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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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City to review budget

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080722 city review budget

The preliminary budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will be presented to the Livingston City Council for review during its regular meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Council is slated to call a public hearing on the budget to be set for Sept. 13.

Council is slated to discuss and consider action on proposed ordinances amending Article II of Chapter 40, regarding electric service, and Article I of Chapter 34, regarding solid waste, of the Code of Ordinances.

The annual review and amendment of the City of Livingston investment policy will be conducted.

A proposed resolution accepting a deed from Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency conveying two electrical substations is also on the agenda.

An executive session is also on the agenda at which time Council is expected to consult with the city attorney and deliberate the employment or appointment of an employee. However, any action will be taken upon return to open session.

Council is slated to recognize Livingston Main Street as a 2022 Accredited Program by Main Street America and Texas Main Street.

Other items on the agenda include the city manager’s monthly report, accounts over $500 and minutes of the July 12 meeting.

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Selection of construction manager on agenda

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080711 construction manager

For courthouse restoration project

The Polk County Commissioners Court will consider any and all necessary action to select a construction manager for the two phases of the historic restoration of the Polk County Courthouse during its regular meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday. 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.

The Court is slated to receive and record 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.

Any changes to the FY2023 proposed budget will also be discussed.

A request from the City of Onalaska for the collection of their ad valorem taxes by the Polk County tax assessor-collector will be considered for approval, as will a prepositioned contract for disaster debris removal services with DRC Emergency Services.

Action regarding a request for proposals for rural internet connectivity to be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act funds will be considered.

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 will be discussed and considered for action.

An interlocal agreement between the county and the Texas Department of Public Safety for a permanent commercial driver’s license facility in Polk County will be discussed and considered for approval.

The Court will also consider approval to advertise for the FY2023 annual bids.

In personnel matters the Court will review and consider personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting and will review any authorized emergency hirings. Additionally, FY2022 budget revisions and amendments, as presented by the county auditor’s office, will be considered.

In old business, the Court is expected to discuss and consider award on the 2017 GLO DR 4332 (Harvey) Program, GLO Contract No. 20-065-018-C064.

During informational reports, Casey Lowrie, the county’s information technology and systems administrator, will be recognized for her reappointment to the Texas Association of Counties Information Technology Advisory Council for 2022-2023.

Additionally, Human Resources Director Amber Leloux will review the Texas County & District Retirement System plan assessment.

Items on the consent agenda include:

• Approval of the minutes of July 26 regular meeting;

• 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.

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Benefit account established

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080422 benefit account

To keep youth from being deported

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Heights Conservation, a 501(c)3 foundation dedicated to the preservation of green spaces and ecologies through educational scholarships and project sponsorships, has set up a dedicated account “For the Benefit of Daniil Rusanyuk” and has raised approximately $12,000. However, an additional $4,000 is needed by the end of this week.

Daniil came to Livingston last year as an exchange student at Livingston High School. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the spring, Daniil’s family was forced to flee their homes in Kyiv. His father has since returned to Kyiv and is serving in the city’s defense. His mother is currently a refugee in Italy. His parents are displaced, unemployed and completely without resources.

Although Daniil remains here in Livingston with his host family, he is facing imminent deportation. If he is returned to Ukraine, he will be conscripted, and forced to fight in the war. Several people and organizations are working to get Daniil into college and protect him from deportation.

For Daniil to stay in the United States and go to college with an F-1 student visa, he must demonstrate financial resources (i.e., a dedicated account, managed for his sole benefit) of approximately $18,000. Raising that much money for Daniil’s student visa has been a challenge. Daniil is actively pursuing scholarship opportunities with several universities, along with conventional types of financial aid. However, most scholarships are awarded 10-12 months prior to college enrollment. Because Russia invaded Ukraine just five months ago, the vast majority of scholarship and financial aid sources are already exhausted.

However, there is the existence of a much more achievable path. In April of this year, Daniil filed for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), under 87 CFR §23211. With TPS status, Daniil could enroll in any university without having to demonstrate $18,000 in dedicated resources. More importantly, TPS status would protect him from deportation which could be a virtual death sentence.

Approval of Daniil’s application for TPS status would relieve him from the financial burden of an F-1 student visa. However, Daniil has had no response of any kind from USCIS.

Lone Star College has offered Daniil a full ride (all tuition, books, and health insurance) but does not have student housing. Work is underway with Lone Star to find a faculty member to host him, as the Lone Star College faculty is very active in hosting international students. Raising the additional $4,000 by the end of the week will be sufficient for Lone Star College to file his F-1 application.

Anyone donating through this account will get a tax deduction receipt. For information regarding the account email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Daniil’s desire is to stay in the states and earn a college degree in construction management so that he may ultimately return home and help rebuild his country.

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