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Polk County News - Breakout

County extends burn ban for 30 days

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BurnBan2 STOCKBy Emily Banks Wooten
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The Polk County Commissioners Court approved extending the burn ban in the unincorporated areas of the county for 30 days during its regular meeting Tuesday, based on recommendations from the Polk County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Polk County Office of Emergency Management.

A proposed order authorizing fire department service area changes to the Polk County, Texas map for the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) was discussed and approved.

“The 911 network mapping which serves the 11-county DETCOG region has undergone some technological advancements as part of going into the next generation 911,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “All changes of Polk County boundaries for the volunteer fire departments are brought to the Court by the fire departments. We do not go in and arbitrarily change boundaries for the fire departments. We always take the fire chiefs into consideration. We do not want DETCOG or anyone else signing off on our mapping. We only want the fire chiefs determining this.”

Regarding Bid No. 2023-14 for the refurbishment of a 2002 CAT 12H motor grader for Precinct 4 Road and Bridge, to be paid for from the Precinct 4 fund balance, the Court approved the bid from Stone Metal Works out of Lovelady for $108,876.80.

Based on the recommendation of Jed Morris, the county’s engineer with Goodwin Lassiter Strong (GLS), the Court approved Legacy Oaks Subdivision located in Precinct 4. It was noted that Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Cassity filed an affidavit of abstention due to his involvement with the project.

The unauthorized replat of Lot 9 of Section 1 of Falcone Forest located in Precinct 4 was discussed.

“Earlier this year, a developer hired John Cowan & Associates to survey and plat, if necessary, Lot 9 of Falcone Forest Section 1 for the purpose of development. In May, the surveyor learned that the seller had intended to keep slightly less than an acre and they were asked to create a legal description for the remaining 2.045-acre tract and when they reached back to us, Becky discussed it with them and told them that would trigger a replat and that they would have to follow certain steps to get back in compliance. However, rather than wait to go through the appropriate process, the property owner jumped the gun and sold the slightly more than two acres on May 16,” Murphy said.

“There are multiple issues that Jed has noticed and none of them have been addressed. The process for replatting a subdivision requires you must notify you neighbors, provide a public notice and hold a public hearing so they can voice their opinion. Prior to the Court approving or disapproving it, the public that lives in that area is supposed to get an opportunity to voice their opinion. So, they must resubmit the plat for approval following the replatting requirements and correcting all the issues that were noticed in the GLS letter,” Murphy said. “So basically, we have had some trouble with a couple of developers that take the attitude that they can apologize later, that they’re just going to do what they want to do and apologize later. This is a complete slap in the face to our local developers and our local surveyors that follow the regulations, that are doing it correctly and that are fully invested in us having a good, strong community.

“Jed’s recommendation, the recommendation from GLS, from our professional engineers, is that the Court refer this one to our attorneys pursuant to Section 13 of the regulations or legal counsel may issue an injunction to prevent further development, recover damages in an amount adequate for the county to undertake any construction or other activity necessary to bring about compliance which means ensuring adequate drainage or seek criminal penalties for knowing, willful or reckless violations of Polk County subdivision regulations because they were well aware of every single one of them. They have had a professional engineer try to help them get into compliance and basically chose not to,” Murphy said. The Court approved issuing an injunction until all concerns are corrected.

The Court approved a request from the district attorney to pay out time accrued as of Aug. 13, 2023 by the district attorney’s staff, utilizing funds remaining in the district attorney’s salaries line item, specifically, all FLSA comp and holiday time and all but 20 hours of equivalent comp time.

“They have been working overtime, they have been clearing as much as they can of the docket on their side. Due to vacancies, $156,934 will be remaining in the line item at the end of the fiscal year. The cost would be $30,257.52,” Murphy said.

The Court approved contracts for human resources, specifically, Tyler Technologies applicant tracking and Easy Llama for new employee training, two new services to replace the county’s current onboarding services. The new services will save the county money and provide greater functionality.

Also approved was a contract amendment between Polk County and Tyler Technologies for Tyler Teams-20, which will be paid for using COVID funds.

The county’s IT department received notification that the cameras and the DVRs that were installed at the Polk County Tax Office and the Polk County Annex have since been added to the state and federal non-compliant technologies list and present an unacceptable risk. Following some discussion, the Court approved updating the camera systems at these two locations at a total cost of $108,787.84.

In personnel matters, the Court reviewed and approved personnel action form requests submitted by department heads since the last meeting and also approved updates to the personnel management system. The Court also approved fiscal year 2023 budget revisions and amendments, as presented by the county auditor’s office.

The Court approved the early voting schedule for the November 2023 election, as requested by County Clerk Schelana Hock.

“Normally, in constitutional amendment elections, we just do five early voting locations, but because of one of the house bills of the last legislative session, there are some differences in how it reads and whether we can do that or not, so for consistency and to avoid confusion for the voters, we’re just going to do our 12 normal countywide voting locations that we’ve been doing,” Hock said, adding, “There will be two 12-hour days on the last two days of early voting that we’re required to do based on a senate bill.”

Ben Johnston and Ron Bayle, the president and chief operational officer of G-Energy respectively, attended Tuesday’s meeting, with Johnston apprising the Court that they have been analyzing potential sites in Polk County for the placement of a renewable energy facility.

“Within the last few years we have had different companies approach the county about building a landfill gas renewable energy plant so we reviewed and confirmed that the gas rights have been assigned to Santek and were transferred to Republic then we had some questions about it and so this led us to determine that when Republic took over the contract from Santek that Santek withheld it and so these gentlemen are here to represent the branch of Santek that is now called G-Energy and this is what they specialize in is recovery of landfill gas to renewable energy,” Murphy said.

The Court presented a proclamation to J.D. Coogler Jr., recognizing his upcoming 100th birthday on Aug. 29. Many members of the Polk County Historical Commission, on which Coogler serves, were in attendance showing their support.

Items on the consent agenda included:

Approval of the minutes of the July 25 special called meeting, Aug. 8 regular meeting and Aug. 15 regular meeting;

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;

Receipt of and record personnel action forms submitted by elected officials since the last meeting;

Approval of the transition from in-person test to online test for the bilingual incentive for Spanish as a Second Language Program;

Approval of the engagement letter with Gabriel Roeder Smith & Company Actuarial Services to perform the fiscal year 2023 and fiscal year 2024 actuarial valuations relating to other post-employment benefits of the county (retiree health benefits);

Approval of Amendment No. 26 to the community services contract between the Department of Aging and Disability Services and Polk County Aging Services for fiscal year 2024 and fiscal year 2025;

Approval of the adoption of the Texas Health and Human Service Commission Indigent Health Care Eligibility Standards, Documentation and Verification Procedures according to the act with the addition of the following provision of optional services as allowed under V.T.C.A. Health & Safety Code Section 61.0285;

Approval of the adoption of healthcare eligibility standards, documentation and verification procedures for state fiscal year Sept. 1, 2023 through Aug. 31, 2024;

Receipt of the fiscal year 2024/2025 biennium budget for community supervision and corrections department pursuant to Local Government Code 140.004;

Approval of county clerk’s preservation and records restoration plan, which includes a county court records archive fee in the amount of $10, as reflected in the fiscal year 2024 budget;

Approval of an order of constitutional amendment election to be held on Nov. 7;

Approval of election judges and alternates for the one-year term beginning Aug. 1, 2023, as requested by the county clerk;

Acceptance of the total loss offer for a 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe and removal from county inventory as of July 2, 2023;

Approval of Precinct 4 Constable Darwon Evans’ request to appoint Kevin Burman to reserve deputy constable;

Approval of a roadway easement extension at Twin Harbor Drive located in Precinct 2;

Receipt of the county treasurer’s monthly report for July 2023;

Approval of the purchase of a desktop scanner, printer and printer stand for the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace, not to exceed $1,200, to be paid from office furnishings/equipment;

Approval of the purchase of desk for the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace, not to exceed $1,414.16, to be paid from office furnishings/equipment; and

Approval of changing the effective date for the payout of telecommunications and jail staff accrued time approved at the prior meeting from July 2 to July 5, 2023.

Pastor Sean Ferry of Pine Forest Baptist Church opened the meeting with prayer.


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Huge Indoor Moving Sale

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MovingSale STOCK


Aug. 25th-26th

8 am - ???

1335 Pridgen Rd

off 350 S Livingston

King sleigh bed frame, big dresser w/mirror, night stands, kitchenware, Pioneer Woman Kitchenware, king, queen, twin sheet sets, lots of home decor, men’s 34x34-38, Jr women’s, vintage collectors Erte Soiree print and much more.

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Robyn Assuncao of Livingston is one of several students from throughout East Texas who attended Angelina College’s School of Visual and Performing Arts Scholarship Signing Day recently. The school’s four major arts divisions are visual and graphic arts, theater, choir and music. Assuncao will be studying in the graphic arts department. For additional information on AC’s Visual and Performing arts programs, contact Beckie Compton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For any other information regarding Angelina College, contact Krista Brown at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Photo by Gary Stallard/AC News Service

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F.A.I.T.H. continues its important work

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The Rotary Club of Livingston welcomed two new members – Mindy Ellis and Heidi Barnes – who were recently inducted into the local service club. (l-r) Rotarian Ray Gearing, Ellis, Rotarian Blair McDonald and Barnes.  Photo by Emily Banks WootenThe Rotary Club of Livingston welcomed two new members – Mindy Ellis and Heidi Barnes – who were recently inducted into the local service club. (l-r) Rotarian Ray Gearing, Ellis, Rotarian Blair McDonald and Barnes. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Dan and Bea Ellis and Suanne Wilson, representatives of F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group (Families And Individuals Thanking Heroes), presented a program to the Rotary Club of Livingston Thursday, updating them on the progress the organization has made over the years.

“Suanne and Bill kind of got this started. Without Suanne and the rest of our gang, we couldn’t be here today,” Bea said.

“Back in 2006, our oldest son, who probably could have gone to school anywhere in the country on a football scholarship, joined the Marine Corps,” Dan said. “We were proud and sad at the same time. He applied to be a machine gunner in the infantry.

“We felt like we needed a group for parents and grandparents to show support for each other and then it morphed into something else. We began sending care packages and we have sent a little over 24,000 since the beginning,” Dan said. “F.A.I.T.H. has been good for us and I think it’s also been good for everyone else. I know LISD’s NNDDC sends 30-35 kids every month to help pack boxes.”

“F.A.I.T.H. is very privileged. We have a core group on our board of directors,” Bea said. “We buy in bulk. In the beginning, the end game was to get through a couple months. But we’re still going and haven’t stopped. We’ve never been short. We’ve never run out. It was close a few times in the early years but after a few years, we became a 501(c)3 and got a lot more organized. We have stock in a storage building and the trailer the Rotary Club helped us to get. God has provided every month.

“The names on our list come and go. We have new kids added. We have kids get out and go into the civilian world. I call them kids because they are. Most are under the age of 25. They go all over the world. We have kids giving up college scholarships to go serve their country,” Bea said. “We average 125-130 care packages a month, but many months, we send more than that. We spend 90-100 hours monthly shopping, sorting, putting stuff together.

“When COVID came, we had to go outside. We’ve only missed two months – one was when Hurricane Ike blew through (2008) and the other was the first month of COVID (2020). Of 206 months, there have been 204 months of packages going out,” Bea said.

“Every package that goes out is shared with six to eight people and every package that is sent has some kind of tie to Polk County,” Bea said. “Budget wise – the first we sent overseas in 2006 for about $7 (per care package), today it costs $18.45 (per care package) for up to 70 pounds. We stuff them to the brim. Initially, we sent candy, magazines, just junk. Now, we send several forms of protein, oatmeal, liquid drink mixes, chocolate milk, Yoo-hoo in there. The more stuff we get in there, the more stuff they get.

“Since January (of this year), we have sent 785 overseas and 200 in the states and have spent $40,000. The price of everything has gone up,” Bea said. “At Christmas, you get your regular food box, but you also get at least one Christmas box. At Christmas, everybody gets at least three to four extra boxes to share.

“How do we make our money? Our biggest fundraiser is done annually in conjunction with Scott and Toni Hughes and Polk County Cares and that money is divided three ways among three different groups. That’s our biggest fundraiser. Our other big fundraiser is sponsoring care packages at Christmas time. Rotary Club has been outstanding through the years. We could not make it without y’all,” Bea said, adding, “F.A.I.T.H. really hasn’t changed in our mission or how we do things. We’ve gotten smarter, more efficient.”

Dan agreed. “There is zero administrative cost. Everything is donated. There are absolutely no funds that go into the administration of this organization.”

F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and its volunteers meet the second Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Livingston Physical Therapy located at 305 W. Mill St. in Livingston. Everyone is welcome as they are always looking for more volunteers.


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Council reviews preliminary budget

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City of Livingston logoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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The Livingston City Council reviewed the preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 during its Aug. 15 meeting and called a public hearing on the budget which is slated for 5 p.m. Sept. 12.

A public hearing regarding the city’s Texas Municipal Retirement System retirement eligibility and vesting was held because one of the agenda items was to discuss and consider possible action on a proposed ordinance regarding these items.

“Any time you do anything regarding the retirement of municipal employees, you have to have a public hearing,” City Manager Bill S. Wiggins said. “We’ve been actively trying to recruit seasoned employees, specifically in the police department, and we’ve lost several applicants because of retirement. Out of 909 municipalities in the Texas Municipal Retirement System, there are only 43 with a 25-year any age retirement with 10-year vesting and we are one of those. The remaining are participating in a 20-year any age retirement with five-year vesting.

“I’m proposing we consider moving away from the 25 and 10 and go with the 20 and five. We’re one in 43 who haven’t, and I think it would be a good opportunity for us. We want good, seasoned employees and we don’t want to hamper the ability to attract them,” Wiggins said. Retirement for City of Livingston employees is a 7% deposit rate with a two-to-one matching rate by the city and the proposed change would be in plan only. Council approved the proposed ordinance reflecting the change.

In other ordinance-related activity, Council approved a proposed ordinance amending Article II of Chapter 34 of the Code of Ordinances which deals with solid waste.

Following a 20-year relationship with Santek and then Republic, the city changed solid waste providers to Piney Woods Sanitation effective Aug. 1, going from twice-weekly garbage pickup to once-a-week pickup. The previous ordinance called for twice so the proposed ordinance on the agenda – which Council approved – was amended to read weekly.

This provided an opportunity for Wiggins to update Council on solid waste operations since the change. “We knew going in there’d be some problems. People don’t like change. We sent a request for proposals. We received three. All three were going to once a week. Of the three, Piney Woods Sanitation was the only one who would have someone other the driver to pick up the trash,” Wiggins said.

“Some of the confusion has been about the routes and the pickup days. You can go to the city’s website (www.cityoflivingston-tx.com) and click on a map to see where you live and what your pickup day is. We are having daily meetings with Piney Woods Sanitation and we will continue to. Things are getting better. It’s a work in progress. If you have any complaints, please call us. We can’t fix it if we don’t know about it. Let us know. I apologize sincerely and we will continue to work on it,” Wiggins said.

A proposed resolution supporting the adoption and approval of the Texas Opioid Abatement Fund Council and Settlement Allocation Term Sheet and designation of the city manager as the authorized signatory was on the agenda.

“The city’s eligible to participate in the attorney general’s opioid settlement. By approving the proposed resolution, we’re agreeing that we will not litigate against any of these companies, and therefore, we’re eligible for participation in the settlement. We’ve already received about $22,000,” Wiggins said. Council approved the proposed resolution and designated Wiggins as the authorized signatory.

While presenting his monthly report regarding projects and events, Wiggins apprised Council that the annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony is slated for 9 a.m. Sept. 11 at Livingston City Hall. He also reported that the Friends of the Library will host a book sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Livingston Municipal Library.

Reviewing some of the current development projects, Wiggins said he had the opportunity to visit with Jimmy Banks recently who was in town for a friend’s funeral. Banks is the developer of The Retreat Living LLC where six new residences are in progress. Wiggins said that Banks asked if the city staff was pleased with the work so far and Wiggins said that Banks was very complimentary of the city staff.

Wiggins also apprised Council that the $3.5 million major remodel of Walmart is underway and that Jonathan, the manager, has already invited the city to the store’s grand re-opening on Nov 3.

Wiggins reported that he sat in on the Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency board meeting that morning and that the board made the recommendation to lower rates for its three member cities – Livingston, Jasper and Liberty. As a result, Wiggins said the city will be looking into the possibility of lowering rates for its citizens.

In other activity, Wiggins reported that he has been in contact with Bill Holder with the Trinity River Authority of Texas. He said the city currently has sufficient water storage and water supply and that at present, there is no need to implement the city’s drought contingency plan. However, he said he will continue to monitor it closely.

Other business included approval of the accounts over $500 and minutes of the July 11 regular meeting.


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