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County to ratify tax abatement plan

LIVINGSTON – The ratification of a 10-year tax abatement agreement for the proposed new timber products plant near Corrigan will be among the items considered when the Polk County Commissioners Court convenes at 10 a.m. Tuesday on the third floor of the Polk County Courthouse.

The county initially approved the tax abatement plan in December on the $280 million oriented stand board (OSB) plant proposed by the RoyOMartin Co. of Alexandria, La. The plant would eventually employ 160 workers and create hundreds of other support jobs in the trucking and logging industries.

Although some details were not finalized in December, the commissioners approved the general 10-year plan under which the county would waive all property taxes on the "eligible" items such as buildings, equipment and other improvements for the first five years, starting on the date the plant goes into operation. In year six, the county would waive 98 percent of the taxes, a figure that would decrease by 2 percent per year until it reaches 90 percent in year 10. On the 11th year, the facility will go on the tax role at 100 percent of its value.

It was noted that the land in question, which would be purchased by the RoyOMartin Co. at a cost of $5 million or $2,500 per acre, would immediately go on the tax roll at commercial values. At present the land is taxed at the much lower agricultural values.

Other items on the agenda for the commissioners' meeting include discussing a non-compliance report issued by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards regarding the Polk County Jail; receive requests of the Texas Enterprise Zone project nominations and schedule a public hearing on those nominations for 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 24; and discuss the Polk County Certified Retirement Community program and inquires relating to economic development.

The commissioners also are scheduled to receive an update on an interim legal council, review a preliminary plat for the Summer Escape subdivision to be located in Precinct 1 and conduct a closed session to discuss the operation and management of the IAH Secure Adult Detention Facility located near Livingston.

Onalaska approves utility easement

BY LEW VAIL
Enterprise staff
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ONALASKA – A right-of-way agreement between the City of Onalaska and the Sam Houston Electric Cooperative was approved during a special city council meeting on Friday, Jan. 23.

The council authorized Mayor Roy Newport to sign the agreement for the power company to place electric poles and lines on the city property at Onalaska Loop by the city park. This will also provide lighting at the sports complex on the south side of the road.

The original easements were for telephone, water, natural gas and sewage but neglected to cover power lines.

During the meeting, council members were also updated on the progress of bids received for the construction of an open-air pavilion, which is one of the reasons electric service will be needed in the near future.

The bidding process continues and council will consider them at a future meeting.

LISD seeks to generate more funds

BY BRIAN BESCH
Enterprise staff
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LIVINGSTON – The Livingston School Board's January meeting heard discussion on generating funds and board members decided to open new positions to manage ground maintenance.

In an effort to raise money without impact on taxpayers, Livingston Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said a transfer of revenue would need to take place.

However, the transfer requires voter approval or tax ratification. Hawkins said over $350,000 could be realized if the swap was supported.

"How do we generate $353,000 without a tax increase to meet the needs of inflationary cost of the district?" Hawkins asked. "We can make a better choice to have a higher return on our investment. We have had a choice since House Bill 1 has passed."

The school funding mechanisms changed with House Bill 1 in Texas. There is an option to change the funding structure.

"Some people call it a tax swap. School districts levy an ad valorem tax based on $100 valuation of property. This equates to $2.4 million of untapped revenue since the change in the law."

Hawkins said the district could take pennies from one category and move them to another, increasing the rate of return from zero to 21 percent. The transfer requires voter approval or tax ratification. Under the current school finance system, different pennies yield different amounts of funds.

The current system of school finance funds some districts at $3,900 per student, while other districts receive $13,000 for each.

"There is an equity issue that the state funding is paying per student. Districts are being forced to be creative to maximize the way schools are funded and not raise taxes."

Livingston's per pupil revenue is in the lower third of the state of Texas schools. According to Hawkins, a school finance lawsuit making its way through the Texas Supreme Court to allow for school equity.

"The cost of staffing continues to increase each year. Teachers move up the pay scale with each year of experience, so expenses increase each year. The Tax Ratification Election or tax swap would allow the district to address needs that other districts currently offer their students and employees."

On the consent agenda was consideration for implementing a plan that would provide Chromebooks (computers from Google) for grades 4-12 at LISD.

The plan is fluid and research is still taking place for financing, insurance and other variables.
Chromebooks have been ordered for career and technology students, as well as teachers. As many as 450 of the computers could be purchased, along with charging stations, licensing and other materials. Chromebooks would be utilized in the high school environment during the 2015 Spring Semester.

In 2015·2016, grades four and five would have new Chromebooks purchased.

The purchase would be to own for the Intermediate School, with no leasing cycle.

The intermediate school would have a 1:1 student to Chromebook ratio. Chromebooks would be charged in homeroom classes, used throughout the day, and returned to the cart at the end of the day.

Grades 6 through 8 would have Chromebooks purchased on a three-year leasing plan. The Chromebooks would be checked out at the beginning of the day in homeroom classes and returned at the end of the day for charging.

Grades 9 through 12 would have Chromebooks purchased on a four-year leasing plan. The Chromebooks will be checked out to students in a similar fashion to textbooks. The student would be responsible for bringing the Chromebook to every class and making sure it is charged at the beginning of each school day.

There are currently over 2,200 students in grades 6 though 12. The Chromebook 2014-2015 Vocational Project Budget for students and teachers is expected to be around $192,000. The costs would include nearly 700 Chromebooks, 15 carts, 15 Wi-Fi access points, and nearly 700 licenses.

The district will train teachers to use the Chromebooks with the students. They will teach them to share documents, use Google Classroom, teach lessons with the Chromebooks, and use the online textbook materials.

They will also train the teachers to teach the students how to use the Chromebooks in their daily work. Teachers will be expected to show students how to collaborate, use the Google applications, and grow each year, as the Chromebook becomes part of their daily lives.

The board also approved managing district's ground maintenance at each campus.

The cost of bids has reached a point that the district cannot afford to contract. No new revenue has been received from the state, yet the cost of operations has continued to climb.

The administration recommended approval of directing the Superintendent to purchase the necessary equipment and hire personnel positions. The district will give the current vendors notice of the change.

The total bid for every campus in LISD throughout the year is $118,064. The estimated average cost of over the next three years to purchase equipment and assign positions for the maintenance is $76,560 per year.

County cuts ties to economic group

LIVINGSTON – Polk County commissioner voted Tuesday to cut all ties between the county and the Polk County Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (PCEIDC).

Acting on the recommendation from Assistant Criminal District Attorney Sonny Eckhart, who has served as the commissioner's legal advisor, the commissioners court voted to discontinue all funding, end all involvement with the corporation's board and to stop participation in the selection of a director for the economic group.

Eckhart said under state law, the county should not be involved with the non-profit PCEIDC as it is currently organized. He noted the law does allow the county to set up an economic and industrial development group but it should be "100 percent under the control" of the commissioners court.

"The court should appoint 100 percent of the board members," Eckhart said. "It should be set up just like a county department."

The problem with the county's involvement with the current corporation is that it was set up outside the framework of the county government as a non-profit group and the county subsequently "joined" it. Eckhart said state law does not currently allow this.

He said they could revisit the issue if the current organization is reorganized in such a way that conforms to the local government code or if the commissioners decided to create a new economic development group. Should the county create its own group, the PCEIDC could continue to exist as a non-profit group with no county government affiliation.

The assistant DA noted state law does allow the county to support and work with some outside groups, such as Childrenz Haven, but that economic development groups have different rules.
In a separate recommendation, Eckhart said PCEIDC also should be asked to move out of its current office located on the second floor of the Polk County Courthouse. He noted that because the corporation is not a part of the county government, it probably should be located elsewhere.

County Judge Sydney Murphy suggested commissioners hold off on asking them to move until she has had a chance to meet with its leaders and discuss the situation. Commissioners agreed and withheld action on that part of Eckhart's recommendation.

In a separate but related discussion, it was announced that Eckhart would soon be leaving the district attorney's office to enter private practice.

During Tuesday's meeting, commissioners formally thanked former County Judge John Thompson for his 24 years of service. It was noted that Thompson had been elected as the county judge six times and held the office longer than any other person in the county's history. Thompson did not seek re-election to a seventh term and retired from office on Dec. 31, 2014.
Commissioners presented him with a plaque and voiced their appreciation of his service.

In other business, commissioners also received the program update for the county's Texas AgriLife Extension Service, which included a report from seven members of the county's 4-H program on the current and future activities of the club. The group represented 4-H members from Big Sandy, Goodrich and Livingston.

In addition, County Agent Mark Currie updated commissioners on the AgriLife ag and natural resources activities and County Agent Emily Janowski reported on current and future family and consumer science activities. County Agent Alyssa Puckett, who supervises the 4-H and youth development programs, provided information on the 4-H program and presented the seven club members to the commissioners.

Other action
During the meeting, commissioners also:
-- Authorized the sheriff's department to seek bids to replace nine vehicles.
-- Approved a utility easement on the Onalaska Loop for Sam Houston Electric Cooperative.
-- Approved a request from Pct. 4 Constable Bubba Piper to appoint two reserve deputy constables, Brett Boynton and Cliff Goddard.
-- Accepted the sheriff's department 2014 Racial Profiling Report.
-- Approved an agreement with the City of Onalaska authorizing them to use county voting equipment and services for a May 9 election.

C-CISD trustees saluted by students

BY LEW VAIL
Enterprise staff
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CORRIGAN – Members of the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District's board of trustees were honored last week during a program held as part of School Board Appreciation Week.

Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy was on hand to read and present a proclamation designation the week as School Board Appreciation Week in Polk County and C-CISD elementary school students presented each board member a certificate and gift bags from other campuses during the opening of the regular January meeting.

Superintendent Sherry Hughes called each student to make the presentation and then they all gathered for a group photo.

Primary students who participated in the UIL events also were honored during the meeting, held Monday, Jan. 19. They included: second grade story telling, fourth place Clarke Evans and fifth place Aden Standley; third grade story telling, third to Lauren Woodard and fifth to Madison Purvis; and creative writing, second place to Jordan Garcia.

A total of 18 elementary and some primary school students placed in the UIL competition in December.They were Gavyn Bradford, Sabine Snyder, Katheryn Fisher, Jennifer Jaworski, Giesele Martinez, Maritza Heredia, Zack Purvis, Lauren Woodard, Carrie Burris, Liliana Castro, Kely Farr, Destiny King, Caleb Rice, Estephanie Moran, Rosalio Escobedo, Isaiah Leatherwood and Sabine Snyder.

Eric A Carver, CPA representing Axley and Rode, LLP accountants, presented the 2013-14 audit to the board. Carver said the district received the highest rating that can be given and that the audit did not develop any inconsistencies. He stated that there were several reclassifications of items that could have been done during the year and that they also have broken out several funds that Hughes asked to make tracking easier next year.

"This is a clean audit and you have a strong financial position by carefully managing expenses," Carver said. The board voted to accept the audit.

Chad Hill, chief appraiser with the Polk Central Appraisal District, explained to the board the reason for a resolution to allow remodeling of the PCAD building in Livingston. The space will better accommodate both the appraisers and provide privacy when taxpayers want to discuss their property. The change will also offer better accommodations to the public during the high traffic time of disputes and hearings.
The remodeling will be paid for using funds already accrued by PCAD and no additional money will be required from the district. The C-CISD board approved the resolution.

Currently, the district is managing the food service on four campuses, the federal guidelines are changing yearly, and the board was told that planning menus to fit the new requirements now almost requires a dietician or professional services.

The administration asked the board to allow them to make a request for proposal to the USDA to outsource the food service. This will allow the district to evaluate what companies are interested in the task and to evaluate their offers, but would not bind the district to anyone or any program. If they decide to make a change, all current personnel would remain with the organization that is hired. The board voted to allow the application to USDA to proceed.

During campus principal reports, the high school reported having 284 students and attendance was almost 96 percent with a 57 percent decrease in tardies from last year. A total of 24 students passed the end of course tests in December and they have switched the tutorials to the second period of the day to better accommodate students. The Ag Department won first place at the Fort Worth Livestock Show last week for a trailer they had built.

The junior high reported that enrolment is at 217 with 96.13 percent attendance. Junior high student council elections resulted in Charisma Mallard as president; Breanna Owens vice president; Richard Thomas seventh grade representative and Alaina Lawson as the sixth grade representative. Basketball is at the halfway point and teams are now plying on Thursday nights. Track will start right after basketball, with the first meet to be in Alto on Feb. 23.

Primary and elementary teachers attended a conference titled "A Framework of Understanding Poverty" by Ruby Payne. This gave a perspective on things that children from poor families find important, and explained why and what to be aware of that are different from youth from an affluent economic group. The primary school now has a student with a hearing disability and she is transported to the special education facility at Trout Elementary in Lufkin under the co-op agreement.

The board entered into executive session to evaluate the superintendent and discussed the chapter 313 agreement. After returning to regular session, they voted to extend Hughes' contract by one additional year.

The district will hold an election in May for school board Position 4 held by Seth Handley and Position 5 held by Anthony Harrell. Filing for position on the ballot can be done at the administration office during normal school hours.

‘In God We Trust’ to be displayed in Corrigan

BY LEW VAIL
Enterprise staff
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CORRIGAN – As part of a national effort to gather support for the nation motto, the Corrigan City Council approved plans last week to display "In God We Trust" in the Corrigan City Hall.

The motto has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and on currency since 1957. Congress adopted it as the official motto of the United States in 1956.

In other business, it was noted the Polk Central Appraisal District is asking all taxing entities to approve the remodeling of the appraisal office in Livingston, which will be funded from accumulated surplus money from prior years' budgets. Council approved the resolution.

Council also approved a lease purchase, through Government Capital, of two patrol vehicles for the police department and a CAD System for the police department. During discussion Police Chief Darrell Gibson said they would purchase Ford SUV's and one of the patrol cars being replaced would become a vehicle for the animal control officer.

Gibson reported the department made 14 arrests during the period of Dec. 16 through Jan. 19. They also issued 932 citations, made 117 calls for service and made a total of 2,059 building checks - an unusually high number but led to the arrest of five persons who were committing burglaries during the hours that local business were closed. Officers worked a total of 19 cases and submitted nine to the Polk County District Attorney's office for prosecution. There were a total of five accidents in the city over the holiday period but none resulted in a fatality.

The Corrigan Volunteer Fire Department responded to seven calls during December; one grass fire, two automobile accidents, one accident requiring the Jaws of Life extraction equipment and one life flight vehicle accident. Firefighters also went on two police response situations and one gas spill.

Darrian Hudman's city manager report was a recap of 2014 activates. The new park is being widely used and the Westside Park has had new volleyball nets and other equipment installed. The sewer plant expansion allowed for more residents to receive service. Parts of MLK and Fifth streets were rebuilt to better drain and several other roads were paved or improved with lime stone base.

During items from council, Johnnie Mae Brooks said she had been at the Central Park and there were some boys fighting. When she spoke to the boys about it they remarked that there were no signs saying no fighting. Suggestions were made about signage to reflect that children under a certain age having to be escorted by a parent and other safety items. Council will likely visit these issues at a future meeting.
During the meeting, which was presided over by Mayor Pro-tem Joanna Gibson, council members approved financial reports after clarification of unusual items such as refunds for overpayment of property taxes. Council tabled an item regarding quarterly financial reports with Hudman noting the spreadsheet needed more work.

Corrigan will hold an election on May 9 for three council positions scheduled to be on the ballot, including Place 1 held by Joanna Gibson, Place 3 held by Earle C. Baldwin and Place 5 held by Marie Thompson.