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Hill resigns from Livingston City Council

BY BRIAN BESCH
Enterprise staff
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LIVINGSTON -- January's Livingston City Council meeting marked the end of over a decade of service for Alderman Ray Hill.

In his letter of resignation, Hill said it had been a pleasure to serve on the council.

"I feel it is now time for me to retire from the city's political arena and make room for someone else to step up to the plate," Hill's letter stated.

Mayor Clarke Evans presented a resolution of appreciation at the meeting. Hill's wife, Ann, and other family members were in attendance for the presentation.

City Manager Report
The project engineer presented preliminary streets, necessary repairs and cost estimates for the major street improvement project at the November City Council meeting. He requested authorization to proceed with development of plans and specifications and advertisement for bids in January 2015 so work can begin in n the spring of 2015. $1 million has been included in the 2014 - 2015 budget for this major street improvement project. Plans call for the opening of bids for the project on March 25 at 2 p.m. with the award to be made by the city council at the April 14 meeting.

The project engineer presented preliminary plans, specifications and cost estimate for the exterior and interior painting of the 300,000-gallon water tank on Walnut Street on Cemetery Hill at the November City Council meeting. He requested authorization to proceed with development of plans and specifications and advertisement for bids in January 2015 so work can begin in the spring of 2015. Bond proceeds from the Certificates of Obligation. Series 2012 issue will be used to fund this project which has been Included in the 20 14 – 2015 budget. Plans call for the opening of bids on Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. with the award of the bid by the city council at the Feb. 10 meeting.

 

The project engineer presented preliminary plans and specifications and cost estimate for the sewer lift station upgrade project, to expand and upgrade the lift station located on the US 59 bypass south adjacent to the Relax Inn at the November city council meeting. He requested authorization to proceed with development of plans and specifications and advertisement for bids in January 2015 so work can begin in the spring of 2015. Bond proceeds from the Certificates of Obligation 2012 issue will be used to fund this project, which has been included in the 2014 - 2015 budget. Plans call for the opening of bids on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. with the award of the bid by the city council at the March 10 meeting.

Financial:
Sales Tax: The January 2015 sales tax, which represents sales in November, was in amount of $280,965.02, an increase of $27,280.10, or 10.76 percent, from last January. This is the second largest amount of sales tax revenue ever received by the city for the month of January (January 2009 was the highest; result of Hurricane Ike in September 2008).

Events:
Thursday, Jan 22, the library will host the TAME Trailblazer II exhibit, one of two interactive science and engineering museums-on-wheels in the state. The exhibits are geared to motivate and promote careers in science and engineering for all students. The program is free and will provide hands-on activities and exhibits for children in grades 3 - 8. Both USD and the Montessori teachers have been contacted to attend.

The Polk County Historical Commission will celebrate Texas Independence Day at the City Cemetery on Saturday, Feb. 28, with a special ceremony beginning at 11 a.m.

The Historical Commission plans to express appreciation and recognize all the individuals and groups who have worked on the beautification of the cemetery this past year.

The 3rd annual First Baptist Church Day of Service (RISE UP!) is scheduled for Sunday, April 19. They expect more than 650 adults and children to participate in this event this year and are inviting other area churches to join them in this effort of community service.

Work on the community projects will begin at 9 a.m. and continue for three or four hours that day.
The annual Multicultural event will be held on Monday, Jan. 19 at the Livingston Junior High School beginning at 5 p.m. with a free fish fry, musical entertainment and a variety of other events to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Current Developments:
Murphy's Gas Station - The project is for a 1,200 square foot convenience store with six gas/diesel pumps to be located on the southeast comer of the Wal-Mart parking lot. City staff has reviewed plans and the building permit has been issued for the project - construction cost of $1,825,509. We have been notified that construction will begin in early February.

The EI Patron Grille project involves the renovation of the old Peoples State Bank building in Jackson Square as a new Mexican restaurant with construction costs of $135,000. A permit has been issued and construction is about 80 percent complete.

The Melbo's Gas and Car Wash project involves the demolition of the existing convenience store and car wash at US 190 and SH 146 Intersection. A pre-development meeting with owner and architect to review plans for new convenience store and gas station was held. Plans were submitted and approved by the city with the building permit issued for construction to begin - construction cost of $392,657. Demolition of the existing car wash and convenience store is complete with the removal of the old gas tanks underway.
The historical renovation project is to relocate the Polk County Courthouse elevator from the outside to inside. Plans have been approved, permit has been issued and construction is underway - construction cost of $875,000. The project is 90 percent complete, with exterior brick remaining. They are currently waiting on matching brick to arrive to complete the project.

A pre-development meeting was held on Oct. 8 with developers for a proposed convenience store and restaurant lease spaces at the intersection of Church and Willis Streets to include one or two restaurant lease spaces and a convenience store with gas pumps. Existing server line and recorded easement have been located and identified for the site. Developer is currently working on plans to submit to the city for review.

Other Items
Livingston was designated a Main Street City by the Texas Historical Commission in 2005 and will celebrate the 10 year anniversary this year. The First Lady's Tour was held in March 2005 as the official kick-off of the historical renovation program. Preliminary discussion is underway for a Downtown Block Party to celebrate Main 5treet's 10th anniversary and to recognize the many accomplishments of this program.

Recognition of several new businesses in the Main Street District is underway with the delivery of welcome baskets by Main Street Board members - Friends and Neighbors, Blue Duck, Petalz, Across the Tracks, A - Z Auction, and Vision Satellite. Tony's Pizza is expected to open In February next door to the Donut Express.

Attitude of Gratitude Program - A new recognition program by the city council and administrative staff with frequent expressions of appreciation of individuals, businesses, churches, and community organizations that have shaped our community.

Request of Friends of Reservoirs of the City to participate as a Sponsor in the Lake Livingston Reservoir Fisheries and Riparian Habitat Enhancement Project known as "Bringing Lake Livingston back to life."
The 2015 General Election will be held Saturday, May 9. Positions to be filled are three city council positions currently held by Judy Cochran, Ray Luna and Elgin Davis. The first day to file for a place on the ballot is Wednesday, Jan. 2l, and the last day to file for a place on the ballot are Friday, Feb. 21.
The DAR has partnered with the Department of Defense and is participating in a special commemorative event to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. They have been given a special flag and plan to have a flag raising ceremony on Armed Forces Day (Tuesday, May 12) at city hall to honor and recognize the Vietnam War veterans.

The 2015 - 2016 Community Development Block grant applications are due by Feb. 21. Work is underway to determine a project that will qualify for this grant. City council will be asked to consider the resolution to submit the grant application at the regular February meeting.

Infrastructure Rehabilitation USA, Inc. from Shreveport, LA is beginning work on the rehabilitation of 17 manholes in various parts of town. They will be here for about two to three weeks wor1ting on this manhole rehabilitation project, which involves installing a triplex liner system in the existing manhole. Each manhole rehabilitation takes from four to six hours. This liner system is guaranteed to stop Infiltration and future deterioration of the manhole for 10 years.

County streamlines tax collection system

LIVINGSTON – A major move to streamline the tax collection system was taken Wednesday when the Polk County Commissioners Court approved the purchase of a new integrated tax collection software/hardware package.

During the meeting, commissioners accepted a recommendation from Polk County Tax Assessor-Collector Leslie Burks to purchase the system offered by Harris True Automation at a total bid price of $221,227, including a maintenance agreement.

Burks told commissioners they had looked at the various systems being offered to the county – including trips to other area counties and appraisal districts to see them in operation – and decided that the Harris system would best meet the county's needs.

She noted that one of the major selling points for her was that the Polk Central Appraisal District (PCAD) already is using a Harris True Automation system. This means that when the new computer package is installed in the county tax department, the two offices can be linked electronically.

"Right now when we receive changes from the appraisal district, we have to enter them in by hand," Burks told the commissioners. "During peak times, that can tie up at least one of my people full time."
Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis, who once served as the county's tax assessor-collector, also voiced his support for Burks' recommendation.

"When ever you have someone entering information in by hand, there is a chance for a mistake to be made," he said. By linking the two offices electronically, Willis said they would greatly reduce the chance of human error in the tax records.

The new system will replace one the county purchased 25 years ago. At that time the county's system and the one used by the PCAD were compatible and could be linked electronically, but over the years the PCAD had upgraded to a new system that could no long "talk" to the one used by the county.

In other business, commissioners approved the purchase of a new car for the district attorney's investigator at a cost of $29,589.87.

District Attorney Lee Hon told commissioners that he had only been offered $1,200 in trade for the existing car, a 2006 Dodge Charger with over 100,000 miles on it. After consulting with the commissioners, it was agreed that they would first offer the car to another county department but if none wanted it, the county would sell it through a surplus property auction.

Other action
During the meeting, the commissioners also:
Ratified the addition now being built on the PCAD headquarters in Livingston. The overall plan for the expansion and renovation of the PCAD office had been approved previously.

Approved a request from Maintenance Supervisor Jay Burks to install a new telephone system for use by his department at a cost of $1,600. Burks said the modern, Internet-based system being offered by

LivCom should solve a number of issue caused by the aging system now in place plus provide a number if new features. He said his office could be used as a test of the new system and if it works as advertised, it could be expanded to other county facilities such as the courthouse and the justice center.

Again tabled action on the county's Life Safety Code inspection system. The code requires inspections of buildings being built in the unincorporated areas of the county but commissioners suspended its enforcement last year when they were unable to find a qualified inspector. County Judge Sydney Murphy, who took office on Jan. 1, told commissioners she wanted more time to review the situation and planned to present a recommendation by February.

Ratified resolutions of appreciation thanking three county officials who retired at the end of 2014, including County Court at Law Judge Stephen Phillips, Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace Steve McEntyre and Bailiff George Bigler.

Appointed Murphy to serve as the county's representative on the Deep East Texas Council of Government's board of directors. She will replace former County Judge John Thompson, who retired at the end of 2014.

Approved requests from two constables on the appointment of new reserve deputy constables. Bigler, who recently retired as a bailiff, was appointed as a reserve deputy for Pct. 1 Constable Scott Hughes and Jerry Vaughn Grissom was named as a reserve officer for Pct. 3 Constable Ray Myers.

DETCOG recognizes top employees

BROOKLAND – U.S. Congressman-elect Brian Babin and Texas State Senator Robert Nichols both extended their greetings to the board members, elected officials, Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) staff and their families and friends in attendance at the DETCOG Christmas Luncheon.

This year the annual meeting and awards presentation was held at Rayburn Country.
Dr. Babin spoke of his pride in representing DETCOG counties in the 36th Congressional District. He also invited everyone to attend his Washington D.C. swearing-in.

Sen. Nichols expressed his appreciation for the support the organization and his members have given him during his work in Austin. Before he could sit back down, DETCOG Executive Director Walter Diggles and DETCOG's president, Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter, talked Nichols into sharing one of his stories (jokes) that have become an annual tradition.

Service awards were presented to DETCOG employees with 5, 10, 15 years of service. However, this year a 25-year plaque was awarded 9-1-1 Program Director Van Bush; a 30-year plaque was presented to Area Agency on Aging Program Director Holly Anderson; Dora Wilmore from Youth Services was recognized for 35-years of service; and DETCOG Regional Housing Authority Director Ethel Bluitt received a 40-Year Plaque.

After earlier receiving her 15-year service award, Scherita McCray was named "Employee of the Year" for the DETCOG. Suiter started the presentation by saying the person receiving the recognition had started at DETCOG as a receptionist. From there she later transferred to the HUD Housing Rental Assistance Program as a case worker where she served landlords and tenants with the same warm smile and commitment to provide "the best ever customer service". Noting this past year has been full of challenges Suiter said that "where others might gripe and complain, McCray has continued to do her job, holding strong and continuing to work with a smile, dedication and confidence.

McCray expressed her thanks and appreciation for the award. She ended her comments with something her father always told her: "Quitters never win, and winners never quit!"

The next DETCOG board meeting will be held on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. It is scheduled to be held in San Augustine.

Corrigan seeks to upgrade sewer plant

BY LEW VAIL
Enterprise staff
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CORRIGAN -- Corrigan City Council passed a resolution to seek a $275,000 Texas Community Development Block grant to upgrade the city's sewer facility.

Randy Banks, representing the grant writing agency, arrived at the tail end of the meeting and reported to the council a good chance of being selected since they did not receive funding in the last grant application round.

If approved the ground would allow the city to upgrade the sewer plant and council said they would address the need for new pipe throughout the system at a later date.

In other business, the council approved a $7,500 payment to the Corrigan Volunteer Fire Department. The department has received a $200,000 grant from the Texas Forest Service for a new brush truck. The grant, the money approved by the city, and a small payment from VFD funds will cover the costs.

City Manager Darrian Hudman also told council he was going to seek an additional grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase a water tanker.

Council Member Bill Safford asked to table a lease purchase agreement for two police cars until January and asked Police Chief Darrell Gibson to furnish specifications for the vehicles. Action on the item was tabled.

Also tabled was an item to approve a circus that has expressed a desire to come perform in Corrigan this spring. Hudman was asked to research the company's reputation, insurance coverage, and what rides might be involved. Gibson said other communities have had problems with burglaries increasing while the events were in town, since perpetrators know when the show will have families away from residences.
In police department reports, Gibson said a total of nine arrests were made Nov. 19 - Dec.15. The department wrote 749 citations, made 130 calls for services, performed 817 building checks and worked six cases, turning four of them over to the district attorney's office for prosecution.

The report on CVFD activities for the month indicated firefighters answered seven calls, include one structure fire, two grass fires, two vehicle accidents and two involving power lines and transformers.
Hudman's city manager report covered the new signs for Corrigan West Park and parking around city hall, which are ready to install. D&D Logging has begun activities at Corrigan West. He commented that the Christmas tree lighting and WinterFest went well and wished everyone a Merry Christmas and to be safe while traveling.

Vouchers were reviewed and approved, as well as the November minutes. There was no fire department report. The only comments in council forum were about the continuing problem of copper thieves and burglaries. Gibson said the department works every day to identify thieves and checks with area pawnshops and recycling depots.

Water district doubles exemptions

BY LEW VAIL
Enterprise staff
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ONALASKA – Tax exemptions for senior citizens and the disabled were doubled on Monday by the Polk County Fresh Water Supply District No. 2.

During the meeting, the PCFWSD board voted to increase the tax exemptions from $10,000 to $20,000 per year.

The board began looking at the possibility of increasing the tax exemptions for property owners who are disabled or over 65 years of age when they adopted their current tax rate. They requested a survey on what effect increasing the exemption would have on the district.

"Texas law does not allow a water district to freeze taxes like a school district," said Board Chairman Fred Alderman, who added that even when the tax rate remains unchanged, the tax burden can increase due to increased property values.

It is estimated that this increase in exemption will save PCFWDS taxpayers about $23,914 or more each year.

Financial advisor Bill Blitch was in Houston marketing two bond issues, but reported that the refunding of the 2002 bonds were sold Dec. 9 and after expenses and interest paid, the district realized about $230,231 income. Vice Chair J.R .Jones, remarked that "he would take that kind of profit every day."

The operations managers' report covered a litany of activity including a new grease trap that has been installed yo help separate heavy grease out of the mainstream going to the plants. The pumps in residences in section 5 of Impala Woods are nearing 15 years of age or more and since they were lower horse power, they are being replaced with more modern equipment. Several lateral lines have been extended or replaced both residential and commercial.

Office manager Loveearl Hodge reported that the district in October and November collected a total of $9,718.02 in delinquent accounts. Taking legal action on some arrears has brought customers in wanting to make payment plans. A total of 12 customers were disconnected for not responding to collection efforts. In the two-month period five new connections were made, seven permits issued and, at the end of November, active users totaled 2,207 with 132 commercial accounts.

Two tracts of land in Twin Harbors were on the tax forfeiture listing, TI200035400 and TI200023600. Both bids were above the minimum and the board accepted them. Minutes for the October and November meetings were approved and financial and voucher reports for November were reviewed and approved for payment.

LISD recognized for financial transparency

LIVINGSTON -- The Livingston Independent School District held its December meeting Monday to present an award for financial transparency, approve curriculum and receive an update for on the construction at Cedar Grove Elementary.

Chief Financial Officer Ben Davidson was presented with an award for leading the financial department in achieving platinum status with the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle program. Davidson said everything the office does is searchable online and all the checks that go out from the district are on the website.

The award is given to entities for opening their books to the public; providing clear, consistent pictures of spending; sharing information in a user-friendly format that lets taxpayers easily drill down for more detail.
"The district has a lot of great things happening," Superintendant Dr. Brent Hawkins said. "This one I am really proud of. Our business office has attained the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle as a platinum member. I believe we're the only school district in the county and definitely in a very elite group across the state of Texas that has gotten this distinction. I appreciate Ben and all his folks on the other end of the building that make this happen. Our financial rating system received a superior rating, but this goes a step further into transparency and if the taxpayer wants to know what's going on in our district, the things that they have done have led to a greater connectivity with our community."

Construction at Cedar Grove Elementary in the past 30 days had site paving work, siding, roofing (except trim work) masonry, caulking, metal frames, and doors are completed. The HVAC has been mobilized to the site, and block filler and fire alarm installation has begun.

In the next 30 days, trim work, HVAC ductwork, block filler, stud framing, overhead utilities, grading and seeding will be finished. The installation of a mechanical mezzanine, hand railing, fencing and painting will also begin.

The softball planned overnight visit to Camp Cho-Yeh for a team-building activity was not approved. The program is something Camp Cho-Yeh offers that the softball program wished to take part in.

"I know it is probably in their budget, but I don't think it is money well spent from the standpoint that it is the coach's job to teach that on the field," board member Henry Ager said. "I think if we start doing this, every other program is going to want to do it. I think $1,800 can be spent more appropriately — like if they need more equipment. Sometimes I'm not sure if they make good decisions on spending the money and as a taxpayer, I question that. Just because you have the money budgeted doesn't mean you have to use it for something that may not benefit you."

"I see lots of concerns about it," Hawkins added. "If somebody comes and ask for some balls or batting helmets or other things and you spend this money here — this is nice, but not necessary. I just know that money is short, times are hard, and softballs are expensive. I think we have to look and say, 'what kind of program do we have?' Are we teaching the young ladies character, integrity, skill, how to compete, how to be young ladies and at some point winning? It may not be today, but at some point, there's got to be winning. As long as you know as a coach that those things are the expectations, if this is what you are telling me is an expectation of excellence, I'll generally do it. But, if you don't fulfill that, then I have to come back and hold you accountable at some point."

Board President Bea Ellis suggested a compromise of the team attending Camp Cho-Yeh for the activities on Saturday without spending the night. The issue did not receive a motion from the board for vote.

The board also approved the ESTEEM curriculum, which was brought to the administration by the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC). It was placed on the board agenda as an informational item last spring and a public hearing was held prior to consideration of the item. The board followed a SHAC recommendation to adopt the health curriculum to be taught in high school health classes.