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Polk County News - Breakout

City to order May 7 election, discuss unsafe buildings

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City of Livingston logoSeveral items of business relating to the May 7 General Election are on the agenda for the next meeting of the Livingston City Council at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Council is expected to consider an order of election to elect one mayor and two council members on May 7. The positions that will be on the ballot include those presently held by Mayor Judy B. Cochran and Aldermen Marion A. “Bid” Smith and Alan Cook. A proposed resolution establishing procedures for the election will be considered, as will a proposed interlocal agreement with Polk County for the use of county-owned voting and election equipment, election supplies and election services.

Public hearings will be held on the determination of unsafe and/or dilapidated buildings on two locations. Following the public hearings, Council will discuss and consider possible action on a final order on the determination of the unsafe and/or dilapidated buildings. These include:

• The abandoned building located at 510 First St. in Livingston and being located on a called 0.309 of an acre of land in the M.L. Choate Survey, A-15, being all of Lot 11 and parts of Lots 12 and 13, Block 2 of the J.S. Holleman Addition, described in a deed dated Jan. 8, 2015 from Bob M. Wheeler and wife, Shavada L. Lyons to Leonard W. Perkey and wife, Jeanette Perkey recorded in Volume 1980, Page 794 of the Official Public Records of Polk County, Texas; and

• The abandoned building located at 522 W. Church St. in Livingston and being situated on a called 100-by-75-foot tract of land situated in the M.L. Choate Survey, A-15, Polk County, as described in a deed dated May 20, 1996 from Kathleen Squyres Garner and Townie M. Squyres to Fred Jarrell, recorded in Volume 1017, Pages 055 et seq. of the Official Public Records of Polk County.

Council will discuss and consider possible action on a proposed resolution in support of the application by Ridgecrest Inn Apartments LTD to TDHCA for 2022 housing tax credits for the rehabilitation of the existing Ridgecrest Inn Apartments at 901 Forest Hollow.

Additions and amendments to the City of Livingston’s police department policy will be discussed and considered for approval.

The Livingston Police Department’s 2021 racial profiling report will be submitted in accordance with Article 2.134(b) of the Texas Criminal Code of Procedure.

The city’s electrical permit fees will be discussed and considered for approval.

Council may enter into an executive session to consult with the city attorney. However, any action will be taken upon return to open session.

City Manager Bill S. Wiggins will present his monthly report.

Other items on the agenda include approval of accounts over $500 and minutes of the Jan. 11 meeting.

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Communications tower, fiber cabling on agenda

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Polk County LogoThe Polk County Commissioners Court will consider approval to erect an interoperable communications tower and run fiber cabling in Precinct 3 during its regular meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The project would be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

Commissioners are expected to discuss and consider available options for the Polk County Peace Officers Association’s continued use of county property, specifically the building and gun range, located in Moscow.

A request from the county auditor to purchase a new check printer, not to exceed $1,106, to be paid from the general fund balance and included on the fiscal year 2022 reimbursement resolution for the year-end issuance of legally authorized debt will be considered.

Additionally, Commissioners are expected to consider approval of capital outlay building expense (budgeted funds) for a sewer line repair, including the extraction and replacement of old cast iron and clay pipes at the Polk County Office Annex in the amount of $16,500 and a chiller repair at the Polk County Jail in the amount of $22,832.31.

Approval of a plat of Falcone Forest, Section 3 Subdivision, located in Precinct 4, will be considered.

Commissioners are expected to receive a nuisance abatement hearing determination for Cause No. A00494 and consider an order to abate the nuisance.

An order authorizing the sale of fireworks during the Texas Independence Day period of Feb. 25 through midnight on March 2 will be considered for approval.

Commissioners will discuss, consider bid and take action on the Texas Department of Agriculture fiscal year 2020 Dallardsville Segno Water Supply Corporation Plant improvements, Contract No. 73220361.

Commissioners will also consider approval to transfer two patrol units from the sheriff’s office to the Precinct 4 constable’s office.

Supplemental budget management software will be discussed and considered.

Offers to purchase the following tax foreclosure properties will be considered: Lot 25 of Allen Woods, Cause No. T12-004 and Lot 32 of Block 3 of Yaupon Cove, Cause No. T11-462, both in Precinct 2.

In personnel matters, Commissioners will review and consider personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting and any authorized emergency hirings. Commissioners will also discuss and consider the sheriff’s request to pay out all jail staff FLSA compensatory and lost vacation and straight compensatory time from Oct. 1, 2021 to Feb. 13, 2022.

Commissioners will consider approval of fiscal year 2022 budget revisions and amendments, as presented by the county auditor’s office.

Items on the consent agenda include:

Approval of the minutes of the Jan. 25 meeting;

Approval of the schedule of bills;

Approval of addition to list relating to use of county inmate labor for civic purposes, pursuant to Article 43.10 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure;

Approval of extension of lease agreements with University of Texas Medical Branch for Suites B and C located in the Polk County Regional Health Center;

Approval of bonds for assistant county auditors;

Approval of update to the master street address guide;

Receive county treasurer’s fiscal year 2022 first quarter report;

Receive amendment to fiscal year 2022 budget adopted by the Polk Central Appraisal District on April 20, 2021; and

Approval of interlocal agreement between Polk County and the City of Onalaska for the county’s provision of electric equipment and services for the May 7 election, as recommended by the county clerk.

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Firefighters to be recognized

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FiremanBadgeC0708 V v C YPlaques will be presented to the Onalaska Fireman of the Year and the fireman with the most calls during the regular meeting of the Onalaska City Council at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Council is expected to review and consider approval of police department policy 2.8 regarding the use of social media.

Amendments to a couple of ordinances related to the May 7 General Election that were approved during the January meeting will be reviewed and considered for approval.

Reports will be presented on behalf of the police department, fire department, fire marshal/building inspector, library and city administrator.

Other items on the agenda include approval of the minutes, vouchers and financial reports.

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Some voter registration cards incorrect

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Commissioner Precinct Map 3

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The new blue voter registration cards that Polk Countians recently received in the mail are incorrect and as of now there are no plans to correct them and send out new ones. Well, some of them are incorrect but not all of them. How do you know if yours is correct or not? You call Polk County Tax Assessor-Collector Leslie Jones Burks—the county’s voter registrar—at 936-327-6801.

Redistricting—the process of dividing or organizing an area into new political districts—is conducted every 10 years following the census. The purpose of redistricting is to establish and maintain voting districts that are faithful to the principle of one-person, one-vote.

According to 2020 Census figures, Polk County gained 10.4% in its population since the last accounting in 2010, up from 45,413 to 50,123. The Austin firm of Allison Bass & Magee LLP—which serves as general counsel for the Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and as litigation counsel for the Texas Association of Counties—was retained by the county to assist in examining the data and developing a redistricting plan for the county.

Texas Law allows a deviation in commissioners’ precincts of up to 10% before boundaries are required to be redrawn and Polk County was over—in total—by 30.66%. Precinct 1 was 18.26% higher than the ideal population and Precinct 3 was 12.4% below the ideal, so a shifting of boundaries had to occur.

“We had eight different maps sent to us from Allison Bass. We got the last one the day before we were out for Christmas. I was just hoping and praying I put everyone in the right one,” Jones Burks said. “While everyone else had four days off for Christmas, I was off Christmas Day only because I was at the office dealing with maps. I was hoping and praying it would all work out.”

It didn’t and now there are many people who have been in Precinct 1 for years but now find themselves in Precinct 4—even if their card doesn’t reflect that.

“If anyone has any questions tell them to call the office and I’ll talk to them. We have a spreadsheet and can look it up and tell them which precinct they’re in,” Jones Burks said.

The confusion surrounding the voter registration cards raises the question what effect—if any—this may have on the upcoming March 1 primaries in which early voting begins Feb. 14.

Polk County was selected and approved last year to participate in a pilot project through the Texas Secretary of State’s Office called the Countywide Polling Program. Similar to early voting, the program allows a voter to vote at ANY county polling place on Election Day.

“We were given a successful status on our last election as part of the countywide polling place program,” Polk County Clerk Schelana Hock said. Once a county receives the “successful” status it is allowed to continue participating in the program.

Hock, the county clerk, and her staff run the elections but Jones Burks, the county tax assessor-collector, serves as voter registrar and disseminates the voter registration cards.

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Students honored, superintendent extended

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Livingston ISD LogoBy Brian Besch
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January’s meeting of the LISD School Board was held in Florence Crosby Auditorium on the campus of Creekside Elementary Monday. The venue change allowed for student recognition in the “Parade of Champions” for fall extracurricular activities. 

The event honored students and student groups who competed above the district level. Among those introduced were the FFA Public Relations Team for placing fourth in the area competition, as well as the FFA Senior Chapter Conducting team for placing second in area and 24th in state competition. Sophomore Halle Hawkins won three major livestock awards with her swine projects during the State Fair of Texas. Junior Maci Hill advanced to the National History Day contest where her documentary film was featured in an online showcase at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. 

Members of the Livingston Royal Brigade Marching Band competed in area finals at the UIL Marching Contest and finished as one of the top 10 area bands. LHS Chorale members of the All-Region Choir and those advancing to pre-area choir audition, Mallory Lester and Jeilynn Hagler advanced to the Area-All-State Choir Audition, and Lester was also selected to the TMEA All-State Small School Mixed Choir. Members of the 2021 Region III qualifiers of Lions’ cross country team were introduced, Akira Montgomery was recognized as Academic All-State honorable mention and Wendy Anguiano for Academic All-State first team. The Academic All-State football athletes were recognized, Noah Hargraves, honorable mention; Beckett Long, honorable mention; and Kyle Stanley, second team. The members of the volleyball team were recognized, as Kaylie Bush, Kirbie Evans, Janae Bland, Taryn Orn, Megan Placker, Raylee Gaston, Jenna Hampton, Ava Hartsell, Baylee Yantes, Braylee Garrett, Nevaeh Garner, and Jon’Toyrian McNeal were all Academic All-District.

“The students who were recognized tonight are Livingston ISD, as they are the face of our district,” LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said as he presented the District Annual Performance Report. “We win and we lose with people. The strength of our community and the strength of our school district is relative to the people and those we serve in the school district.” 

In a closed session for personnel matters, the board discussed the superintendent’s evaluation. They reconvened to extend Hawkins’ contract through Feb. 28, 2027.

The board passed a consent agenda that included minutes of previous board meetings, financial statements, payment of bills, and authorized the superintendent to implement an extra-duty stipend for spring of 2022.  Under action items, the board approved a contract with the Linebarger law firm for an administrative audit of the property value study findings conducted by the comptroller’s office as of Jan. 1, 2019, for the school year of 2019-2020 and Jan. 1, 2020, for the school year 2020-2021. Also approved was a contract with the Linebarger for an administrative appeal audit and any judicial appeal of the property value study findings as conducted by the comptrollers’ office as of Jan. 1, 2021, for the school year 2021-2022 and for each succeeding year’s study. The board terminated the property value study contract with the Purdue Brandon Fielder Collins and Mott, LLP law firm. 

The final approval in action items guaranteed a maximum price of $1,565,442 for the concession and restroom project on the Livingston High School campus. The new addition is currently under construction at the Cochran Complex.

The District Annual Performance Report is a booklet that highlights the performance of the district. 

“We are one of the largest employers in Polk County, and I am honored to be a part of this district,” Hawkins said when discussing the report. “For our district to stay open and to function in last year’s challenging times was astonishing. We are an institution of student learning, but more importantly, there are a lot of things beyond student learning that we provide our students from a social and emotional standpoint. We strive to make an impact on all of our students, and the evidence of that was seen tonight, as well as in our Annual District Performance Report. 

Hawkins mentioned the district’s strength through finances, as they received an “A” rating from www.txschools.gov. He also discussed a drop in tax rate from 2012 to 2021. 

“In 2015, the community passed the Tax Ratification Election, which positioned our district into a more healthy financial state. The district continues to receive a very high rating on the FIRST report from the Texas Education Agency, as this year was a perfect score. The board of trustees has always put an emphasis on people in the area of district employees. In June 2014, there were 45 openings in summer and it took five years to overcome the problem, which led to the district seeing the past three years of turnover that compared to the state average. If you compare the salary schedule from 2013 to today, there is an increase of more than $4.2 million. You can clearly see that employee retention is a primary concern. We see both ends of the teacher salary schedule with significant increases. Beginning and our tenured teachers benefited from these strides to increase teacher pay.”

The Campus Eye is a tool the district uses to address bullying in LISD. The obligation of public schools is to ensure there is an ease of reporting, policies, and procedures ensure victims of bullying are cared for and that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior, Hawkins said. Every reporting parent receives documentation of the report, whether the behavior meets the legal definition of bullying, and the actions taken.

The district has received a matching fund grant in the amount of $464,000 that will be used to upgrade cameras, improve communications for on-campus devices, and increase camera memory storage. The district currently has a robust system of cameras, but the addition supplements and upgrades the existing system. 

“Last year, our campuses were the safest place students that staff could go during the pandemic,” Hawkins said. “Money was spent on upgrading air conditioning systems and implementing air scrubbers that combat flu germs. The data now apparent shows the mitigation measures in place, and the teamwork of staff, students, and parents was a success.”The website www.txschools.gov showed a 2019 accountability relative performance chart that reflects Livingston ISD as a “B” school, and Hawkins said the district continued to improve, even when the state average was on a downward trajectory. 

“We achieve this by working together and focusing on students,” the superintendent said. “The Class of 2022 is the first class that has had an opportunity to follow a path to earn 60 hours of dual-credit college courses paid by the district. We expect there will be students who will have completed two full years toward their college degree and earn their high school diploma at the same time. The board has made courageous decisions to keep focused on district priorities, and this is evident in all their decisions. Last year, steps were made on building improvements by upgrading HVAC, LED lighting, and an energy efficiency program that has resulted in money saved and reallocated toward staff salaries. Sometimes we forget that schools are on a fixed income this school year. We are proud to offer many opportunities to our parents to be involved in the school district. We have Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO) on every campus, School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), booster clubs, and we have the parent portal — where parents can stay engaged by viewing their student’s attendance, grades, and they have the ability to set alarms that will notify parents in the event of an absence or falling grades. Serving on the district site-based committees allows input into many facets of what our schools look like, but the greatest involvement is the one-on-one work between parents and staff to meet the needs of our students.”

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