including the date for the first day of school. Students in the Big Sandy ISD returned to school on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

The corrected information appears on page 3A of the August 7 issue. We sincerely regret the mistake and any confusion that resulted from it. Go Wildcats!

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Hometown mayor

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080722 hometown mayor

“When you have been here 50 years, you are kind of invested in your city, especially being a small town.”
— Onalaska Mayor James W. Arnett

By Brian Besch
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Onalaska elected one of its own in May when James W. Arnett won the bid for mayor. That may not sound like a big deal in the majority of East Texas, but for a town that has seen a steady climb in population and so many move-ins, having someone who knows the town could have advantages.

The polls would say that is the case. Defeating Paul Laverty and Bart Goldsmith, Arnett convincingly took more than 64% of the vote.

“Even being on city council for close to 15 years, it is still a different learning curve,” Arnett said of his first few months. “Most of the time, you don’t know the ins and outs of the daily stuff, so you have to get up to speed on things that have been in the works that you might not be privy to being on council.”

Arnett grew up in Onalaska, not too far from city hall. About 15 years ago, Arnett said he got into council for a desire to help his community. 

“When you have been here 50 years, you are kind of invested in your city, especially being a small town,” he said. “It has changed a lot. It is like Lake Conroe; you see the property values shooting way up because of supply and demand. Lake Conroe has sold out, so a lot of people are moving here because it is more of a rural city. We are starting to get to that point to where it’s not so rural anymore.”

The fingerprints of Arnett’s family can be seen throughout Onalaska. His father helped build the roads in the Canyon Park subdivision and helped in construction on one of the bridges before Arnett was born.

“The stories that I would hear from my great-grandmother — she kind of raised us — is they used to live in good farmland down there (where the lake is now). Her family used to work for the sawmill, because the sawmill used to be the biggest thing around here and bigger than anywhere else, from what I understand.

“You have seen the growth. You have to kind of embrace it the right way the best you can with city codes and things like that. Somebody asked me the other day about the population when I was a kid. It seems like I remember seeing a sign that said 300, 400 or 500 back then. We always had Smith Store and restaurant here, and up there where the donut shop is, there used to be a store there. When you would go out of town, there used to be a marina and restaurant. We didn’t have red lights and had a four-way stop sign. About 8 or 9 p.m., everything would shut down. Over there in Bridgeview, we used to go over there when we were kids and catch nutria rats and things like that and sell the pelts for $2 or $3. You can’t do any of that anymore. You could go fishing anywhere too, just pull up and put your pole out.It is totally different (now).”

Arnett said once the high school came in, change came about at a quicker rate.

“I want to say it was $13 or $14 million building the high school out here. As soon as they got finished with it, we had an influx and it was too small. Right now, they are looking at having to build another building at the high school. The elementary school here is just brimming and overfull. As each graduating class comes through, it keeps getting bigger and bigger. You can gauge it from there, the families that are moving in and population growth.”

He feels the city has gotten behind on its roadwork and infrastructure, and one of Arnett’s main goals while mayor is to play catch up on that issue. Prices to complete road work have soared, and issues that needed to be taken care of first — like recovery after the tornado — jumped to the front of the line. Onalaska was able to recover quickly from that deadly storm of April 2020, Arnett says, through the community supporting each other. Yet, one of the lingering effects that council is currently tackling are the houses that were left behind.

“I am pretty big on clean up. We actually just cleaned up nine abatement houses. It is a three- or four-month process. You send them the letters and follow the steps before you can do it, but we had nine on the books. We kind of went over budget on that, but that was expected. We actually have four that are left on the books that is going to have to wait until the next budget. You can’t really plan for (damage from a tornado). Luckily, the state came in and helped us clean up. There were debris contracts already in place. It was just millions and millions of dollars.”

The city is currently looking into grants to help financially with infrastructure that cannot be supported with city funds. A full-time maintenance worker has been hired and a difference can be seen in the right of ways and at the city park. On the right day, Arnett himself can be found helping clean the park. A long-range plan is to construct another restroom at the park.

The pet population has become another concern. The city has partnered with the SPCA and plans are for spay and neuter clinics, as well as free vaccine days. The hope is to set a September date in the near future.

The mayor said he sees a much different look to Onalaska in 10 years. Much of the area that is now woodland, he expects to be growth, if development keeps on its current trajectory.

“You hear about a developer wanting to do this and that, and if it comes to fruition, you will see a population growth that is more than the rest of the county. We are seeing a lot of residential, but it is a little bit of everything. There are some subdivisions that I hear about that will be developed with a little bit bigger tracks of land. There has never been growth around where I live, but going out toward the high school is experiencing growth and everything is selling even at today’s prices.

“I hear talk of a hotel possibly, and it is something that we really want. It kind of trickles back to fishing tournaments and different things that could be lured in for tourism money and just a weekend getaway. Since Covid, people are coming here for weekend getaways. Just me driving around and from what I understand, the trailer parks are always full and some of them are full-timers, as we call them, but there are a lot of those just for the weekend.”

The Enterprise learned from County Appraiser Chad Hill that property in Polk County has reached peak demand, with developers selling neighborhood plots before they can be planned. Arnett says it is no different in his area.

“They don’t have utilities or anything like that and if they hear that it is going to be developed, they want to buy it from you. There was one at the Trinity County line like that and they sold every lot in there. It ranged from five to 10 acres and they are steadily building houses out there now.

“I hear there is going to be a development just past the high school and people are already talking about buying out there. And (developers) are just talking about the first processes of it. All around the high school is going to be developed out there.

“It would be nice if we could attract a big industry-type business and something that sustains 100 or 200 jobs. That would be such a beneficial deal out here. We’ve kind of looked around, but it is hard to attract some business types.”

Arnett said the lake is the obvious attraction to Onalaska, but feels many are moving out of the cities to the area for the laid back and rural lifestyle. He related stories that it is still the type of town that people wave and talk to their neighbors, one where you know most everyone in the neighborhood.

“I think a lot of people like that.” 

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Burn ban, personnel on agenda

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080722 burn ban on agenda

The Onalaska City Council considered extending the burn ban during its regular meeting Tuesday.

In personnel matters, Council considered approval of Macy George as a full-time office assistant and Joshua Watson as a full-time school resource officer, both with the standard 90-day probationary period.

A presentation on behalf of the Polk County Long Term Recovery Board is on the agenda.

Reports will be presented on behalf of the police department, fire department, fire marshal/building inspector, library representative and city administrator.

Other items on the agenda include approval of the minutes, payment of vouchers and financial reports.

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