LIVINGSTON – The work toward creating a new Livingston Senior Citizens Center took a major step forward Tuesday when Polk County Commissioners named a project administrator and hired an engineering/architectural firm to design the facility.
During their regular meeting in Livingston, commissioners named David Waxman as the project administrator and EHRA of Houston as the engineer/architect.
The county has received a $275,000 community development fund grant to develop the project aimed at modernizing the senior center in Livingston.
In other business during the meeting, Robert Belt of the accounting firm of Belt Harris Pechacek, LLLP, presented an “unmodified” audit report of the county’s finances for the year ending Sept. 30, 2015. He noted the unmodified label is the highest possible report the county could receive.
He noted that during the year, the county’s general fund balance – the money held in reserve at the end of the year – increased by about $319,000 during the year and ended at just over $7.4 million. Belt noted that bonding agencies like to see counties such as Polk with a minimum of about 25 percent of their total budget in the fund balance – an amount that would be able to cover the cost of operating the county for about 90 days.
Belt described that $7.4 million fund balance in the general and the $3.1 million in the road and bridge funds as “healthy” and praised the county for maintaining those levels.
The auditor noted a new requirement for governmental audits is to report the pension liability facing each entity. He noted that news coming out of the City of Houston regarding their pension liability is not good but said Polk County is in much better condition in this area.
The audit report listed pension liabilities for the county at almost $51.8 million with assets of over $49.7 million.
“This means you are 95 percent funded and that is excellent,” Belt said. “Places like Houston and Detroit have gotten into trouble because they are nowhere near that level.”
Belt noted that the 95 percent figure probably would fluctuate in the years to come as the interest rates paid on the pension investments goes up and down but said the county is in a strong position.
During the meeting, commissioners also:
-- Learned a company called First Solar, Inc. is looking at opening an operation in the Goodrich area of Precinct 1.
- Approved offers to purchase tax foreclosed property, including three lots in the Forester’s Retreat and Six Lakes subdivisions in Precinct 1, two lots in Chester 100 and a 6.7-acre tract in Precinct 3 and a number of lots in the Crystal Lakes, Holly Hills, Double A Lake Estates and Indian Springs Lake Estates subdivisions of Precinct 4.
-- Received quarterly reports on the warrant service programs from Pct. 2 Constable William “Bill” Cunningham and Pct. 3 Constable Ray Myers.
-- Appointed Assistant County Auditor Stephanie Dale to the Polk County Health and Safety Committee.
CORRIGAN - After discussion and information from Superintendent Sherry Hughes regarding the Pineywoods Community Academy, the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District’s board issued an impact statement indicating the charter school could negatively impact the public school’s enrollment.
Whenever a charter school announces its intention to open, the public schools in the area are given a chance to submit a report to the TEA detailing how the presence of a charter school may affect the public schools.
“The board feels that the proposed change for the open-enrolment charter school could be expected to have a major impact on the school district, with possible decreases in the C-CISD enrollment,” the statement read.
In other business during their monthly meeting last week, the board learned that students at the elementary and primary campuses celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2 with a brunch. They served “Green Eggs and Ham Roast Beast in a blanket” and “Cat in the Hat strawberry parfaits.” The pre-k and kindergarten were given healthy eating coloring books and all students received bookmarks. There were 18 students who won Dr. Seuss themed prizes.
March 15 was a “Roll out of Bed with Dad Breakfast.” Dads as well as uncles, grandfathers, etc. were invited to join students in the elementary and primary campuses for homemade cinnamon rolls. Over 140 men ate with students.
On March 17, for Saint Patrick’s Day, the cafeterias served all green fresh fruit and vegetable bars on the serving lines.
On May 5, the students will share “Moms and Muffins” for moms (and other mother figures) at the two campuses for breakfast.
The primary school awarded the teacher of the fourth six-weeks honors to Amy Kilgore while Monica Sanchez was the extended employee of the period. The National Honor Society students were on campus to help with Reading Coast to Coast. Testing was conducted March 15 to evaluate and rate either beginning, intermediate, advanced or advanced high in writing, to determine how students are learning.
The elementary school fifth grade attended the last Angelina College play for the year. The three plays in this series focused on science concepts. They enjoyed the show experience and exposure to science. Families of 111 students attended the math and science night, and report card pick up.
Parents also completed a survey in the computer lab and the book fair was open in the library where nachos were served. Homework help has increased to 20-25 students every Tuesday and Thursday and there are two certified teachers helping these students.
The junior high reported 213 students in February, with 18 in ISS and only one in DAEP. There are 50 girls and 56 boys enrolled in athletics with 55 in band. A total of 30 achieved the “A” honor roll and 39 made the “AB” honor roll. The girls won the Corrigan track meet and placed second in the Groveton meet. Walker Camp, a seventh grader, placed sixth in his region in calf roping and will participate in the state rodeo in May.
The high school has 256 enrolled and a 98 percent attendance rate. There are 35 nominees for the National Honor Society. These students must fill out paperwork detailing curricular activities, leadership and community service along with an essay.
The faculty will comb through these items and see who qualifies. No one is guaranteed membership. New members will be recognized May 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.
On April 11, the band will present a concert featuring the music they played at the UIL competition at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria and the sixth grade band will perform a spring concert on May 16 in the same place at 6 p.m. Coach Michael Scoggins was voted teacher of the six weeks for his creativity, integrity, perseverance and love for teaching.
The board voted to renew the district and campus administrator’s contracts for the 2016-17 year. They considered a draft of the proposed school calendar also.
The minutes of the February meeting were approved and the financials reviewed and vouchers approved for payment. With only one candidate for each board vacancy, the board voted to cancel the May 7 election. Members will be sworn in and the board re-organized at May’s regular meeting.
ONALASKA – School days in Onalaska will be 25 minutes longer next year but the school year will be shortened by five days, according to the 2016-2017 calendar approved by the Onalaska Independent School District’s board last week.
Superintendent Lynn Redden explained the calendar also will give students and staff a longer Thanksgiving holiday. This schedule will allow for the hours of state-required instruction and move graduation up by a week.
In other business, Redden reported the fences are down and the construction work is proceeding on time and under budget. Teachers and other personnel have been checking the new facilities, making a punch list for the wrap up with the contractor which due in the summer.
Redden said the total enrolment stands at 984, which is up from the 897 recorded at this time last year. There are 613 students in the elementary school and the second grade currently has five classes, four with 22 students and one with 25, which will have to be addressed in the opening of the fall session.
Laura Redden reported for the curriculum and special programs, indicating they are focusing on starting writing in the kindergarten classes. She had several grade work sheets displayed for the board to see the progress. Students are encouraged to work on a story, sharing their activities or hobbies and they are responding to that type material. There are tests in the fifth grade for state level on writing that students have scored lower on than desired.
The board was asked to support Region 6 Education Support Center in applying for a Texas 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. This would allow for after school activities, tutoring, and affirmative after school activities and furnish funds for teachers to work longer hours. It also addresses the transportation of students who stay later than the regular busses. The board approved supporting the request for grant funds.
The board held a first reading on update 2104 dealing with the policy manual. Redden suggested the board schedule a workshop to review the policy’s manual, with all the current members.
The proposed election scheduled for May 7 has been cancelled, there were no contested races and the current board will be sworn-in and re-organized at the May board meeting.
There was discussion regarding the annual audit services and they voted to offer a contract for the 2016 audit starting Aug. 31 to Weaver and Tidwell, LLP, Houston. Also they renewed their contract for 2016-17 with Interquest Detection Canines of Southeast Texas; the dogs are used to check the vehicles in the parking lot, lockers and other possible suspicious situations.
Six properties in Creekside and two in Forest Hills were on the tax foreclosure list and all met the criteria and the bids were accepted by the board.
Principal David Murphy reported that 225 students met their nine weeks’ i-Achieve goal and enjoyed a root beer float party.
March 21-25 students will be taking mock STAAR tests preparing for the real thing in the flowing weeks. March 31 the third grade students will take a field trip to the Aquarium in downtown Houston. On April 7 the fifth grade will take a field trip to Camp Forest Glenn in Huntsville to study predator/prey, micro life, pioneers along with fun activities built into their day. April 5 they will conduct a Pre-K and Kindergarten Round Up starting at 5:30 p.m. for students who will attend the 2016-17 school year.
After an executive session the board renewed the contracts of counselors Jodi Adkins and Robin Thornton, assistant principals Larissa Grubbs and Donald Meekins, Transportation Director Michal Skaggs, Business Manager Angela Foster and Auxiliary Department Director James Ard.
ONALASKA – The presentation of a certificate of appreciation to the Onalaska Church of Christ and annual review of the city finances audit were on the agenda when the Onalaska City Council met last week.
During the regular meeting, mayor Roy Newport presented a certificate of appreciation and achievement to the Onalaska Church of Christ, which since January 2013 has provided 565 free copies of the Bible to anyone who wishes to have one. Accepting this recognition were Elder Jerry Johnson and Deacon J.R. Young.
In other business, Darla Dear, representing the accounting firm of Belt Harris Pechacek, LLC, presented the audit for the period Oct. 1 2014 through Sept. 30 2015. The city received a rating of un-modified, the highest that the firm can rate a municipality for accuracy and transparence in reporting.
Dear thanked city secretary Angela Stutts for her preparation and help with the audit. Council accepted the audit. The final tally showed revenues of $1,353,772 with expenses of $1,257,683. This means that $154,089 was added to the fund balance which now stands at $1,208,623. A copy of the audit is available at city hall during regular business hours.
Police Chief Ron Gilbert reported the police department responded to 885 incidents and made 178 dispatched calls. Officers made nine felony and 35 misdemeanor arrests; issued 324 citations and 79 warnings; assisted the fire department once and Polk County Sheriff’s Office 20 times; drove 7,297 miles; and opened 65 new cases, including 10 that were narcotics or DWI related.
Fire Chief Jay Stutts reported the department handled 50 total calls in February, including 30 that were medical in nature. Firefighters also responded to six grass fires; four motor vehicle accidents; one each landing zone, lake rescue and mutual aid in Trinity county; and assisted other departments seven times. A total of 56 man-hours were spent in the county and 11 on city cases.
Building Inspector Lee Parish reported 12 new permits were issued and a total of 19 building inspections preformed during the month. As the city’s code enforcer, Parish tagged and notified five owners for code violations and a total of 14 structures are currently in various stages of remediation. There was one suspicious grass fire for Parish to investigate as fire marshal.
Librarian Sherry Brecheen reported the library had a total of 853 patrons who checked out 691 items and 313 who also used the computers. Income, mostly from copies and faxes, totaled $375.80. There was one replacement book cost of $25; $22.80 in fines were collected; and total donations were $30.95. There were 94.6 volunteer hours donated this month.
Two properties were set for show cause hearings, but one owner chose not to appear and one requested the city condemn the property in an effort to remove it from the appraisal district rolls.
The council approved and declared it a health and safety hazard. The property is located at Canyon Park 2, lots 229-230.
The second property is located at Kickapoo Forest Block 3 lot 20 and council, after viewing photographs and hearing Parish’s report, also declared this to be a health hazard and condemned it.
These actions clear the way to have the owners clean up the crumbling buildings.
Council approved the consent agenda consisting of minutes, vouchers and payments of invoices.
In public announcements, Newport reminded all of the upcoming Easter Parade and Egg Hunt on March 26, starting at 10 a.m.
He also noted the dog park fence is complete and only the gates need to be hung upon arrival.
“This should stop the dogs running loose in the park,” Newport added.
GOODRICH -- On Feb. 18, the Goodrich ISD board unanimously to submit two bonds for voter approval in an effort to sustain the district. Both will appear on the ballot during the district’s May elections.
The board chose to go with $3 million in bonds rather than the $4 million or $5 million options that were on the table. The idea was to make the bond as affordable as possible for taxpayers.
The money will still allow the district to attack the biggest areas of need, which include roofs, buses, science labs, windows and doors.
“If this bond doesn’t pass, I don’t know where we are going to go,” Goodrich Superintendent Dr. Gary Bates told an auditorium of teachers on Wednesday. “If they (taxpayers) don’t want to pay Goodrich taxes, I guarantee you in eight to 10 years, they are going to be paying Livingston’s taxes, because there won’t be a Goodrich ISD.”
The bonds will likely be split with $500,000 earmarked for debt the district accumulated last year when work was done on roofing and an HVAC system that was sinking into the ground at the time. The other $2.5 million will go toward current issues. The largest priority at the time seems to be reliable transportation.
“Our buses are breaking down left and right and we’re putting a lot of money into our buses,” Bates said. “With all the money we have put into them, we could almost purchase a new bus. We have seven busses right now and we are hoping to try to get three new buses. That would be a game changer for us. We have a few buses that can still stay in our fleet, but three new buses would really work for our district.”
With the bond money, there would also be an opportunity to finish roofing the remainder of the district’s buildings. Some work done prior to last year was for the most severe leaks in the roof.
The superintendent, who is in his second year at Goodrich, said there is also a want for new doors and windows so the schools can be more energy efficient, saving money in the long-term.
“Its not a lot that we are asking if you look at schools across the state of Texas,” Bates said. “Some are asking for $100 million bonds. We are asking for $3 million. If you live in Goodrich in a $100,000 home, it will cost you an extra $148. If you do that by the month, that is about $12.30 per month extra — that’s a meal. We are hoping the community will support this and we are trying to stay in the game. Goodrich kids deserve that.”
Bates said students are supposed to be in labs for science about 80 percent of the time, which is not happening. The school is attempting to outfit two science labs, one in the elementary with the other in the secondary school. “Our science labs at the elementary and high school are horrendous. We want to get state-of-the-art science labs, so our kids will be able to go in and participate in labs.
“Our gases and chemicals are so outdated, our kids are not able to utilize the science labs. Teachers are having to improvise with their own money, trying to buy supplies. If you look at the STAAR test, it is very hard to do the work in the classroom versus a lab.” What is left of the money will be spent on bathrooms and an updated marquee.
The school district will attempt to utilize a variety of opportunities to get information to the taxpayers and voters of the district during the coming weeks. Churches, city council meetings and open forums are just a few already planned.
“We are hoping the community will step forward and decide that our kids are just as important as the kids to the north and south of us,” Bates said. “We have not had a bond from what I understand. There was one that went before the community many years ago and it failed. No one likes to have taxes increased, but research shows it’s better to educate our kids and give them the resources to be successful. We are not building any new buildings and we’re not building any basketball gymnasiums. All we are trying to do is maintain our district. We have a very old district and we are trying to keep our facilities upgraded.”
Currently, residents paying school taxes in Goodrich with a $100,000 home give a total of $1,170 per year, whereas those in Livingston forfeit $1,390. If both bonds pass, that total for Goodrich residents would increase to $1,318.
“Usually when I have issues or concerns, I have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C,” Bates said. “On this one, I don’t. It’s kind of like your home. When you have needs in your home or on your roof or plumbing repairs, you don’t put it off. You fix it first. That’s basically what we are doing here in our district. If it doesn’t pass, I don’t know and I hate to say that, because I like to come up with viable solutions.”
CORRIGAN -- Corrigan City Council and RoyOMartin company, signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday evening establishing sewer connections and rates for service for the oriented strand board (OSB) plant now under construction just outside of the city.
The agreement was approved following discussion with the city’s financial advisor, David Waxman, as well as a representative from Goodwin Lasiter Engineers and RoyOMartin’s local management.
A presentation is planned this week before the Polk County Commissioners Court in Livingston to finalize the water service to the manufacturing plant, which is set to open in September 2017.
With the sewer agreement now in place, the city can upgrade its current sewer processing facility and to prepare for that upgrade they selected Goodwin Lasiter Engineers for that specific endeavor. Waxman has been preparing the financing requests for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and expects to have a hearing sometime in June.
In other business, the council appointed Inez Wiser as election judge for this year’s city council election and tentatively named Cecil Hance and Beaulah Hood to the early voting ballot board.
After a discussion regarding the possible changes in garbage collection with a contract to Pineywoods Garbage service, council tabled the matter until a special called meeting set for Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, to allow for more citizen input regarding the change to once a week pickup. While the rate will stay the same — any increase would have to be approved by council — residential users currently have twice a week pickup.
Corrigan-Camden Independent School District Superintendent Sherry Hughes addressed the council regarding the activities at the school with regard to the recent bond election and the progress of the security changes being implemented using the bond money. She also told council the school would like to be more proactive in the lives of the students after school and in the community and asked council to join with the district in providing incentives to youth to stay out of trouble and have good role models.
Council reviewed the financial reports, passed a resolution regarding the signature cards at Citizen State Bank due to the appointment last month of a new city secretary, adding Carrie Casper to the cards with Darrian Hudman, Mayor Jonathan Clark, and Johnna Lowe Gibson, as signers. They also approved the minutes from the January meeting.
Police Chief Darrell Gibson reported 18 arrests for the period Jan. 20 through Feb.15 as well as 1,003 citations issued, 177 calls for service, 1,315 building checks and a total of 17 investigations, with 14 being forwarded to the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s office for prosecution. There was only one vehicle accident with no fatalities.
The fire department responded to 10 incidents including three car fires, two each of structure and grass fires and one each vehicle wreck, burn victim and gas spill.
During council forum Johnna Lowe-Gibson asked why the other city departments were not in attendance at council meetings as requested in January. The librarian was present along with Chief Gibson. Hudman said he would follow-up and have representatives next month. Lowe-Gibson also suggested, for safety reasons, having two or more officers present at large events, such as when the football stadium is used for parties. She also stated that people in town complained about the police ticketing “local” drivers. She wanted everyone know that state law makes no provisions for only ticketing out-of-town offenders. “We all have to obey the laws,” she said.
Johnnie Marie Brooks said the city should have better grass and weed control, adding before the spring growing season starts she doesn’t want to see snakes hiding in the bushes. She asked the maintenance department to get to work on the matter.