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Polk County News - Breakout

County’s credit rating improves

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072822 county credit rating

County judge’s, auditor’s offices commended

By Emily Banks Wooten
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(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series covering the latest meeting of the Polk County Commissioners Court. The budget workshop held by the Court will be covered in the July 31 issue.)

County Judge Sydney Murphy gave an update on the county’s long-term credit rating from Standard & Poor’s during the regular meeting of the Polk County Commissioners Court Tuesday.

“Our office, along with (County Auditor) Louis Ploth and James Gilley of U.S. Capital Advisors, met with Standard & Poor’s, the ratings analyst, on June 29 to determine a credit rating for Polk County,” Murphy said. “If you will recall in 2015, I believe it was, our credit rating slid down because of some of our practices. Anyway, we have been upgraded, even in this economy. We were able to upgrade from an A+ to a AA- which reflects S&P’s view of the county’s consistently positive operating results. My office specifically, and the Court, would like to thank Louis Ploth for all his assistance because it has been wonderful working with an auditor’s office that stays in constant communication and has been very, very helpful in looking at our risk, anything we are doing that he thinks might be an issue. He’s been very quick to point out and help us with that. So we do want to say a special thanks to Louis.”

The Court considered and approved an order authorizing the issuance of “Polk County, Texas Tax Notes, Series 2022;” levying a continuing direct annual ad valorem tax on all taxable property within the county to pay the principal of and interest on said notes and to create a sinking fund for the redemption thereof and the assessment and collection of such taxes; authorizing the sale thereof; enacting provisions incident and related to the issuance of said notes.
James Gilley, the county’s financial advisors, presented a bond sale summary to the Court.

“Yesterday morning we took bids in a competitive auction-type sale. Right before the bids were due, we had a total of 10 underwriters signed up to participate but we received a total of eight bids. We think this is an excellent result. The county got a lot of attention. The best bid went to P&C Capital Markets based out of Philadelphia and they submitted a true interest cost of 2.325311%. We think this is an excellent result.

“You’ll see we received bids from underwriters in financial centers across five different states. You got a lot of attention in Texas, these underwriters based out of Dallas. The whole country got a look at the county’s bonds. You’ll see there’s a cluster of bids right around 2.4%. P&C Capital Markets, they really wanted the county’s bonds so they outbid their competitors to the county’s advantage. The two best bids were separated by just seven basis points. And there was a pretty wide spread. The worst bid was .42% above the best bid.

“Again, we think that this is indicative that the county got a truly competitive interest rate. That shows that this is where the market thought the county’s bonds was as of yesterday morning. I think we had some good timing. The interest rates had been going up for a couple of months and then went down the last month, but not only that, but as Judge Murphy mentioned earlier, the county’s ratings upgrade from A+ to AA-, I think that certainly played a part in this excellent interest rate that the county received.

“S&P did cite the reason for the upgrade was the county’s consistent strong budgetary performance, strong reserves and your economy increasing. I think this is a long time coming but it’s certainly something to be proud of. Judge Murphy’s office and Louis Ploth’s office did an excellent job being prepared for it, coming with a lot of data and a lot of examples of the growth and everything that the county’s been doing but I’d also like to commend this governing body on the consistent conservative performance,” Gilley concluded.

The Court discussed a request to temporarily close a bridge in Precinct 1 located on FM 350 South at Tempe Creek.
“TxDOT is preparing plans to replace the existing bridge at this location and intends to close the bridge to all traffic for approximately 12 months,” Murphy said, prior to introducing TxDOT Area Engineer Clint Jones.

“We’ve submitted a request to close FM 350. We’ve looked at the feasibility of replacing this bridge and unfortunately, due to the type of construction that was used back in the 1960s, the type of structure, we cannot widen it due to how it was constructed. We can present to you some information that our design team has based on what we propose. We do not have a design yet but closing the road will help expedite the plans,” Jones said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Guylene Robertson asked Jones to discuss the pros and cons that he previously discussed with her about closing it and about the wetlands.

“On one side of the road is wetlands. When we have to do wetland mitigation that’s very expensive. We’ve looked at right of way acquisition. Due to the size of the bridge and the speed of the road, we would have to offset the alignment which would introduce a reverse curve on either side so we’d actually put a jog in a straight section of 350 that wasn’t previously there.

That’s not generally a good idea. We want to keep that road straight. As for acquisition of property, we’re looking at close to $600,000 in additional cost to the project. We just recently finished up a project where we did have to do wetland mitigation and that added $300,000 just in wetland mitigation that’s where we put money in a special account basically where we’re paying for the destruction of a wetland. So those two things alone, we’re looking at close to a million dollars added by not being able to close it.

“There are two alternate routes that can be used, FM 1988 or FM 3126. Ultimately, we’re going back with a wider bridge that’s going to be 46 foot wide and is going to make it a lot safer for foot traffic. We know there’s some pedestrians out there and there were some other extenuating factors. It’s going to save a considerable amount of money and time if we’re able to close the road, get in there and rip it out and replace it,” Jones said, adding that the timeline is currently FY 2027, although TxDOT is looking to accelerate it if they can.

“A lot of it rides on the Court’s decision today. We’d like to accelerate it and move it forward with a new structure that’s wider and safer,” Jones said.

“I know I’ve had several people calling me concerned about the bridge since I’ve been in office,” Robertson said. The Court approved the request.

Addressing the drought status, Murphy said, “I know some of you got rain. Some of us did not. We spoke to the Texas Forest Service which is who we reference and their recommendation is that we continue the countywide burn ban as it is.” The Court approved continuing the burn ban in the unincorporated areas of the county.

New boundary lines for Segno, South Polk County and Indian Springs volunteer fire departments were approved.

During the portion of the meeting reserved for informational reports, Murphy recognized County Clerk Schelana Myers Hock who was recently named “Clerk of the Year” during the 127th annual summer conference of the County & District Clerk’s Association of Texas. The award is given for distinguished and exemplary service. Hock has been in office since 2009 and this was her third time to be nominated.

In personnel matters the Court reviewed and approved personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting and reviewed two authorized emergency hirings, one at the sheriff’s office and one at the jail. An update to the personnel management system was also approved.

FY2022 budget revisions and amendments, as presented by the county auditor’s office, were approved.

Items on the consent agenda included:

• Approval of the schedules of bills;

• Approval of an order designating surplus property;

• Receipt of the county auditor’s monthly report, pursuant to local government code Sec. 114.025;

• Approval of an order accepting Wildwood Harbor Circle, Wildwood Harbor, Pine Point Circle and Oak Ridge Circle, located in Twin Harbors Subdivision in Precinct 2, as county roads and adding them to the master street address guide;

• Approval of contract renewal with Appriss Inc. to provide a statewide automated victim notification service;

• Approval of “no change” in the county road and bridge fee ($10) and the child safety fee ($1.50) authorized by the Texas

•Transportation Code, Sec. 502.401 - 502.403;

•Receipt of the county treasurer’s June 2022 report; and

•Approval of a request from Precinct 1 Constable Scott Hughes for asset forfeiture expenditures of seized property in the amounts of $1,571.61 for travel/training, $359 for communications and $400.26 for law enforcement supplies.

During the section of the meeting allowing for public comment, Billy Lambeth addressed the Court, commenting that he participated in the recent sheriff’s citizens academy and found it to be very educational. One evening he went on a “ride along” with deputies to Leggett ISD to look at the floor plans of the school buildings. Lambeth told about a “forced entry tool” that he’s researched and asked if the sheriff’s office had any. Murphy directed the question to Chief Deputy Rickie Childers who said that the sheriff’s office has three of them and that they’re assigned to each of the narcotics officers.

Polk County Maintenance Superintendent Jay Burks opened the meeting with prayer.

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Livingston Main Street Program receives recognition

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072822 LynnMainStreetLivingston Main Street Manager Lynn Riley shows off the certificate recognizing the City of Livingston’s Main Street Program as a 2022 Accredited Program by Main Street America and Texas Main Street. Courtesy photo

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The City of Livingston’s Main Street Program has been certified and recognized as a 2022 Accredited Program by Main Street America and Texas Main Street.

“We appreciate (Main Street Manager) Lynn Riley and all the Main Street board members that have worked hard to achieve this goal. We are so proud of Lynn and her staff,” City Manager Bill S. Wiggins said.

The City of Livingston was successful in achieving the designation as a Main Street City in 2005. The Livingston Main Street District consists of 10 blocks in the downtown area, bounded by Beatty Avenue, East Abbey Street, East Calhoun Street, North Jackson Avenue, North Tyler Avenue and West Church Street.

The Livingston Main Street Program offers building and business owners incentives in the form of foundation and roof repair, infrastructure repairs, painting, upgrades and matching grants for facade restoration. Other incentives include: design assistance, low interest loans, permit fee waivers, promotion of the downtown area and tax abatement.

Since 2005, the Livingston Main Street Program has disbursed over $200,000 in grants and incentives benefiting buildings in the Main Street District. This money was raised solely through local fundraisers. No state or federal funds are used in the Main Street Program.

The Texas Main Street Program is operated through the Texas Historical Commission. The national Main Street revitalization effort for historic downtowns was formed 40 years ago, and there has been a statewide Texas program since that time. The Texas Main Street Program is one of the oldest and largest in the nation.

The program was born of the belief that downtown revitalization is a crucial tool for enhancing the economic and social health of a community. In addition to being the most visible indicator of community pride and economic health, the historic downtown is also the foundation of the unique heritage of a community. The historic buildings in a downtown are prime locations for the establishment of unique entrepreneurial businesses and can also be tourism attractors, all of which add to the community’s sales tax collections and property values.

“Today, massive, look-alike retail centers permeate the national landscape, making it even more important that communities be proactive in saving and using their historic spaces to avoid becoming featureless places. Through guidance from the Texas Main Street Program, designated local Main Street programs will achieve thoughtfully designed, sensitively preserved, and economically vibrant town centers,” according to the Texas Historical Commission’s website.

The mission of the Texas Main Street Program is “to provide technical expertise, resources and support for Texas Main Street communities in accordance with the National Main Street Four Point Approach® of organization, economic vitality, design and promotion.”

Today, there are 90 official Texas Main Street communities across Texas that range in population from less than 2,000 to more than 300,000. Cumulatively, designated Texas Main Street communities have reported significant reinvestment into their historic downtowns.

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Big Thicket Display at Museum

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072822 museum display

Polk County Memorial Museum has a new informational display on the Big Thicket National Preserve which includes trail maps and unit descriptions. Did you know that one of the units of the Preserve is in Polk County? It is the Big Sandy Creek Unit, with trailheads near FM-1276, near the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation. This unit has three trails : Woodlands Trail; Beaver Slide Trail; and Big Sandy Trail. The Big Sandy Trail is an equestrian/bicycle trail - the only one in the Preserve that allows horses and bicycles. There is also a water trail at Big Sandy, the Big Sandy Creek Corridor Unit, which allows kayaks and canoes (no motorized boats.) Come by and plan your next hike! Polk County Memorial Museum is located at 514 W. Mill Street in Livingston. There is no fee to visit the museum. All maps and brochures are free. The museum is open 9 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Friday and the 2nd and 4th Saturdays. Courtesy photos

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Texas Ranger speaks to Rotary meeting

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072422 texas rangers at rotary

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Texas Ranger Eric Lopez presented a program to the Rotary Club of Livingston Thursday. Having grown up in the Rio Grande Valley, Lopez served in the U.S. Marine Corps, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northwest State University and is presently pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice from Lamar University. He worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety in New Caney, was promoted to criminal investigations in Houston, worked with the FBI for a while and was promoted to ranger in 2016 where he was stationed back in the

Rio Grande Valley before heading to East Texas to serve as ranger for Polk and San Jacinto counties.

Lopez explained that the organization that evolved into the Texas Rangers was formed in 1823 before Texas was even a state. He said Stephen F. Austin began establishing settlements in what was then Tejas and that these settlements were often raided by Comanche, Tonkawa and Karankawa Indians. Austin asked for “10 men … to act as rangers for the common defense.” Ten guys volunteered. Each man was provided a horse but that was all. They had to provide their own weapons.

Lopez said that following the Battle of Gonzales, Battle of the Alamo and Battle of San Jacinto, Texas officially gained independence from Mexico on April 21, 1836. Texas was a nation now and the Texas Rangers continued to protect its new citizens.

He said there are approximately 160 Texas Rangers and that the state is divided into six companies and that he serves in Company A.

Lopez said it is an agency that cannot be disbanded and that the rangers have handled many different types of crime over the years, from cattle rustlers to gambling, narcotics and riot suppression. He said at the turn of the century the rangers tried to maintain order out of chaos and that they are still focused on preserving the people and protecting them. He said the Texas Rangers are heavy on character, integrity and reputation and are trusted to investigate the most serious things.

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Goodrich ISD reviews STAAR results, extends superintendent

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072422 goodrich starr testing

By Brian Besch
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The Goodrich Board of Trustees heard STAAR results, renovation updates and approved the superintendent’s contract Thursday in the administration building.

Goodrich Principal Aubrey Vaughan and Associate Principal Brenda Williams presented STAAR results.

“It showed a lot of growth, that was the positive,” Goodrich Superintendent Daniel Barton said. “When you look at scores overall, there are learning gaps that still exist (from Covid). When you look at it from a score, they are not great, but they are not across the state. For us as far as the growth measure, that looked really good.”

Summer renovations progress for bathrooms, floors, windows and painting are on schedule for completion to start the academic year. Bathroom floors are completed and partitions are going in currently. A total of 41 windows have been installed, with 30 still to go. Barton mentioned how the windows “look great.”

In closed session, summer resignations and staffing were discussed and approved.

“We had a bunch of half-time, retired teachers because they could not fill the positions (just before Barton’s arrival) last year,” the superintendent said. “All of those people are gone, and we hired full-time teachers. We are fully staffed, which is great.”

There does remain one position on the elementary campus where a teacher accepted the job, then had a change of heart, remaining where she was employed. Barton said he expects to have that filled by next week.

Also in closed session, the superintendent’s contract was discussed and extended a year. Barton began at Goodrich under a two-year pact, and the latest move puts his contract in line with the standard in that role.

The current certified value of Goodrich ISD was reported at $189,822M. With the growth in Goodrich, the district was recently able to increase its compensation plan for employees.

Also discussed Thursday was professional development opportunities and activities of district staff, administrators, and board members, as well as minutes and financial reports. T-TESS appraisal calendar and appraisers, 2022-23 academic calendar, 2022-23 student code of conduct and an amendment to the 2022-23 compensation plan were all part of board decisions.

With a new business manager, the board transferred online banking management administration and check-signing privileges from the previous business manager.

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