County dealing with Harvey’s damage
BY GREG PEAK
LIVINGSTON -- From thanking volunteers and county workers to approving steps for debris removal, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey was on the minds of Polk County commissioners during their meeting Tuesday in Livingston.
“We had an extraordinary county-wide response to this,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “We had county employees come forward and say, ‘Where do you need me?’ We also had retirees and folks in the labor pool come forward to donate their time. And you can’t say enough about the volunteer fire departments.”
The judge also had words of praise for the work of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s game wardens, Polk County Sheriff’s Department deputies and staff and the local constables’ offices for the time they spent assisting people uprooted by the flood waters generated when the hurricane pushed waves of heavy rainfall through the region.
“We had elected officials and their staff turning out to open and manage the shelter and help with the evacuees while at the same time they were able to keep their offices open and functioning,” Murphy added.
The judge added there are just too many people who stepped forward to volunteer their assistance to name, but singled out the work of the Center of Hope in Livingston which is serving as a central location to receive and distribute donated clothes, food, water and other supplies to those in need.
Murphy also expressed her thanks to the four commissioners for their efforts to keep roads open during the crisis. She noted they shared equipment and employees to work on critical areas when the high flood waters damaged roads and bridges throughout the county.
The commissioners indicated much work is needed to repair the damage to the road network and indicated the public has been patient thus far.
“I just want to thank the county crews for their hard work and TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) for the needed materials,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said.
“I’d like to echo that…from all of us,” added Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis as he pointed around the table to his nodding fellow commissioners.
In other Hurricane Harvey related action, the commissioners approved a list of overtime hours generated by county employees during the disaster and authorized the Office of Emergency Management to proceed with debris removal and to contract with a monitor to oversee the removal process. Commissioners indicated they hope that the cost of both items could be reimbursed to the county under FEMA grant funds that will be awarded to counties like Polk that are included in the Presidential Disaster Declaration.
Budget, tax rate
In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved the new $30.1 million budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1. They also formally adopted the tax rate of $0.6561 per $100 in assessed value. While this is the same rate adopted one year ago, it is considered by law to be a tax increase because it will generate more income due to the rise in property values.
Prior to the meeting, commissioners held a public hearing on the budget that last about one minute when no local residents appeared to comment either for or against the spending plan.
At the request of County Clerk Schelana Hock, commissioners approved the consolidation of the voting boxes for the Nov. 7 constitutional amendment election. During that election, Texas voters will be asked to decide on seven proposed changes to the state constitution.
Due to the expected low voter turnout that has occurred during such elections in the past, the county normally consolidates its 21 voting locations into five. Hock said the only change from past consolidations will be the use of the Soda Baptist Church as a location instead of the Indian Spring POA Building, which was damaged in a fire earlier.
Voting locations for the Nov. 7 ballot, and the voting precincts that will use them include:
-- Livingston City Hall, 200 W. Church in Livingston: Voting precincts 3, 4, 7, 16, 18 and 21.
-- Onalaska Sub-Courthouse, 14111 U.S. 190 W in Onalaska: Voting precincts 5, 6 and 17.
-- Escapees Care Center, 159 Care Center Drive south of Livingston: Voting precincts 1, 2, 15, 19 and 20.
-- Sechrest Webster Community Center, 100 W. Front Street in Corrigan: Voting precincts 8, 9, 10 and 11.
-- Soda Baptist Church, 8135 U.S. 190 W near Livingston: Voting precincts 12, 13 and 14.
Commissioners also approved a plan presented by District Clerk Bobbye Richards for the preservation and restoration of the district clerk’s records, which date back to the creation of the county in 1846. A $10 fee was once again authorized to be collected to help pay for the records preservation.
During a public hearing held prior to the regular meeting, Richard explained that the $10 fee generates about $7,500 per year which must be used for records preservation.
She noted that the plan was put into operation last year but must be approved annually by commissioners along with the $10 fee.
Under the plan, starting with the oldest records, the pages of docket books are being removed from their original bindings, stabilized, placed inside acid-free clear plastic covers and then returned to a modern book binding. At the same time, the pages are copied and digitized so they may be accessed by computer.
The actual court case files also are going through this process of preservation.
Richard said they received a bid $700,000 to do all of the aging, and fading records but that kind of funding was not available so she elected to proceed a little at a time as the money became available.
During the meeting, the commissioners also:
Authorized Sheriff Kenneth Hammack to apply for a grant that would fund the purchase of rifle-resistant body armor for his department. It was noted that if the grant is approved, there would be no local matching funds needed.
Approved the renewal of a contract with Barbara Hayes - Medical Revenue Services, Inc. - for the administration of the county’s indigent health care program.
Approved the sale of a number of tax foreclosure properties including 10 lots in Precinct 1 subdivisions; two lots in Pine Harbor in Precinct 2; and three lots in Precinct 4 subdivisions.
Approved the order setting elected officials salaries, expenses and allowances for the coming budget year.
Received and recorded and order from the district judges setting the compensation for the county auditor, assistant auditor, district court reporters, court coordinators, bailiffs and labor pool staff.