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Trinity County News - Breakout

Board modifies break policy

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TRINISD D LOGOBy Tony Farkas
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TRINITY — The Trinity ISD School Board modified its restroom policies after parent complained the existing ones were too strict.

Superintendent John Kaufman said the district received a complaint last month from a parent stating that we were unreasonable, so the board directed us to review our policy.

“We did want kids to spend more time in class, and there were some issues with students spending more time in the restroom,” he said.

The modifications are broken down by grades and required only slight changes. The changes were approved at the regular school board meeting on Jan. 24.

Most significantly, instead of wearing a vest, students will carry a wooden pass.

In a separate matter, the board made changes to its reopening plan based on recent recommendations from the CDC and other agencies.

Kaufman said that adults who have confirmed positive for COVID will only have to stay out five days and can return if they have no fever or their symptoms improve. He said it doesn’t require a confirmed negative test.

Students under 18 years of age still have to stay out 10 days.

In other business, the board:

•approved the order of election;

•tabled allowing homeschoolers to participate in extracurricular activities;

•purchased a 72-passenger bus and a 30-passenger activity bus at a combined cost of $184,000. The new vehicles are equipped with seat belts, safety cameras and AC; and

•accepted the FY 2021 audit, which was returned with an unqualified opinion.

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Ordinance receives pushback

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groveton texas city limits 250By Tony Farkas
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GROVETON — The Groveton City Council’s efforts to enact permits and regulations for buildings met with resistance at a recent meeting.

At the regular meeting on Jan. 24, council members were face with a full house of city residents, all of whom felt the proposed ordinances for building codes and inspections, as well as permit requirements, were out of touch with the needs of the community.

Complaints ranged from permitting fees being too exorbitant, to the lack of qualified building inspectors in the area, to the requirement of licensed contractors to perform work, and even the lack of information provided by the city.

David Robison said the city took too big of a bite at the ordinance, and didn’t think through the details.

“This is a very dismal set of ordinances for the city,” Robison said. “This will stifle growth and will harm people. It’s one of the worst things to happen here in a long time.

Robison said there are no licensed trades in the area — no master plumbers, no master electricians; there is no zoning, which is required by the ordinance; and there are no code enforcement officers, or anyone with that kind of training.

This ordinance calls for contractors, but there is no mechanism in place to authorize them; there are no inspectors on staff, so when a water heater goes out, it could be days without water before a contracted inspector will show up. 

“You have criminalized replacing your water heater,” he said. “It is a Class C misdemeanor to work on your own house under penalty of a $500 fine and a criminal charge on your record.”

Robison said the ordinances have inadequate definitions throughout, and since they mention health and safety and not specifically building codes, they could be applied retroactively to all structures in the city.

“I think you need to do this incrementally,” he said. “If you take this slowly, it will be much better.”

Mike Due, a local preacher and cabinet maker, said that as he reads the ordinances, it’s onerous lawmaking and against the spirit of independence and cleanup and “let’s make life better” the town.

“I love this community; if you want to talk about the original ‘git r done,’ most folks can fix things in their homes,” Due said. “We are fiercely independent; but everything we can do for ourselves, according to what I read, I will have to get a permit for, even to paint my bedroom inside my house.”

Due said that it was expensive and required a lot of help to renovate the building for his business; if the information in the ordinance was correct, he would have wasted all that because the new law would put him out of business.

“There is no way I could afford to make reparations according to this code,” he said. “Why would you charge us to do (these things)? If you do, then people won’t do them, and the city will continue to run down.”

Glenn Hammond, Groveton fire chief and landlord, said if the city enacts the ordinance, then he will in turn have to charge more for his rentals, which will cause hardship for people, especially those on fixed income.

“If this goes into effect, I’ll have to sell my houses, and who will want to buy them?” he asked.

Carla monk said that she needed to get a leak fixed, and the cost of getting a plumber from Lufkin was going to cost $254 simply for travel, as well as whatever costs for repairs and labor. She called a friend who fixed it in 5 minutes by tightening a screw, and questioned if that made any sense.

“People on fixed incomes cannot afford the cost of repairs, much less permit and inspection fees on top of that,” she said.

Mayor Tommy Walton said that no one on the council is here to damage the city, but none of us want people burning their houses down.

“We want to bring our 2008 standards up to 2018, not the most current, but more current,” he said.

Walton said they city is required by law to do inspections, and did not understand why there were problems with the council seeking to enact ordinances, and was told that the costs and the need for city permission were the problems.

“I don’t want us to be a police state, but I want us to have reasonably current ordinances,” he said. “There is nothing that is engraved in stone; we can do anything within reason.”

He also said he resents that no one contacted the city for any clarifications, and instead relies on gossip and misinformation.

“We have said repeatedly that the ordinances will be modified,” he said. “We know there will be exceptions, and we’ll deal with that when we come to it.”

Council member Joe Don Kennedy recommended tabling the measure so it can be amended to something that is more presentable.

Council members Autumn Dial and Ralph Bennett were picked to begin working on the ordinances, which will be placed on next month’s agenda.

In other business, the council:

•approved a $6,273.90 payment to Inframark for month water maintenance;

•approved an audit report from Todd, Hamaker and Johnson LLP;

•discussed the annual report from Fire Chief Glenn Hammond;

•approved an order for a general election for May 7; and

•approved April 26-27 as 12-hour voting days for the city elections.

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Jail problems mount for county

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Trinity Countyseal 200By Tony Farkas
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GROVETON — The dilapidated jail is becoming worse, and county officials were told by Sheriff Woody Wallace that the county is running out of options.

“We’re out of compliance. We have a liability issue,” Wallace said. “If we’re found out of compliance, that opens up a whole lot of lawsuits against us.

“It’s a sinking ship,” he said.

Wallace said he has been in contact with state agencies, and has been told the county is not abiding by jail standards, and essentially, it has 90 days to get it fixed.

“We’ve had other issues,” he said. “With overcrowding, multiple times we’ve had to keep more people that we’re allowed to in that jail, because other jails are not taking inmates because they’re shut down over COVID. Last week, there was a problem with a sewage line at the jail, and raw sewage leaked out. then there was another backup that flooded the dispatch area and sewage started backing up in the sink.”

County Attorney Colton Hay said that in his discussions with the state, it has come to light that while the Trinity County Jail has been grandfathered in to hold prisoners, it is currently barely meeting standards. 

Wallace said he recommends building a temporary structure while waiting for the Jail Commission to come up with a plan for a new facility, but is willing to accept any ideas.

“We can build any temporary structure we want, as long as we can prove we can keep them there,” he said. “We can use COVID money because it’s an emergency situation. We can build a dormitory structure, and it will allow us to pull inmates out of that and other jails, and we can use it for three years.”

Wallace cautioned that in addition to the facility, five full-time employees will have to be hired to run it. He also said that the state said there needs to be action on a new jail.

County Commissioner Neal Smith said he would prefer to purchase and renovate an existing structure to not spend county money on property not owned by the county.

Wallace will begin looking for existing structures to build a temporary structure, and present options at the next county meeting. However, he stressed that the county must build a new permanent facility, as the temporary facility is a one-time deal.

Wallace also was directed to look at relocating the dispatch office.

In a related matter, the county will begin using the web-based Nixle for public information purposes for county residents.

In other business, the court:

• approved official bonds for Lenore Martinez and Molly Ware;

• approved personnel action forms;

• approved seeking bids for a 2006 Ford F-150 pickup truck the county has for sale; and

• tabled a request from the Apple Springs VFD seeking $7,500 for repairs.

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Candidates, voters get cozy

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Candidates and constituents mingle during a Republican Party candidate forum held Thursday at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton. Photo by Tony Farkas/TCNSCandidates and constituents mingle during a Republican Party candidate forum held Thursday at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton. Photo by Tony Farkas/TCNS

By Tony Farkas
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GROVETON — Republican candidates for Trinity County positions stumped at the first of three forums presented by the Trinity County Republican Party.

GOP Party Chairman Scott Womack said these events are done during election cycles to get the word out to the people about the candidates.

“One of the most important things we have in this country is the right to vote and to elect our representatives,” Womack said. “Sometimes that’s taken for granted by people just not getting involved.”

Womack said voters can see the candidates, listen to them speak and to make a decision based on that and their own research.

“It helps them find the best candidate that represents the values of themselves and the Republican Party,” he said. “This is done during the primary election cycle every two years.”

Two more meetings are scheduled; the next is at 6 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Centerville school, and then at 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at Trinity Café in Trinity. 

“Hopefully this will get the candidates enough exposure, and the people enough information,” he said.

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Updated property tax information available

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PropertyTax graphicNew and updated property tax information has just been compiled by the Trinity County Appraisal District and is available now to assist taxpayers. This property tax information is current and covers a wide range of topics, such as taxpayer remedies, exemptions and appraisals, and has information for select groups, such as disabled veterans and persons age 65 or older. “Whether you are a homeowner, business owner, disabled veteran or taxpayer, it’s important you know your rights concerning the property tax laws.” said Mr. Gallant, Chief Appraiser.

“You can contact us about any property tax issues with full confidence that we will provide you the most complete, accurate and up-to-date information available to assist you.” This includes information about the following programs.

• Property Tax Exemptions for Disabled Veterans - The law provides partial exemptions for any property owned by disabled veterans or surviving spouses and surviving children of deceased disabled veterans. Another partial exemption is for homesteads donated to disabled veterans by charitable organizations at no cost or not more than 50 percent of the good faith estimate of the homestead’s market value to disabled veterans and their surviving spouses.

The exemption amount is determined according to percentage of service-connected disability. The law also provides a 100 percent homestead exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans and their surviving spouses and surviving spouses of U.S. armed service members killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.

• Property Tax Exemptions - Non-profit organizations that meet statutory requirements may seek property tax exemptions and must apply to their local appraisal district by a specific date. Businesses that receive tax abatements granted by taxing units; ship inventory out of Texas that may be eligible for the freeport exemption; store certain goods in transit in warehouses that are moved within 175 days; construct, install or acquire pollution control property; own and operate energy storage systems; convert landfill-generated gas; or store offshore drilling equipment while not in use may also be eligible for statutory exemptions.

•Rendering Taxable Property - If a business owns tangible personal property that is used to produce income, the business must file a rendition with its local appraisal district by a specified date. Personal property includes inventory and equipment used by a business. Owners do not have to render exempt property such as church property or an agriculture producer’s equipment used for farming

•Appraisal Notices - Normally, taxpayers receive a notice of appraised value from the appropriate local appraisal district. The city, county, school districts and other local taxing units use the appraisal district’s value to set property

taxes for the coming year . . • Property Taxpayer Remedies - This Comptroller publication explains in detail how to protest a property appraisal, what issues the county appraisal review board (ARB) can consider and what to expect during a protest hearing. The publication also discusses the option to request limited binding arbitration to compel the ARB or chief appraiser to comply with a procedural requirement and the options of taking a taxpayer’s case to district court, the State Office of Administrative Hearings or binding arbitration if the taxpayer is dissatisfied with the outcome of the ARB hearing.

• Homestead Exemptions - A homestead is generally defined as the home and land used as the owner’s principal

residence on Jan. 1 of the tax year. A homestead exemption reduces the appraised value of the home and, as a

result, lowers property taxes. Applications are submitted to the appropriate local appraisal distric

•Productivity Appraisal - Property owners who use land for timberland production, agricultural purposes or wildlife

management can be granted property tax relief on their land. They may apply to their local appraisal district for an

agricultural appraisal which may result in a lower appraisal of the land based on production, versus market value.

•Residence Homestead Tax Deferral - Texas homeowners may postpone paying the currently delinquent property

taxes due on the appreciating value of their homes by filing a tax deferral affidavit at their local county appraisal

district. This tax relief allows homeowners to pay the property taxes on 105 percent of the preceding year’s appraised

value of their homestead, plus the taxes on any new improvements to the homestead. The deferral postpones the

remaining taxes, with interest accruing at 8 percent per year but does not cancel them

• Property Tax Deferral for Persons Age 65 or Older Disabled or Disabled Veteran Homeowners - Texans who

are age 65 or older or disabled, as defined by law, or who qualify for a disabled veteran exemption may postpone

paying current and delinquent property taxes on their homes by signing a tax deferral affidavit. Once the affidavit is

on file, taxes are deferred, but not cancelled, as long as the owner continues to own and live in the home. Interest

continues to accrue at 5 percent per year on the unpaid taxes. You may obtain a deferral affidavit at the appraisal

district.

•Notice of Availability of Electronic Communication - In appraisal districts located in counties with a population of

more than 200,000 or that have authorized electronic communications, and that have implemented a system that

allows such communications, chief appraisers and ARBs may communicate electronically through email or other

media with property owners or their designated representatives. Written agreements are required for notices and

other documents to be delivered electronically instead of mailing.

•Protesting Property Appraisal Values - Property owners who disagree with the appraisal district’s appraisal of

their property for local taxes or for any other action that adversely affects them may protest their property value to the

appraisal district’s ARB.

•Informal Meetings - Property can request an informal meeting with appraisal district staff to try and resolve their

disputes prior to attending ARB hearings.

For more information about these programs, contact the Trinity County Appraisal District at 123 S Main Groveton,

Texas 936-642-1502 or 103 W Caroline Trinity, Texas 75862.lnformation is also available on the Comptroller’s

Property Tax Assistance Division’s website at comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax/.

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