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Fees increase July 1 for dumping garbage

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LIVINGSTON – An increase in dumping fees at the county landfill and five trash collections stations was presented to Polk County Commissioners Tuesday during their regular meeting in Livingston.

The increases, which go into effect on July 1, were presented by Mike Demarco, general manager of Santek Waste Services, which operates the landfill and collection stations under a contract with the county. Under the contract, Santek is allowed to periodically adjust the rates.

Demarco told commissioners the rate change was needed to offset increased operating costs and noted the last time the landfill rates were changed was on April 1, 2014 while the collection station rates have not been changed since Jan. 1, 2013.

He noted the rates in question are the fees the public pays when they dispose of trash and other items at the landfill near Leggett or the collections stations located throughout the county. Fees paid by commercial haulers to use the landfill are on a different schedule and are adjusted annually.

One of the major changes being made to the fee schedule is the amount paid for bagged garbage. In the past, Santek had five different rates for different sizes of bags ranging from 13 gallons or less up to those that contain over 70 gallons.

“The biggest single area of dispute that we’ve had was over the size of the bags being dumped,” Demarco said. “We decided to simplify that.”
Under the new schedule, bags of up to 13 gallons in size will be priced at 45 cents – up from the current 35 cents. All bags that are sized at 14 gallons or larger will now be priced at $1.35 per bag.

Santek will continue to accept appliances of up to four cubic yards in size free of charge at the collection stations and there will be no change to the $15 fee for the disposal of mattresses at either the collections stations or landfill.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis noted that in the past they have had problems with people dumping unwanted appliances, mattresses and other items on the side of county roads, forcing commissioners to have to expend resources to clean the illegal dump sites.

“The public needs to understand that it’s cheaper for them to take their trash to the landfill or collection stations. It costs them much more if we have to spend tax dollars to clean up items dumped along the roads,” he said.

Energy program
In other business Tuesday, commissioners approved a financing package to purchase equipment needed as part of a plan to reduce the county’s energy bills. Under the plan the Way Companies will purchase and install the needed equipment that is guaranteed to greatly reduce the amount the county spends on electricity.

As part of the overall package, the Way Companies offered a financing plan for the equipment but gave the county the option make other arrangements. In April commissioners agreed to seek alternative financing for the $2.1 million project and on Tuesday learned that a bid had been received from JPMorgan Chase and Co. at a rate of 1.935%, which County Judge Sydney Murphy said would save the county about $230,000 in interest fees over the life of the loan.

Other business
During the meeting, commissioners also:

-- Agreed to allow Murphy to proceed with budget planning that would include a 2.5 percent cost of living pay increase for all county employees. Work on the 2016-17 budget, which would go into effect on Oct. 1 is now underway and commissioners are expect to hold workshop sessions and hearings on the spending plan during the coming weeks.

-- Decided not to regulate the sale of certain fireworks over the July 4 holiday. Murphy explained that under state law, commissioners had until June 15 to order that certain types of fireworks not be sold. After that date, they could only order a complete ban on all fireworks as part of an emergency order to deal with drought conditions.

-- Approved that sale of tax foreclosed subdivision lots in precincts 1, 2 and 4.

-- Learned from Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Pitts that while Polk County has not yet been included in a federal disaster order stemming from May’s heavy rains and flooding, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be in the county next week to do a damage assessment.

-- Learned the sheriff’s department has been awarded as $27,550 grant to purchase additional body cameras for its deputies. The $10,400 in local matching funds needed for the grant has been obtained from donations from the community.

-- Recognized this year’s winners of the $1,000 Bobby Smith Memorial Scholarships. Sponsored by the county’s delinquent tax collection firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, the county awards one scholarship to a senior from the six local high schools. The 2016 winners included Travis Hendrix of Big Sandy High School, Savanna Knight of Corrigan-Camden High School, Kristen Lee Coker of Goodrich High School, Kimberly Christoph of Leggett High School, Sarrah Esser of Livingston High School and Darren Jennings of Onalaska High School.

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SCHOLARSHIP WINNER – Savanna Knight, a Corrigan-Camden High School senior, was recognized Tuesday by the Polk County Commissioners Court as one of the six winners of the $1,000 Bobby Smith Memorial Scholarships awarded by the court. The other winners, who were not able to attend the meeting, included Travis Hendrix of Big Sandy, Kristen Lee Coker of Goodrich, Kimberly Christoph of Leggett, Sarrah Esser of Livingston and Darren Jennings of Onalaska. Pictured above are (L-R) Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet, Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis, Knight, County Judge Sydney Murphy, Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent and Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis.

Goodrich council eyes new community center

GOODRICH - The City of Goodrich will meet Thursday to discuss the proposed new community center and the purchase of a lift station on FM 1988.

The 6 p.m. meeting will take place in Goodrich City Hall at 1003 U.S. Highway State Loop 393.

Council will discuss the closing on the purchase of property for the community center that was approved at a cost of $25,000 approximately three weeks ago.

In the February of 2014 monthly meeting, the Goodrich City Council decided on a community center for its 2015-2016 Texas Community Development Block Grant application to the Department of Agriculture.

The $275,000 grant was approved for construction of a community center, which is expected to include a parking lot, picnic tables, grills, and playground equipment.

The 2,000-square foot center will be placed on the property, located on Loop 393 with 150 feet of frontage to the road. On the property’s south side, it will adjoin the General Dollar store that is currently under construction and expected to open around August.

A new lift station on FM 1988 for Gulf South will also be a subject of conversation. The council has contemplated adding Gulf South into the city limits.

In other items, the city will discuss disaster relief, the 2016-2017 budget and de-annexing four properties from the city.

Onalaska councilmen given oaths

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ONALASKA - Justice of the Peace and Municipal Court Judge David Johnson administered the oath of office to Mayor Roy Newport as well as council members James Arnett and B. Milton “Chip” Choate when the Onalaska City Council convened on Tuesday.

All were won four-year terms when the May 7 election was cancelled when no other candidates filed to challenge them.

The council re-elected Shirley Gilmore to serve as mayor pro-tem and then re-appointed Johnson to serve as the municipal judge for two more years.

They also voted to appoint San Jacinto County Justice of the Peace Greg Magee as the associate judge. Johnson explained that it could be possible for him to have prior knowledge of a defendant through his justice of the peace official duties and that would be a conflict. Because of that, there is now another judge ready to serve.

Council also re-appointed David Moorman to serve as city attorney and municipal court prosecutor. Johnson will administer the oath when Moorman appears for regular court.

Police Chief Ron Gilbert reported the department responded to 173 dispatched calls and answered another 919 requests for service. During the month the department made 13 felony arrests and 25 misdemeanor captures. They issued 231 citations, 61 warnings and opened 58 new cases, 13 of which were either DWI or narcotics related.

Fire Chief Jay Stutts thanked the community and local business owners for the very successful barbecue and auction last week. The auction raised $38,075 and an additional $18,550 for the “Chief Special,” which will be placed in an account to purchase a new pumper in 2020. It will take about two years to be manufactured and outfitted. The food costs were $29,620, and food sold totaled $36,403, for a grand total income of over $65,000.

During April, the fire department responded to 41 calls, 29 of which were medical in nature, three structure fires, four grass fires and one each motor vehicle incident, hazmat (large gas spill) and landing zone. They also helped other departments twice.

Lee Parish, the city’s building inspector and fire marshal, reported 21 permits issued and 10 inspections performed on structures during April. There were 12 warnings issued for code violations and three have already been remedied. No fire instigations were needed during the month.

Librarian Sherry Brecheen reported 29 new patrons and the addition of 110 new books. The library was open 20 days with a circulation of 897 and 257 people used the computers during the month. Revenues were $360 and there was a donation from the Friends of the Onalaska Library for $500 to help defray the cost of eBooks that patrons can read on their tablets in the library.

The library is participating in the “Rock One Sock” supporting the National Missing Children’s Month activities. Participants are asked to take a photo of their feet with only one sock and post it on the Facebook page or social media using the hashtag #RockOneSock.

Newport announced the Bass and Bugs activity this weekend in Onalaska and the Clean Up Lake Livingston next weekend, and encouraged everyone to participate in these worthy events.

After the meting Newport announced that Pineywoods Sanitation would begin garbage collection for Onalaska customers effective June 1.
Consent agenda items consisting of vouchers, financials and minutes were approved.

Onalaska-oathsOATHS OF OFFICE — PCT. 2 Justice of the Peace David Johnson (second from left) administers the oath of office to Onalaska Councilman James Arnett, Onalaska Mayor Roy Newport and Councilman Milton “Chip” Choate during Tuesday nights council meeting. The mayor and councilmen drew no opposition in this year’s election.

County begins land condemnation process

LIVINGSTON – Although they hope it will lead to negotiations, the Polk County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to begin condemnation proceedings to force the sale of land needed for a new bridge on the Dick Skinner Road in Precinct 3.

During their meeting, commissioners met with John Stover, the attorney hired to represent the county in the eminent domain case, and indicated that while they would proceed through the condemnation process, they hoped their action might prompt the landowner, John Wayne Martin, to negotiate.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis and County Judge Sydney Murphy both told Stover that up to this point, Martin has refused to communicate with the county. Purvis noted the Texas Department of Transportation has agreed to replace an old wooden county bridge over a tributary of the Neches River with a modern concrete and steel structure similar to those used on farm to market highways.

Under the TxDOT offsystem bridge program, the county is responsible for obtaining the needed right-ofway for the project and until the 0.3275 acres owned by Martin is acquired, the state cannot begin the project.

“This is a very unusual step for us,” Murphy said. “No one on this court wants to use the power of eminent domain but we do need the bridge and we are out of options.”

During the meeting, Stover indicated the county has already offered to pay Martin $1,900 for the right-of-way and he outlined the process the county would have to take to condemn the land.

Under the eminent domain process, the county will have to have the land appraised by a certified appraiser and then make a formal offer to buy the right-of-way.

He noted that after making their initial offer, the county would have to wait 30 days before making a final offer. If they get no response within 14 days, the county could ask the district court to appoint a special commission to set a price for the property. If Martin or the county object to the price set by the commission, either could appeal to the district court.

However, at that point the county could accept the price set by the commission and pay that amount into a special account held by the registrar of the district court. They could then take possession of the property and TxDOT could build the bridge. Martin could either accept the payment for the land or appeal the amount to the district court.

Stover said the county would not have to wait for any appeal filed by Martin to be completed. Purvis said he would prefer to negotiate directly with Martin regarding the right-of-way and hoped that opening the condemnation process would convince the landowner to take that route.

County eyes eminent domain for bridge project

LIVINGSTON – Polk County Commissioners are scheduled to consider the “possible adoption” of an order of eminent domain to obtain needed right-of-way for an off-system bridge project when they meet Tuesday.

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ courtroom on the third floor of the Polk County Courthouse in Livingston.

The land in question is less than a third of an acre on the Dick Skinner Road of Precinct 3 needed for a bridge scheduled for construction by the Texas Department of Transportation. Under the off-system bridge program, TxDOT constructs concrete and steel bridges similar to those found on state farm-to-market highways to replace wooden structures on county roads.

The use of eminent domain or condemnation by the county commissioners to acquire an easement for a road or bridge project is extremely rare. Depending to the benefit to the landowner, the right-of-way needed for such projects is normally either donated or a price is negotiated. The landowner in this case has reportedly refused to do either.

Other items on the agenda for the meeting include the utilization or disposition of the M.G. Reily Humanitarian Building (the Old Hospital Building) in Corrigan, the approval of a 2016 Texas Traffic Safety Grant to the sheriff’s department as part of the state’s “Click It or Ticket” program and a request from Homeland Properties to a variance in the county’s subdivision regulations for the Star Ridge development in Precinct 2.

Commissioners also will consider the Precinct 4 road and bridge department’s request to purchase road materials including limestone and iron ore, the repair and retrofit of the boiler system servicing the Polk County Jail, and the early voting schedule and voting locations for the May 24 Republican and Democratic primary runoff elections.

Onalaska awards garbage contract

pineywoods logoONALASKA – Piney Woods Sanitation was awarded a three-year exclusive contract to collect garbage inside the city of Onalaska last week, after the city council met with representatives of several trash collection firms to go over their bid proposals.

The action last week came after the Onalaska council learned at their March meeting that several collection firms were interested in the city’s garbage contract. At that time, the council authorized Mayor Roy Newport to seek bids for the service.

Bids were received from Piney Woods Sanitation, current contractor Pro-Star Waste and Santek Environmental Services of Texas. A committee consisting of two council members and City Environmental Officer Lee Parish met with all bidders and evaluated the offers.

The mayor stated he wanted the best service and costs for the citizens. During last week’s meeting, each company was represented and spoke to council for two minutes before the report was presented.

Parish spoke for the committee stating they considered the size of the garbage trucks in regards to complaints from subdivisions about damaged roads. Also considered was customer service, and Parish said all bidders indicated they would have a local office if granted the contract. The cost to the customers per month for the same weekly pickup they now enjoy also was an item considered by the committee.

In making their selection, Parish said they considered the side loader offered by one service, which is lighter in total weight, and the offer to pickup heavy trash items if placed by the regular trash can, a service previously not offered.

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The committee recommended the council offer the three-year contract to Piney Woods Sanitation and the council approved Ordinance 362, granting the exclusive three-year contract to the Huntington-based company. Changeover will occur some time in May, the official end of the current contract. Both companies have said it should be seamless and not cause any interruption in service to the customers.

In other discussion, a business advisory committee appointed by the mayor returned a report noting the largest bass fishing group in Texas has an opening for a tournament in 2017. Should the city and the business community decide to hold a Texas Team Trails event, it would require a $15,000 upfront payment by May 1, 2017.

There would also need to be 10 rooms for officials, critical workers and probably other considerations regarding the event.

Council took the report under advisement and will conduct a meeting in the next few weeks to decide whether to tell the group that they will accept the offer. It was not on the agenda as an action item and the time too short for a meeting Friday, as discussed during the meeting by council.

Police Chief Ron Gilbert reported the department responded to 1,216 non-calls and 151 dispatched calls, making six felony arrests and 39 misdemeanor arrests. Traffic patrol issued 219 citations and 48 warnings, and the department assisted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office six times, driving 7,845 miles and opening 56 new cases, three of which were narcotic or DWI related. The reserves worked a total of 10 days, logging 63 hours.

Fire Chief Jay Stutts reported that 32 of the 65 calls made in March were medical in nature and there were 10 structure fires, two grass fires, five motor vehicle accidents, one hazardous materials event, four lake rescues, three setups of helicopter landing zones, seven assists and one mutual aid call to help anther fire department.

Stutts reminded all that the annual barbecue and auction will start Wednesday, April 27, culminating with the auction on Saturday, April 30, with many great opportunities to purchase items and help the fire department.

Building inspector and code enforcer Lee Parish reported 11 permits issued and 14 inspections were made during March. There were two code violations and they were sent letters for corrective action. There were no suspicious fires during the month.

Newport reported the dog fence and signage at the city park is completed and being used, and noted the water and electric are in place for both the pavilion and the dog park. Lights for the flagpole will be installed next. The landscaping was put on hold while Mother Nature watered the park Tuesday and Wednesday. The pavilion is booked every weekend through early June with both public and private events. Depending on the growing season, they plan to have some homegrown vegetables and perhaps fruit during the late spring and early summer.

The Onalaska Library Board reported that Paige Ruiz was named as vice chair and they are working to separate the procedures from the policies. Policies need to have council approval and procedures can be changed to fit the situation with just notification to the mayor and council, but no vote is required. Library usage for March showed 23 new patrons and 149 new books cataloged. There were 877 users circulating 867 books and 109 used the computers. There was a total income of $496.

Council accepted the resignation of Officer Danny Winkler and appointed Christopher Lima to a position as a full-time officer with the normal probation period. Lima has extensive training and experience as an officer.

The consent agenda consisting of minutes, vouchers and unaudited financial statements were approved.