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Polk County News - Breakout

County to eye strategic planning, long-term goals

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Polk County LogoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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The Polk County Commissioners Court discussed developing a strategic plan and long-term goals for guidance in the county budget process during its regular meeting Tuesday.

“Strategic planning should be the foundation of the budget and it should be updated every five to seven years with strategic goals updated annually. Basically, since I’ve been in office, first we went into survival mode, right, and so we really now need to go back and get input, especially now that we have so many new elected officials, we really would like input from every department, from every elected official on some of the things they think we should modify or address or that should be some of our strategic goals,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said.

“Our county is growing so fast, and we’ve had so many changes. I would like to move forward with some form of workshops. I think it would behoove us to make this a formal process. I would like to involve the chamber of commerce, the new economic development director, representatives of the business community,” Murphy said.

The commissioners asked Murphy to bring a proposed plan for the series of workshops to the next court meeting and she agreed to.

The Court approved Amendment No. 1 to Part III, Subpart B, of the agreement with Langford Community Services to include the dollar amount for grant administration of the water infrastructure projects to be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“At the time that the county entered into an agreement with Langford Community Services for grant administration of the ARPA-funded water infrastructure we did not yet have a scope of work and project costs and the amount to be paid for their services was simply based on a percentage of the ARPA funds allocated to the project. Since the scope of the work has been determined with a total construction cost of $2,891,000, Langford has provided an amendment to the agreement to lock in the dollar amount for their services at $128,722,” Murphy said.

Requests for capital purchases to be paid from the fund balance and included on the fiscal year 2023 reimbursement resolution for the year-end issuance of legally authorized debt were approved. These included after-market equipment on a leased vehicle for environmental enforcement in the amount of $7,693 and after-market equipment on six leased vehicles for the sheriff’s office in the amount of $89,398.

“The vehicles that were requested for the fiscal year 2023 budget were included in everybody’s fleet management vehicle lease program which leases the vehicles to Polk County on either a 12 or 48-month term. Police units and certain other units with after market costs have a 48-month term. Half of the cost is to be paid up front with the other half built in. So the goal of the units is to be sold at a high enough price that the return to the county pays for the bulk of the cost of the lease and eventually it will rotate and we will really start seeing the impact of this program,” Murphy said.

“Other counties and municipalities have drastically reduced their vehicle and maintenance cost by taking advantage of this program. So the monthly lease price is built into the operations budget while the after market equipment is included on our reimbursement resolution,” Murphy said.

The Court approved a request from the Texas Department of Transportation for a special use project for the bridge replacement on Sunflower Road/County Road 1077 over Big Sandy Creek in Precinct 4.

“TxDOT is working with BGE Inc. to develop the plans, specifications and estimates for the bridge replacement. The project location occurs within the Big Thicket National Preserve Big Sandy Unit on a 60-foot-wide prescriptive easement that the county maintains,” Murphy said. “Because of the project’s location, our prescriptive easement, and because it requires a special use permit for activities on Big Thicket National Preserve lands, then we have included the sub-application for TxDOT and its agent to start the boring process for purposes of collecting soil data to design the bridge and the structure.”

The Court approved advertising for request for proposals for an independent auditing firm to complete the fiscal year 2023 and fiscal year 2024 audits.

“We’ve been very satisfied with our current independent auditing firm, Belt Harris Pechacek, but TAC (Texas Association of Counties) and the Government Financial Officers Association recommend that we review the options for outside auditing firms every five to seven years and the last time that the Court put out an RFP (request for proposal) for an independent audit was in 2004 and Belt Harris Pechacek has been completing our audit since then. We are currently spending over $70,000 for our annual independent audit which is over the amount of money that we can spend so we are preparing a request for proposal for an initial term of two years with an option to renew for two additional two-year terms which is basically what we have in place,” Murphy said.

Although the Court was slated to consider approval to begin procurement for the fiscal year 2023-24 Community Development Block Grant application cycle and appoint a rating committee, the Court ended up voting to delete the item from the agenda.

“We had put out requests for grant administrators and we did not receive any back and at this time since we have received CDBG monies for the last two years then we would lose a lot of points because we’ve already received grants,” Murphy explained.

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 jail and one in human resources.

The Court approved the fiscal year 2023 budget revisions and amendments as presented by the county auditor’s office.

During informational reports, County Clerk Schelana Hock provided an update regarding voter registration.

“We have updated some of the streets to reflect the correct districts. We have been working with the City of Onalaska, the City of Livingston, the Corrigan, Goodrich and Onalaska school districts to make sure that all their lines are straight, that the streets are in the city limits. We secured a drive with IT to start scanning all the applications and are going paperless and we’ve worked with Emergency Management to make sure we have all the streets correct,” Hock said.

The Court also heard the annual report from the Polk County AgriLife Extension Office which will be presented in a stand-alone story in the March 5 issue.

Items on the consent agenda included:

Approval of the minutes of the Feb. 14 regular meeting;

Approval of the schedules of bills;

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

Approval of interlocal agreements with the City of Livingston and Goodrich ISD for the county’s provision of election equipment and services for the May 6 election, as recommended by the county clerk;

Approval to reschedule the regular commissioners court session set for May 23 to May 30;

Approval of renewal of agreement with Polk County Community Service Restitution program of the 258th and 411th Judicial District Community Supervision and Corrections Department;

Approval of Precinct 1 Constable Scott Hughes’ request to appoint Kent Martindale to reserve deputy constable to replace Keagan Newman;

Receipt of the county treasurer’s monthly reports for December and January; and

Acceptance of a donation of two polimaster personal radiation detectors from the City of Houston Public Safety and Homeland Security Office for the Office of Emergency Management.

Rev. Brian Wharton of the First United Methodist Church of Onalaska opened the meeting with prayer.






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Rotary hears about Polk County Cares

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Toni Cochran HughesToni Cochran Hughes

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Polk County Cares recently held its 10th annual Crawfish/Shrimp Boil, selling out several days before the event. Fifty-eight reserved tables were sold in addition to numerous individual tickets. To date, $129,664 has been raised and will be divided three ways – between Polk County Cares, F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and Center of Hope-Cancer Support.

Toni Cochran-Hughes, one of the founders of the nonprofit Polk County Cares, recently spoke to the Rotary Club of Livingston, telling them about the organization.

“I was born and raised here and Polk County is very important to me. I was raised to give back to the community that has done so much for us. In 2012 my best friend, Lisa Mayhugh, was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband Scott and I decided to form a team for the local Relay for Life, which was a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. We raised a few thousand dollars that first year. In 2014 I told Scott we should have a crawfish boil fundraiser. Had either of us had a crawfish boil before? No, but I told Scott we’ve been to enough we will figure it out. We continued with our crawfish boil and auction for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life being the top fundraising team in Polk County and one of the top teams in our region for 6 years,” Cochran-Hughes said.

“In 2018, Scott and I were visiting with Bea and Dan Ellis about F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and their expenses. Scott and I went home and talked about how we could help. We invited F.A.I.T.H. to join our crawfish boil, splitting the money between the American Cancer Society and F.A.I.T.H.,” she said.

“In 2019, Scott and I wanted to continue to help in the fight against cancer, but we wanted to help local cancer patients. I spoke with Jeanie Binns and discovered that Center of Hope was in the planning stages of forming an organization to help Polk County cancer patients with travel expenses. Scott and I prayed about it and asked Center of Hope-Cancer Support to join us,” she said.

“In 2020, we were lucky enough to be one of the last events before the COVID shutdown. During the shutdown, Scott and I started talking about how we could help more people is our area. We formed Polk County Cares, a 501(c)3 organization that partners with the community to support local charities. Our purpose is to raise funds to be distributed to qualifying non-profit organizations in Polk County. I have a few application packets if anyone is interested,” Cochran-Hughes said.

“In 2021 with COVID still out there, we decided to have our crawfish boil as a drive-thru event and have some raffle items and it was very successful. Last year Polk County Cares donated over $60,000 to Center of Hope-Cancer Support and F.A.I.T.H. In July, Polk County Cares held its first fish fry, serving Hughes Catfish Inn famous catfish. We raised over $6,000.

“We have come a long way in the last 10 years. The first year we boiled 450 pounds of crawfish for about 150 people. This year we will boil over 1,500 pounds of crawfish and 475 pounds of shrimp for over 500 people. Over the last 11 years we have raised over $550,000,” she said.

Cochran-Hughes closed by thanking the 2023 crawfish fundraiser sponsors, as well as the Polk County Cares Board of Directors which includes Yana Ogletree, Becca Dillon, Russ Johnson, Scott Hughes, Sandi Karns, Stephen Moye and Scott Smith.

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White Cane Day is Friday

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From Enterprise Staff

The Livingston Lions Club will host its annual White Cane Day fundraiser Friday with representatives at First National Bank’s downtown location, First National Bank’s westside location and First State Bank’s downtown location.

In 1925, Helen Keller challenged the Lions to become “knights for the blind.” Lions began fundraising efforts to provide white canes for the blind. White Cane Day is a day set aside when Lions Clubs raise money for various eye conservation and sight restoration projects. Individuals making donations receive a symbolic white cane.

The motto of Lions Clubs International is “We Serve.” Lions are civic-minded men and women who are dedicated to improving quality of life for the handicapped, the poor, the sick, and the aged. Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service organization.

Through events such as White Cane Day, Lions Clubs provide funding and manpower to promote the eye and corneal tissue donor education campaign for the Lions Eye Bank of Texas at Baylor College of Medicine. For more information about the Lions Eye Bank of Texas contact your local club.

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2 26 bingo supper

A Fat Tuesday bingo supper featuring authentic Cajun gumbo and king cake was the perfect combination for a successful second annual scholarship fundraiser hosted by the Onalaska First United Methodist Church. A $25 ticket entitled the holder to supper, two bingo cards and numerous chances to win prizes. About $5,000 was raised through the event and all proceeds will go toward scholarships for seniors graduating from Onalaska Junior/Senior High School. The fundraiser was the brainchild of Mary Helen Wolf, a member of Onalaska FUMC. Wolf’s mother, Nita Barker Regan, funded scholarships for graduating seniors in her community for many years and derived great joy from it. Wolf decided to do it in her community of Onalaska and name it after her mother. Roger Malaison, a church member originally from Louisiana, made the gumbo. The church fellowship hall was decorated in a Mardi Gras theme. With the funds raised, Wolf said they will be able to give either four or five $1,000 Nita Barker Regan Scholarships to Onalaska students this spring. Courtesy photo

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Natural resources field tours available

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NaturalResources Stock

From Enterprise Staff

Are you a landowner in Polk County? Do you enjoy bird watching in East Texas? Do you enjoy hunting deer? Are you interested in learning how to professionally manage land in East Texas? Do you want to learn how to improve wildlife habitat on your property?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, make sure to attend the 2023 East Texas Natural Resources Field Tours, free tours of professionally managed sites across east Texas.

Guided tours by professionals will allow participants a chance to gain in field knowledge of managing habitats, wildlife, and fisheries resources of East Texas. All tours will depart from the AgriLife Extension office located at 602 E. Church St. in Livingston at 8 a.m., but transportation and lunch will not be provided. RSVP is required. For more information and to RSVP call the Polk County AgriLife Extension office at 936-327-6828.

The first tour is Friday and it is the East Texas Plant Material Center, Winston 8 Ranch, SFA Experimental Forest.

The next tour is May 5 and is deer management in the field with TPWD wildlife biologist and recovery of bobwhite quail in Polk County.

The next tour is July 7 and is fisheries management in Lake Livingston and waterfowl management.

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