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Polk County News - Breakout

County budget proves challenging with inflation

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073122 inflation makes buget chalenging

County approves COLAs

By Emily Banks Wooten
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(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series covering the budget workshop held during the June 26 meeting of the Polk County Commissioners Court.)

County budget time is always a bit challenging but the ongoing inflation that’s impacting everyone – along with increased salary demands – has made it a much bigger challenge than usual for the Polk County Commissioners Court.

The Court initiated a salary survey in 2018 that was implemented in 2019.  The purpose of the salary survey was to align positions with similar responsibilities and skill set requirements so that they’d be earning the same money, while taking into consideration the market economy.

“The majority of the positions that were significantly underpaid were administrative and clerical mostly. At that time what we did was everybody got a raise. We only had one person in the entire county that did not receive a 2½% raise or more in 2019 and that was because that individual had completely maxed out and was basically off of our salary schedule,” Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said.

A number of county employees received increases of over 10% at that time. The jail administrator got a 17% increase, the assistant jail administrator got an 11% increase, the chief deputy got an 11% increase, the telecommunications operators got around 11%. The chief deputy clerks for the justices of the peace got anywhere from an eight to 16% increase. Maintenance technicians got an increase of 11-14%, light duty mechanics got an 11% increase. Additionally, changes were made regarding the way  department heads were paid. Previously, prior to the salary survey, if you were a department head you got the same money as another department head no matter what, with the exception of a difference in longevity. The salary survey took into consideration the level of responsibility, the market value of that position and whether the position was on call 24/7.

In an open letter to the community from Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons that was published in this newspaper in April, he said that he’d lost a total of 16 deputies and 49 jailers since taking office in January 2021. He said the losses equated to more than 100-plus years of law enforcement experience and he attributed it to low salaries. As a result, this budget season, Lyons requested a 35% across the board increase for all employees of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Polk County Jail.

“This office has been contacted by more than one person in the media wanting an explanation of the salary schedule based on reports that were made for this budget year. The question from KTRE and some other people that contacted us, basically, was ‘why is it so difficult to create an increase in only one department?’” Murphy said.

“For one thing, our taxpayers won’t be able to afford it. To implement the 35% increase just in the sheriff’s office and jail would be an increase of $1.6 million and that’s not a one-time deal. You have to keep in mind that that’s $1.6 million in perpetuity. To implement a 35% across the board for everyone would be $4.5 million. We don’t have $4.5 million that we can put on paper,” Murphy said, adding that the $1.6 million does not include healthcare, the county retirement match, longevity pay or the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement certifications that the county pays.

“We’re all intertwined folks. You cannot yank one group up and pull another one down because we all have to have good employees. If we don’t support the whole, as a team, then we are creating more problems for ourselves than we can solve. If we do not compensate employees that work at the clerk’s office then what’s going to happen to collections? If we don’t take care of the tax office then we’re going to have errors and mistakes in terms of our property taxes. We cannot afford to do that,” Murphy said.

Earlier this year, the Court approved a new system for longevity pay that will go into effect when the new budget year starts Oct.1. According to Murphy, “there’s still some confusion” so she reviewed it again.

Moving forward, longevity pay will be paid in a separate check during the last pay period of the month that is the anniversary of the employee’s date of employment with the county. Once in effect, employees who have been with the county for two to four years will receive $500; employees who have been with the county for five to nine years will receive $1,000; employees who have been with the county for 10-14 years will receive $2,000; employees who have been with the country for 15-19 years will receive $2,500; employees who have been with the county for 20-24 years will receive $3,000; employees who have been with the county for 25-29 years will receive $3,500; and employees who have been with the county for 30 or more years will receive $4,000. This is a considerable increase over the previous longevity plan which paid $60 a year for each year of service.

With Polk County Tax Assessor-Collector Leslie Jones Burks’ completion of the 2022 tax rate calculation worksheet, the no-new-revenue tax rate is 0.5728 per 100 and the voter-approval tax rate is 0.6136 per 100. The anticipated collection rate is 96%. The Court approved receipt of the calculations and verification of the collection rate.

The proposed budget reflects a 5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for elected officials and appointed officials and a 10% COLA for all employees listed on the salary survey.

“While we’re balancing this, we still need to make sure that we can provide services to the people of the county and continue to improve in the areas that we can,” Murphy said. “The only way that this budget will work is if our elected officials and everybody out there is going to hold the line. We have increased some of the budget line items – shipping, fuel prices – but we absolutely need a commitment from the department heads and the elected officials to hold the line.

“Since 2019 this Court has shown a commitment to improving our salaries, to committing to our employees and so to have it basically get wiped out with this inflationary period is disappointing at best but we cannot let our employees take that kind of hit. We just can’t,” Murphy said.

“I think we owe this to our employees because nobody that goes to work for the county does it with the intention to get incredibly rich – it’s not going to happen – but we can’t have our employees not even being able to maintain and manage the inflation rate,” Murphy said.

“We cannot compete with the private sector. We can’t compete with those big metro areas,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said.

“We’re blessed with good employees,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis said.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent said.

The Court approved publishing the proposed increases in salaries of elected county and precinct officers.

The Court also approved proposed capital purchase projections in the amount of $457,405.72. This amount is included in the proposed budget.

Moving forward, the Court unanimously approved placing a proposal to adopt a specified tax rate of 0.6100, a rate that exceeds the no-new-revenue tax rate of  0.5728, on the agenda for a hearing that will be held at 10 a.m. Aug. 15 

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New project announced

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072822 new project announced

From Enterprise Staff

A pre-construction meeting was held at the Texas Department of Transportation Area Office in Livingston Monday, signaling the beginning of a construction project that will require a road closure.

Kelly Road at Bluff Creek, north of U.S. Hwy. 190 East in Polk County will be closed beginning August 15 for the replacement of the bridge and approaches at Bluff Creek. The bridge is expected to reopen fully to traffic when the project is completed on or about Feb. 15, 2023.

Cross Plus Construction LLC of China Spring will serve as contractor for the $461,032 construction project. During this time, motorists are urged to plan alternate routes of travel, be prepared to detour, stay alert for the closure and obey all traffic control in the area.

For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 936-633-4395. For closures and road conditions statewide, visit drivetexas.org

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Meeting for LISD seventh-, ninth-grade parents

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072822 lisd parent meeting

Livingston ISD will offer the ESTEEM curriculum to students in the 7th and 9th grade for the 2022-23 school year. The district will hold a public review of the ESTEEM curriculum for all 2022-23 incoming 7th and 9th-grade parents. The parent review will be held on July 28, at 6 p.m. at Florence Crosby Auditorium in Creekside Elementary — #1 Lions Avenue, Livingston, TX 77351.

The ESTEEM curriculum is evidence-based, medically accurate, proven effective, and adheres to the newly revised Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards. The ESTEEM program is a character development, adolescent safety, and sexual risk avoidance curriculum.

The curriculum is designed by a local coalition of dedicated people, including students, science teachers, coaches, counselors, nurses, doctors, SHAC members, and parents. ESTEEM workbooks offer multiple teaching styles.

Livingston ISD will hold a public review of the ESTEEM curriculum for all 2022-23 incoming 7th and 9th-grade parents.

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County’s credit rating improves

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072822 county credit rating

County judge’s, auditor’s offices commended

By Emily Banks Wooten
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(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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