LAND CLEARED -- Ben Marsh, director of the Polk County Mission Center, leads the development of the upcoming Center of Hope. The new facility will be built in the recently purchased property next to the current Mission Center in Livingston. (ENTERPRISE PHOTO BY ALBERT TREVINO)
LIVINGSTON -- Volunteers at the Polk County Mission Center are working to expand the organization's outreach to the community this year with the upcoming Polk County Center of Hope.
The nonprofit group recently purchased the land adjacent to their current property on 707 S. Washington Ave. in Livingston. An updated 5,000 square foot facility will be the location for the new Center of Hope, which aims to be much more than a local food bank.
"We're starting new programs that will help break the cycle of poverty for local families." said Ben Marsh, director of Polk County Mission.
In addition to the existing food bank, the center will provide assistance to those seeking education, employment and counseling.
Education programs will be available to families, while residents will have the opportunity to find jobs through training and resume help. Counseling services will offer aid for people with addiction or those simply needing spiritual guidance.
The idea for the organization's new vision began with prayer and the help of local pastors in response to the county's growing need to address issues of poverty. According to a recent study by the R.W. Johnson Foundation, Polk County was ranked last in Texas for quality of life.
The new land has been cleared and building construction is set to begin in March. The updated facility is expected to be completed in May and will replace the old building still in operation. The original facility will be demolished after the opening of the Center of Hope.
The Mission Center gives special thanks to the volunteers who have helped with the construction efforts so far. This includes Diana and Gary Hunter for use of their dozer and Hendrix Machinery for use of their track hoe. Trustees and guards from the Polunsky Prison Unit also assisted with the grounds work.
Residents of Polk County who are ready to help with the new programs are encouraged to contact their church for more information on volunteer opportunities. Tax-deductible donations are also accepted through the church or by sending them to P.O. Box 1973, Livingston, TX 77351. If you would like to give specifically to the expansion, please mark your check to "building fund."
POLK COUNTY -- The deadline to apply for May's elections is fast approaching, and several school board and city council positions will be open for voting.
Applications to run for a position on the May 9 ballot are currently available and may be turned in until the deadline of Feb. 28.
Onalaska Independent School District board member Linda Vincent's Position 6 is available, as well as Lewis Landsman's Position 3. The Onalaska City Council will have three seats available, currently belonging to Carl Cruse, Patsy Goins and Shirley Gilmore.
In Goodrich, Janice Brooks and Billy Stutts' at-large positions will be available on the school board. Cindy Meyer and Marlene Arnold's at-large seats will be decided on the city council, as will Joan Strong's vacated seat. Mayor Jeremy Harper's role will also be on the ballot.
The Corrigan City Council will elect positions 1, 3 and 5, which are currently held by Johnna Lowe-Gibson, Johnnie Brooks and Irene Thompson, respectively. The Corrigan-Camden School Board will have Seth Handley's Position 4 and Anthony Harrell's Position 5 to decide.
In Livingston, Aldermen Elgin Davis, Judy Cochran and Dr. Raymond Luna will have their seats on the May 9 ballot.
School boards in Livingston, Leggett and Big Sandy will all hold their elections on Nov. 3 of this year.
To vote in Texas, you must be registered. The last day to register for voting in the May 9 election is April 9. Early voting will be April 27 – May 5. Ballots by mail must be received April 30 – May 9.
Those wishing to register may pick up an application at a library, any government office or download one from votetexas.gov. Upon acceptance, a voter registration will be effective 30 days from registration.
Completed applications may be mailed to the Polk County Voter Registrar, Tax Assessor-Collector Leslie Jones Burks at 416 N. Washington Livingston, Texas 77351. The phone number is (936) 327-6801.
Low staffing levels cited in out-of-compliance notice
LIVINGSTON – Although no action was taken during their meeting Tuesday, Polk County Commissioners reviewed a report showing the Polk County Jail is now out of compliance with state regulations.
Following an inspection in January, the State Commission on Jail Standards issued a report indicating that the jail did not have enough staff to handle the number of inmates being housed in the new jail facility.
Jail Administrator Brent Phillips told commissioners state regulations require that one jailer "be on the floor" for every 48 inmates being housed. However, during 2014 the local jail failed to meet that ratio about 15 percent of the time.
He indicated the jail currently has enough staff to handle 144 inmates per shift but the inmate population often exceeds that number. To cover the additional inmates, Phillips and Chief Deputy Sheriff Byron Lyons said they have to pull in other staff members from transport or work crew duties to act as jailors.
"I only see two real options," Lyons told commissioners. "We have to either house some of our inmates in other facilities to bring the number down or we need to hire additional staff." He noted that as of Tuesday morning, the jail was holding 161 prisoners but the average was now closer to 180.
"Plus, we're getting to the time of the year where the jail population increases," added Phillips, explaining that as the weather warms up, more people come to the county and the number of arrests goes up.
"It's a crying shame that we just spent $19 million on a jail expansion and still might have to house prisoners in another facility," Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said. "I couldn't agree more," Phillips responded.
Phillips indicated that to bring the jail into compliance without moving inmates to other facilities, they would need at least one more jailer on each of the three daily shifts. Because the jail operates on a 24-hour, seven-day per week basis, he said this would mean at least five more jailers. When holidays and vacations are added into the equation, they would need even more. He noted by increasing the number of jailers on duty from three to four, they could handle up to 192 inmates per shift, but warned in the past they have exceeded the 200 inmate figure and that the average number of inmates is increasing.
Commissioners kicked around the idea of hiring five or six more jailers but decided to wait on that move until they can receive input from the district judges, district attorney and others about possible ways to help control the inmate population levels.
County Judge Sydney Murphy said she will be meeting with the other officials next week to discuss the matter and would report back to the commissioners. She noted she might convene a special meeting once the information has been compiled.
Property code resolution During the meeting, the commissioners approved a resolution in support of proposed changes to Chapter 211 of the Texas Property Tax Code which would alter the way that local subdivisions amend deed restrictions.
Attorney Travis Kitchens presented the request, noting the current system makes it almost impossible for subdivision property owners associations (POAs) to change things such as road maintenance fees.
Current rules require POA boards to send out mail ballots to all property owners in the development and that a majority of the owners approve the change. However, under Chapter 211 all ballots that are not returned are counted as "no" votes, which Kitchens said makes it all but impossible to pass anything.
"That would be like asking you to get 51 percent of all the registered voters in your precincts when you run for election, not just 51 percent of those who voted," Kitchens told the commissioners.
He said he has been working with State Senator Robert Nichols and State Rep. James White on a change in Chapter 211 which would allow for the passage of changes to deed restrictions based on getting a majority of those who cast ballots, not a majority of lot owners.
Right now the bill being considered is a "local government" issue and would only apply to Polk, Trinity, San Jacinto and Walker counties but Kitchens said that before it is over, it could easily be expanded to include many other counties.
Other business During the meeting, commissioners also: -- Ratified the tax abatement agreement approved in December for the Corrigan oriented strand board (OSB) mill being proposed by the RoyOMartin company of Alexandria, La. They also scheduled a public hearing on two enterprise zone proposals for the proposed OSB mills as well as for the mill operated by Georgia-Pacific in Corrigan. The hearing will be at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24 in the commissioners' third floor meeting room in the Polk County Courthouse. -- Tabled action on the Polk County Certified Retirement Community Program and economic development issues. Last month the county severed ties with the Polk County Industrial and Economic Development Corporation (PCIEDC) on the advice of their attorney and Murphy indicated she has been in discussions with the PCIEDC board about how to proceed. She asked commissioners to table the matter to allow her to do more research. -- Approved a preliminary plat for the Summer Escape subdivision to be located in Precinct 1. -- Authorized the filing of a application for a Community Development Block Grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to fund improvements to the county's senior center in Livingston.
LIVINGSTON – Total intakes by the SPCA of Polk County increased by 41.9 percent in 2014 while pet adoptions grew by 43.8 percent, according to figures released by the animal protection group. According to the report, during 2014 a total of 454 pet animals were taken in by the local SPCA, a figure that was up by 134 from the 320 rescued in 2013. The number of animals adopted by new owners from the SPCA hit 361 last year, which was up by 110 from the 251 adoptions recorded in 2013.
Other statistics reported included a slight increase in the number of pets that were taken in by the SPCA and subsequently returned to their original owners. That figure grew from nine in 2013 to 10 in 2014.
The number of animals that were transferred out of the local shelter to other facilities also was up, growing from 12 in 2013 to 33 in 2014.
Vouchers issued to cover the cost of spaying and neutering pets also increased, growing from 153 in 2013 to 258 in 2014. This represented an increase of 105 or 68.6 percent.
The reported noted that during 2014 the organization completed a major project at its shelter off Highway 146 in Livingston. The completion of the concrete driveway and parking area allowed the shelter to obtain an occupancy permit which opened the facility to public use.
The occupancy permit allowed the SPCA to begin work on remodeling a portion of the building for use as a resale shop, which they now plan to open on April 1. Proceeds from the shop will be used to support the operation of the animal shelter.
Also planned in 2015 is the completion of a dog exercise area and playground project. Anyone interested in helping support the animal shelter is asked to consider donating during an SPCA event or at their office at 802 S. Houston (Highway 146). The group also is in need of volunteers to help answer telephones, work in the resale shop or work in the kennels.
For more information visit their website at www.spcaofpolkcounty.org or call 936-327-7722. The office is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
NEARING COMPLETION -- After a year long process of moving one school out and another in, construction is still buzzing around Cedar Grove Elementary. The large attachment to the school is for a gymnasium, locker rooms, bathrooms, storage area and a concession stand. The concession stand, as shown here, will be in operation for football games in the fall. To finish the concession area, rollup doors, handrails and stainless steel kitchen equipment will be installed. D. Pearson of Claycomb Associates in Dallas said the project is slated for completion by May and all is on schedule.
LIVINGSTON – A three-car pileup on South Houston Street in Livingston sent nine people to area hospitals on Friday, Jan. 31.
Jeffery K. See, 44, and Lucas Porter, 31, were both taken by helicopter ambulance to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, while Paul Adams, 92, was flown by helicopter to the Conroe Regional Medical Center in Conroe. Six others were taken for treatment to CHI St. Luke's Health Memorial-Livingston including Jessie M. Haynes, 52, Kerri Andrews, 31, and Paula R. Long, 56, Jerry Dusry, 57, Sos Mohamatha, 32, and Michael O. Ojeda, 21.
According to a report filed by Livingston Officer Brandon Brewer, the accident occurred shortly after 3 p.m. near the intersection of South Houston and Snell Drive.
A 2010 Ford Econoline van driven by Haynes had stopped in the inside lane of the northbound portion of Houston in order to make a left turn onto Snell when it was struck in the rear by a 2013 Chevrolet Express van driven by See. Following the initial impact, the Chevrolet van continued traveling north, crossed over into the southbound lanes and made contact with a 2003 Chevrolet Suburban driven by Deshune Williams, who was not listed as injured in the mishap.
Porter, Adams, Andrews, Long, Dusry and Mohamatha were all passengers in the Chevrolet van and Ojeda was a passenger in the Ford van.