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Polk County News - Breakout

Board discusses agreement with energy company

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LISD CFOLivingston ISD Chief Financial Officer Ben DavidsonFrom Enterprise Staff

November’s meeting of the Livingston ISD board was highlighted by an agreement with Lone Spur Solar Energy and a report on a recent Senate bill.  

During the public hearing, Kathy Mathias with educational consultants Moak Casey presented the application of Lone Spur Solar Energy LLC for an appraised value limitation on the qualified property, pursuant to Chapter 313 of the Texas Property Tax Code. Chapter 313 allows a school district to offer a temporary, 10-year limit on the taxable value of a new investment project in energy projects valued over $10 million.  

Invenergy, the world’s leading privately held sustainable energy company, has asked for 10 years for a limited value for up to a 105-megawatt solar power generation facility in Polk County and meets all requirements of the state comptroller. Mathias explained that a Chapter 313 must be located in a reinvestment zone. Polk County has already created the zone, but it must be created by LISD as well.  

The facility is targeted to begin operating between 2024-2025. The solar technology uses the power of the sun to deliver clean, renewable energy and is now one of the lowest-cost energy sources available. The estimated benefit to the district is $1.4 million over the next 10 years under the Chapter 313 agreement.

LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins presented an update on Senate Bill 1444, passed during the last legislative session allowing school districts to opt-out of Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Active Care for school employee insurance. The current plan is considered costly, with a participation rate of approximately 41%. Law states a five-year hiatus from the program when opting out of TRS.  

“Our claims are very high as a district of almost 600 employees,” Hawkins said. “A private carrier would not underwrite us and we were told the value that we receive from TRS Active Care is the best value for our employees due to these high claims. We can start to have conversations as a staff about how we can utilize the SHAC (School Health Advisory Councils) and offer opportunities for our employees that could start to impact our claims. If we can change our claim risk, then we could look at alternatives in the future and possibly improve our employees’ health benefits.”

Hawkins also gave an update on the district staffing plan.  

“The biggest challenge for schools today is staffing, and that is all schools everywhere,” he said. “We have to work together as a community to overcome staffing shortages, because the solution is one that everyone owns. Money will attract the employees to the job, but how the community treats educators can make a difference. Every employee is marketable, as we are seeing employee-driven markets. We were fully staffed on July 5, 2021, and today, we have five professional positions, two paraprofessional and two custodial positions open. We have 30 substitutes, but we need 60 substitutes in the spring to comfortably run the district or we run the chance of limiting student extracurricular experiences. Our staff is spread extremely thin. We have nearly 600 employees who are showing a lot of grit. I appreciate everyone working together.”

LISD Chief Financial Officer Ben Davidson presented the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) Report. The state’s school financial accountability rating system ensures that Texas public schools are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices. The district is rated on 20 different indicators, including budgeting proficiency, staffing ratios, and performance on the annual independent audit. Livingston ISD received an A or superior rating, and a perfect score of 100 by the Texas Education Agency.

The board approved items under the consent agenda, including purchasing three vehicles from Premiere Autoplex for $95,924, and district technology upgrades of Chromebooks and iPads in the amount of $600,784. Also approved was a 4% of the midpoint employee retention stipend for the 2022-2023 school year, to be distributed in August 2022.

Under action items, the board approved the following for Lone Spur Solar Energy LLC.

Ratified extension requests for the pending application.

Approved a resolution creating Livingston ISD Reinvestment Zone No. 1

Adopted findings under the Texas Economic Development Act

Approved the waiver of job creation requirement requested by Lone Spur Solar Energy

Approved the agreement

Approved the personal property early turnover resolution 33.11 Property Tax Code

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Escapees CARE program discussed

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LOGO 200By Emily Banks Wooten
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Russ Johnson, executive director of Escapees CARE Inc., presented a program to the Livingston Rotary Club recently. He explained that Escapees CARE Inc., located at 155 Care Center Dr. about five miles south on Hwy. 146., is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that offers a respite care program and resident program to those whose medical and support circumstances qualify them for admission and that the various programs offered continue to evolve as additional needs and the ability to satisfy them arise.

Through the residential program, people may live fulltime in their RVs, sleeping in their own beds and using their own bathrooms. Their belongings may be stored in their own storage building. They receive site maintenance and help dumping their tanks. They also receive help with their propane, holding tanks and awnings.

Meals, snacks and drinks are available daily and two laundry loads may be washed and folded weekly. If they so choose, residents may take a day off while someone else does the housekeeping in the rig every other week.

Free transport to medical appointments is provided, as well as weekly supervised shopping trips. Numerous recreational activities are provided, such as bingo, dominos, card games and board games. There are also various opportunities to socialize, including exercise classes, craft projects, pet shows, outings, parties and other various special events.

Russ JohnsonRuss JohnsonThe respite care program is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for individuals who need care during the day while family members are at work. There is a nurse and staff on duty during business days and health is monitored daily. Prescribed medication is administered and wound care and dressing changes are provided.

Bathing and aid with personal care is available, as well as assistance with meal and snack times and help with prescribed exercises. There are supervised activities and crafts in addition to social interaction with others.

The respite care program eliminates the perception of abandonment while providing security for those with dementia and Alzheimers disease.

Johnson said the goal of the respite care program is to lessen the burden on twenty-four-hour caregivers. “It’s difficult to care for other people if you don’t take care of yourself,” he said.
The cost is $40 a day and one free day is offered to new clients. While a membership in the Escapees RV Club is $40 a year, Johnson said the respite care program is open to everybody because you’re only there for the day.

“You had to put up serious money and sign contracts to get into nursing home. Kay Peterson, the founder of Escapees RV Club, came up with this idea of having a campground and you come and pay for one month up front and if you don’t like it then you leave,” Johnson said.

“What we do at Escapees CARE is allow people to come in with their RV. This is really a program designed to keep you moving. Move it or lose it,” Johnson said. “We have this very good experience in what we have. Kay created us (Escapees CARE) but we are a separate thing.

“We use a lot of volunteers. That’s one way we keep the costs low. It is independent living. You have to apply. For $1,100 we provide sites, mowing, meals, tank dumping, laundry, housekeeping, activities and a full-time nurse, but no electric or propane,” Johnson said.
“We do fundraisers. We have an annual health fair and the next one is April 2022. We also do an Octoberfest which is for commercial enterprises,” Johnson said.

“The most satisfaction I’ve ever gotten at a job is here at CARE because of the relationships formed and the love. Innovation is a wonderful thing when we all work together,” Johnson said.

For additional information about Escapees CARE Inc. call 936-327-4256.

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Cruse resigns from city council

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City of Livingston LogoFrom Enterprise Staff

Onalaska City Councilman Carl Cruse, citing medical issues, tendered his resignation at the regular meeting of the Onalaska City Council Nov. 9. As the item was not on the agenda, Council will convene in a special called meeting at noon on Tuesday to formally accept Cruse’s resignation.

A number of personnel action requests were considered during the meeting. Council approved the re-hires of Officers Simon Prince and Heather Thomas as fulltime officers with the standard probationary period. Additionally, Rachel Richards and Denise Ross were both approved as telecommunications officers, Richards fulltime and Ross part-time.

Council approved authorizing Gilmore Roofing LLC to remove the existing roofing from the city hall building and install new roofing at a cost of $23,035 as per the bid dated Nov. 3.

Although Council was slated to review Ordinance No. 386 and authorize City Administrator Angela Stutts to request proposals for exclusive sanitation services with the city, no action was taken as Council wants to gather some additional information before going out for proposals.

Council also reviewed and approved Resolution No. 2021-004, an agreement between the city and the Polk Central Appraisal District, regarding the annual allocation amount due for participation as a taxing entity.

Onalaska Police Chief Jessica Stanton reported that the police department drove 3,615 miles during the month of October, conducting 267 subdivision checks and 53 business checks and responding to 337 calls. Nine misdemeanor arrests and three felony arrests were made. Sixty-seven warnings and 62 citations were issued. The department assisted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office 12 times, the Department of Public Safety three times and the Onalaska Volunteer Fire Department six times. Twenty-six cases were worked and 12 warrants were issued.

Onalaska Fire Chief Jay Stutts reported that the fire department responded to 28 calls during the month of October, 14 calls in the city and 14 in the county. The department responded to 28 calls during the month, 17 of which were medical calls, three structure fires, two grass fires, three motor vehicle accidents and three landing zones.

Fire Marshal/Building Inspector Lee Parrish reported that there were 12 permits and one animal license issued during the month of October. There were also 16 inspections done. The total added value to the city was $542,565 and the total permit fees collected was $3,472.80. Parrish reported there were eight ordinance violation cases started with 10-day compliance warnings issued, with two coming into compliance. Six of the properties are a work in progress and two are no change with enforcement moving to the next stage. There were also 12 follow-up investigations performed throughout the month. There was one fire investigation within the city limits for October. The fire marshal’s office assisted the police department four times and the fire department eight times with multiple types of calls ranging from fire suppression, medical calls and landing zones.

Reporting on behalf of the Onalaska Public Library, Sherry Brecheen informed Council that the library currently has 1,708 patrons and a total of 9,732 holdings. The library was open 20 days during the month of October with a circulation of 358, a circulation per day of 18, 350 patrons and 95 instances of computer usage. A total of 39.5 volunteer hours were logged during the month.

Other business included approval of the minutes of the Oct. 12 regular meeting and the Oct. 28 special called meeting, the financial reports and the payment of vouchers.

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City approves holiday compensation

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City of Livingston LogoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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Holiday compensation for 2021 was approved by the Livingston City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday. Regular employees who’ve been with the city for at least a year will receive one week’s salary. Those having been there less than a year will receive $50. Additionally, all city employees will receive their choice of a 14-16 pound turkey or a 9-11 pound ham.

Council also approved setting the 2022 calendar year holiday observances which include: New Year’s Day, Dec. 31, 2021; Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 17; Good Friday, April 15; Memorial Day, May 30; Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, Sept. 5; Veterans Day, Nov. 11; Thanksgiving, Nov. 24-25; and Christmas, Dec. 23 and Dec. 26.

City Manager Bill S. Wiggins presented his monthly report, apprising Council of upcoming projects and events. Livingston Municipal Library will have special holiday events throughout November and December and the full schedule can be viewed at www.livingstonlibrary.net. Friends of the Library will host a book fair Nov. 19 at the library.

Regarding current development projects, Wiggins reported that an additional 20 lots have been cleared at the Baskin development for additional housing unites adjacent to the project. They have been visiting with city staff about building more housing units. They acquired the 60-acre tract located on the east side of Pan American Drive with the intention and constructing additional housing and perhaps a commercial project, he said.

Wiggins reported that work is ongoing at Blue Wave Carwash at 1829 U.S. Hwy. 190 West, Country Place Senior Living Assisted Living at 1860 N. Washington, Livingston Pioneer Crossing Apartments at 1101 Dogwood and the 7-11 Store at 1605 W. Church.

The buildout for four separate spaces, one a potential eatery, at Livingston Shopping Center at 1219 W. Church is completed. Work is nearing completion at Panda Express at 1630 W. Church and work is ongoing on the remodel of Tractor Supply at 1820 U.S. Hwy. 190 West.

Wiggins also apprised Council of current COVID-19 numbers locally. He said that as of Nov. 8 there are just 30 active cases in Polk County, there have been 210 deaths, 5,696 recoveries and there are presently two COVID-19 patients in the local hospital.

Other business included approval of the minutes of the Oct. 12 regular meeting and the accounts over $500.

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