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Polk County News - Breakout

Onalaska authorizes rate increase

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From Enterprise Staff

During its regular meeting Feb. 14, the Onalaska City Council approved authorizing the mayor to sign a modification to the waste collection service contract, authorizing an increase in rates not to exceed 10%, effective May 1 due to the increasing cost of service.

Darla Dear of Belt Harris Pechacek LLLP of Houston presented the fiscal year 2021-2022 annual audit which Council approved following her presentation.

In personnel matters, Council accepted the resignations of Police Officer Bailey Deaton and Telecommunications Operator Adron Seward, both in good standing.

Council approved budget amendments for the fiscal year 2021-2022 annual budget.

Reports were presented on behalf of the police department, fire department, fire marshal/building inspector and library representative.

Other business included approval of the minutes, vouchers and financial reports.

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Participation needed to increase broadband services

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By Emily Banks Wooten
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Efforts have been underway for some time to improve broadband internet access throughout rural East Texas and the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) has led the charge with its broadband initiative. However, discrepancies regarding local broadband internet service could decrease the amount of funding available. Time is running out and in order for Polk County to maximize its broadband service, these discrepancies must be corrected.

Local citizens are being asked to complete a quick internet survey from their home or business, regardless of their provider or level of service. As many people as possible need to complete the testing so that the needs of the county may be evaluated. To participate in the quick survey, go to the website at https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/7218052/Deep-East-Texas-Internet-Speed-Test or click here to test the site.

“We are encouraging everyone to assist their employees, residents, members, etc. in completing the survey. The data will allow Polk County, DETCOG and the State Broadband Office to make more educated decisions with regard to internet and broadband capabilities. We cannot stress enough the importance of maximum participation in this program from all areas of the county,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “Please forward the survey information to anyone who might be interested or benefit. We want to improve our coverage for educational, medical and business purposes, along with a multitude of other reasons.

Murphy said the county is hosting a meeting to discuss the DETCOG broadband mapping project at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the temporary county judge’s office located at 410 E. Church St. “If your organization is having any difficulties or has any problems with the website link, please let us know and plan on attending the meeting,” she said.

DETCOG Executive Director Lonnie Hunt said he has received numerous inquiries concerning the new broadband maps, having found so many discrepancies with the map released late last year. Then, the Texas Broadband Development Office released the new state broadband map and it, too, appears to contain many inaccuracies.

“If not corrected, this could mean less money coming to Deep East Texas to solve our broadband issues,” Hunt said.

DETCOG’s broadband project manager, Mickey Slimp, put together a summary for each of the 12 DETCOG counties and forwarded those reports to each county.

“We will share this with other government and community leaders, too, and encourage you to share it with other partners that could be helpful in getting together the information needed to challenge the state map,” Hunt said.

“The State of Texas will be distributing funding for broadband based on the following Texas State Broadband Office map. Areas showing as blue on the map are considered well covered by existing or anticipated providers, so no funds will be forthcoming. Areas in orange are considered ‘underserved,’ meaning they are reported to have 25 to 100 mbps available for every household, so will be a second priority for funding. No homes in Polk County are shown as unserved, which is the priority area for funding,” Hunt said.

“We need to assess the map provided by DETCOG to assess the accuracy of the information. Quite obviously, this map contains a plethora of misinformation since it claims that we have zero residents that are unserved. I myself am unserved,” Murphy said.

“If we do not correct the information at this time, then we will have to live with the map as it is. The challenges may include cities, schools, economic development/chambers of commerce, businesses, VFDs, co-ops, etc. Since internet/broadband technology is essential to daily life and will only gain in importance, we must make every effort to improve service to our residents and children/students, medical and business community, elderly and indigent residents, along with providing service to visitors,” Murphy said.

“As earlier noted, DETCOG is available to help counties and political subdivisions dispute inaccuracies in the state broadband map. Disputes to the map must be made at a census block level and include proof from 20% of the homes in the block that they are and will be underserved by the existing and proposed technologies,” Slimp said.

“As individuals complete the speed test on the website, the data will be fed into a spreadsheet that will automatically add the coordinates of latitude and longitude required for a dispute and sort the respondents by county and by census block,” Slimp said.

“This information needs to be distributed as widely as possible including to utility customers, news outlets, businesses, companies, schools and parents, churches, firefighters, chambers, civic clubs, and anyone in your communities who are interested in improved broadband. We are targeting at least 15,000 responses from our region,” Slimp said.

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Livingston to get charging stations

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2 19 ChargingStation

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The Livingston City Council approved the installation of two electric vehicle charging stations during its Feb. 14 regular meeting.

“We were contacted by the Holiday Inn and also by Tesla regarding putting in some electric vehicle charging stations. Holiday Inn wants to put in two and Tesla wants to put in eight,” City Manager Bill S. Wiggins said.

“This gives the City of Livingston the opportunity to sell a lot more electricity. Beside the increase in revenue, I think it will bring more people to our community. I think this is good news. And there is absolutely no cost to the city,” Wiggins said.

The stations will be located at Holiday Inn Express at 120 Southpoint Lane and at Best Stop at 1155 E. Church St.

Council ordered the May 6 general election for the election of three councilmembers. The three councilmembers who are up for reelection are Clarke Evans, Elgin Davis and Dr. Ray Luna. All three incumbents have filed and a fourth person, Bobby Jackson, has also filed.

Council approved a proposed resolution establishing procedures for the May 6 general election and also approved an interlocal agreement with Polk County for use of the county-owned voting and election equipment, election supplies and election services for the election.

Carrie J. Hill was slated to make a presentation to Council to request a modification to the Sept. 14 final order of abatement of unsafe and/or dilapidated buildings at 154 Banks Drive. Following her presentation, Council was going to discuss and consider possible action modifying the final order of abatement. However, Hill was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council accepted the Livingston Police Department’s 2022 racial profiling report in accordance with Article 2.134(b) of the Texas Criminal Code of Procedure. In other police department business, Council approved amendments to the police department’s policy. Policies amended included 202 (emergency plan management), 305 (officer-involved shootings and deaths), 429 (medical aid and response and 1031 (line of duty deaths).

Back in October, Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency, the city’s electricity provider, deeded the Livingston Substation and the Ogletree Substation back to the city. While the city’s electrical crew handles the routine maintenance, bids were let for the annual inspections and maintenance of the two substations. Council approved awarding the bid to Dashiell at a cost of $44,110.

During his monthly report on events and development projects, Wiggins reported that the Livingston Area Fire Training School is slated for Feb. 25 at 8 a.m. with the opening ceremony scheduled for the night before. Wiggins reported that the Livingston Farmers & Artisan Market held at Anniversary Park will be up and running the first and third Saturdays of the month beginning March 4.

Livingston Main Street will host its Meet & Greet at 5 p.m. March 9 at the Across the Tracks Live Music Venue located at 309 N. Jackson. This is an opportunity for business owners in the downtown historic district to meet and get to know each other, as well as an opportunity for Main Street Manager Lynn Riley to inform everyone of the opportunities that are offered through the program.

Friends of the Library will host its book fair March 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Livingston Trade Days is slated for March 18-19 at Pedigo Park and will feature the Spring Outdoor Expo on March 18.

The Trinity-Neches Livestock Show is slated for March 27 through March 31 at the Barney Wiggins Memorial Park. The City of Livingston will host its annual Easter Eggstravaganza April 12 at Pedigo Park with Easter bunny pictures starting at 9:30 a.m. and the egg hunt starting at 11 a.m.

Wiggins also reported that the city staff is researching several recreational activities, including disc golf, a youth bicycle jump zone area and pickleball courts.

Other business included payment of accounts over $500 and approval of the minutes of the Jan. 10 regular meeting.


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Court reviews county projects, approves fireworks sales

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Polk County LogoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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Prior to its regular meeting Tuesday, the Polk County Commissioners Court participated in a workshop to review the process for, and significance of, the selection of county projects that will receive funding through the Hurricane Harvey Regional Mitigation Program. Leslie Waxman with David J. Waxman Inc. and Pat Oaks with Goodwin Lasiter Strong were there to provide information.

When the Court convened in regular session, an order authorizing the sale of fireworks during the Texas Independence Day period of Feb. 25 through midnight March 2 was approved, as the Court had previously consulted with the emergency management coordinator, the local volunteer fire departments and the Texas Forest Service.

Due to pending litigation in the 411th Judicial District, the Court approved rescheduling its May 9 and May 23 meetings to May 16 and May 30.

The Court receives a nuisance abatement hearing determination for Cause Numbers A00519 and A00532 and approved orders to abate the nuisance.

A residential property donation consisting of .4706 acre in Yaupon Cove Subdivision in Precinct 2 with a market value of $15,375 was considered, with the Court ultimately rejecting the donation. There are a little over $1,200 in back taxes due and the property cannot be auctioned without a settlement.

The Court approved requests for a variance from Polk County subdivision regulation design standards Section 8.B.2 for Marston Manor located in Precinct 3 and also approved subdivision regulations for the development.

The Court approved authorization to begin the procurement process for disaster debris removal services and consider the appointment of a scoring committee for the purpose of reviewing and rating the proposals and qualifications received. Those that will serve on the scoring committee include Emergency Management Coordinator Courtney Comstock, Jennifer Thompson, representatives from Texas Division of Emergency Management and the new county liaison officer.

Approval of professional service agreements for the Dallardsville Segno Community Development Block Grant Program 2021 Water Project and the General Land Office Hurricane Harvey Regional Mitigation Program were approved, specifically, David J. Waxman Inc. for administrative services and Goodwin Lasiter Strong for engineering services.

Action regarding the IAH Public Facility Corporation Board of Directors was taken. Although Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Sarah Rasberry was appointed last April to replace former Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Darrell Longino, Rasberry has since been appointed to serve on the mental health board, so Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Terri L. Mayer was appointed to take Rasberry’s place on the IAH board.

The Court approved the formation of three committees – one to review and assess purchasing and procurement policies and provide a recommendation; one to review the county driver/vehicle policy and provide a recommended update; and a cybersecurity committee to review protocol and procedures and develop a contingency plan. Becky Marsh, Jessica Hutchins and a representative from the county auditor’s office were appointed to the purchasing and procurement policy committee and input will be provided from the district clerk, county clerk, county judge, treasurer, sheriff’s office and jail. The county driver/vehicle policy committee will include Courtney Comstock, Kari Miller, Mary Beth Weatherford and representatives from the auditor’s, treasurer’s and sheriff’s offices. District Clerk Bobbye Christopher, County Clerk Schelana Hock, IT Director Casey Lowrie and Byron Dunaway of the sheriff’s office were appointed to the cybersecurity committee.

An offer to purchase tax foreclosure property, specifically Lot 20 of Block 5 of Kickapoo Forest in Precinct 2 was approved.

In personnel matters, the Court reviewed personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting and six authorized emergency hirings – four at the sheriff’s office, one at the district attorney’s office and one at Precinct 3 Road and Bridge.

The Court approved the fiscal year 2023 budget revisions and amendments as presented by the county auditor’s office and also approved a request from Polk County Criminal District Attorney Shelly Sitton to reclassify a portion of the fiscal year 2023 salary budget as contract labor.

In old business, the Court approved the minutes of the Jan. 10 regular meeting.

Len Fairbanks addressed the Court during the portion of the meeting reserved for public comment. Commenting that he was there regarding item number 23 on the agenda, “discussion of the current RV park regulations impact on the expansion of existing RV parks,” he said he has a client who owns The Pines on Lake Livingston and has spent about $200,000 in infrastructure during the three years that he has owned it and now wants to add seven spots.

Addressing the Court, Jed Morris, the county’s engineer with Goodwin Lasiter Strong, said he recommends that once an RV park is modified or expanded, that it not be grandfathered. “The key thing, in my opinion, is that it’s one tract of land.”

During informational reports, County Judge Sydney Murphy addressed the Court, emphasizing, “The legislature is in session now. Please pay attention to the Senate bills and the House bills that are coming out.”

Items on the consent agenda included:

Approval of the minutes of the Jan. 24 regular meeting;

Approval of a correction to the minutes of the Sept. 27, 2022 regular meeting;

Approval of the schedule of bills;

Approval of an order designating surplus property;

Approval of the installation of two doors for the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace courtroom, not to exceed $1,000, to be funded by the justice court security fund;

Ratification of the guaranteed maximum price amendment to the agreement with J.C. Stoddard for the courthouse restoration project;

Acceptance of a community development block grant program award for the Dallardsville Segno 2021 Water Project, in the amount of $350,000;

Receipt of the treasurer’s corrected fiscal year 2022 fourth quarter report;

Receipt of the treasurer’s fiscal year 2023 first quarter report;

Receipt of the treasurer’s monthly report for November 2022; and

Approval of use of $7,823.94 from information technology capital outlay to repair or replace IT equipment (budgeted funds) for the replacement of network switch.

Robert Murphy of First Baptist Church Providence opened the meeting with prayer.

Two executive sessions were on Tuesday’s agenda, one that morning to discuss the purchase of real property, although no action was taken upon return to open session. The other, slated for Tuesday afternoon, was to discuss and consider filling the position of human resources director. Three potential candidates were interviewed and upon return to open session, the Court approved the employment of Fern Cadenhead.

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Over 51 tons collected in little over a year

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Kari Miller and Jenn Thompson, who are affiliated with Polk County Recycling & Beautification, accept a donation from Andrew Boyce, president of the Rotary Club of Livingston, following a recent presentation of PCRB’s local recycling efforts.  Photo by Emily Banks WootenKari Miller and Jenn Thompson, who are affiliated with Polk County Recycling & Beautification, accept a donation from Andrew Boyce, president of the Rotary Club of Livingston, following a recent presentation of PCRB’s local recycling efforts. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Jenn Thompson and Kari Miller recently presented a program on Polk County Recycling & Beautification, the Polk County Recycling Center and the Onalaska Loop Drop-Off Site.

“Polk County Recycling & Beautification (PCRB) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization formed by community members for the benefit of the community. Our goal is to clean up and beautify Polk County through recycling, education and community engagement in litter clean-up activities,” Thompson said.

“Our vision is to inspire East Texans to conserve our resources and keep our communities clean and beautiful for generations to come. Our mission is to benefit the residents of Polk County by providing recycling opportunities, promoting the benefits of conservation and sustainable living, and supporting beautification projects throughout the county. We strive to sustain and expand our recycling services to help reduce the cost of waste disposal, reduce our landfill footprint and improve the environment.

“Why is recycling so important? What’s the big deal? We only have one Earth, and our resources are limited. The more we consume and the more trash that we create that ends up in landfills, the closer we are to running out of resources, negatively impacting people all over the globe. In this country, the average person produces roughly 2,000 pounds of trash per year. Trash that ends up in our landfills creates pollution in our air and water supply. Trash that is thrown on the side of the road eventually breaks down and finds its way into our water supply, harming our marine life as well as ourselves,” Thompson said.

“I understand that clean water is one of Rotary’s causes along with protecting the environment. It takes considerably more water and energy to create products from raw materials that it does to create them out of recycled materials. Single-use plastics, like grocery bags and water bottles, can take hundreds of years to decompose. Styrofoam never decomposes, and the world produces 14 million tons of this material every year,” she said.

“Have any of you been to the beach or lake in the last year or two? Did you see any trash on the shore? Roadside litter, whether recyclables or trash, can degrade into very small bits of plastic, which are then washed from our streets into our creeks, rivers and lakes, to be eaten by fish and become part of the food chain. Two-thirds of all fish species have ingested plastic, and around 80% of marine debris is plastic. Proper disposal at the recycling center or the landfill will improve the health and well-being of our environment,” Thompson said.

Showing a slide of the inside of the local recycling center, she said the founders of PCRB reached out to Polk County in 2018.

“They believed that to be successful, any recycling program efforts needed to be citizen-driven. They agreed to support our efforts, since our goals align. Recycling materials for free can help lower trash bills for residents and businesses, and removing materials from the waste stream extends the life of the county landfill. The commissioners court determined that the unexpected revenues earned from their waste management services could be used to build a recycling center at one of their waste collection sites, and PCRB agreed to staff the facility and help educate the community about our program,” Thompson said, adding, “We now have a large building open three days a week – Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. We want to thank the commissioners court for its support and say that we are really looking forward to working with the two new commissioners, DuBose and Cassity.

“PCRB operates the Recycling Center at the Polk County Citizen Collection Station on Hwy. 146. It’s about nine miles south of town across from the intersection with FM 2665. Our center is different from the big cities, where everything gets thrown together and then sent to a materials recovery facility, or MRF, where expensive, fancy equipment sorts out the recyclable material, and everything else gets sent to a landfill. We don’t want to send materials to a facility like this. The trucks that pick up our materials take them directly to a mill, where they can be processed into new products. That means we have to do the sorting here, by hand, mostly with volunteers, and the materials we send have to be in good condition, so the mill does not reject them,” she said.

“So, what do we take? We take #1-#7 plastics, grocery bags and film packaging, and many plastic to-go containers. All recyclable plastic has a triangle somewhere on it, usually the bottom, with a number inside. We take aluminum cans and steel cans. We bag those and drop them off at a local metal recycler when we have enough to fill up a pickup truck. The cans, like the plastics, need to be clean and empty when we get them to prevent bad odors and pests from being attracted to the facility. We also accept clean, dry, corrugated cardboard,” Thompson said.

“Our cardboard baler and forklift were purchased by Polk County via a DETCOG grant with funds provided by TCEQ. The cardboard bales usually weigh more than a thousand pounds, and we have completed 37 bales so far. One ton of recycled cardboard, that’s about two of these bales, save 46 gallons of oil and nine cubic yards of landfill space.

“What about plastic? Our plastic baler was purchased by Keep Texas Recycling with funds from Coca-Cola. Plastic bales usually weigh between 500 and 650 pounds, and we have completed 18 bales. Each of these is equivalent to 25,000 half-liter water bottles. In America, approximately 60 million plastic bottles are thrown away every day. Every day, Americans throw away enough plastic bottles to fuel 600 two-person homes for one year. Unfortunately, less than a quarter of disposable water bottles are recycled. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. There is hope. We just have to start rethinking when it comes to waste,” Thompson said.

“After many requests from the community, we recently opened a drop-off station in Onalaska at 416 Onalaska Loop. Please presort materials as much as possible. Aluminum cans can be dropped off in a bag. Plastic bags should be bagged together. All other plastics will be dumped into our bins for sorting and quality control.

“Cardboard should be clean, dry and flattened. If it has gotten wet, toss it out, and nothing smaller than a postcard, please. Steel and aluminum cans - labels are fine. Please rinse cans of food residue or give beverages a good shake to remove the excess. If you have a crusher at home, that is ideal. Plastic - we recently started accepting more varieties, so look for the recycling triangle, #1-#7. Remove and discard all caps. No styrofoam or motor oil containers. We accept grocery bags and film packaging together in their own bag.

“Our volunteers will tell you that working at the center is rewarding and fun. We want to make operations as pleasant as possible for our volunteers. When people bring us their materials, we ask them to make sure that they are bringing us only materials that we can recycle. If it looks or smells like trash, it is trash.

“We have a two-mile stretch of highway we adopted on 146. December 10 was our recent cleanup, and it went well, now that we are in maintenance mode. Gloves, bags, and grabbers are provided. Please contact PCRB if you are interested in participating next quarter. Brian McNinch is the operations manager and oversees the center’s operations. He is a wealth of knowledge and statistics. Kari Miller is the county liaison and is assistant to Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy. She has been instrumental in getting the recycling center off the ground and growing it to what it is today. We’ve collected over 51 tons in a little over a year. We truly are making a difference in our community,” Thompson said.

For additional information, go to pcrbtexas.org.

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