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Polk commissioners tighten budget for $600k income loss; impact to departments discussed

By Greg Peak
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LIVINGSTON – Tighter budgetary controls were put into place Tuesday by Polk County Commissioners, who were bracing for the loss of $600,000 in revenue during the remaining months of the current budget cycle.

During their regular meeting, County Judge Sydney Murphy asked for and commissioners agreed to a more austere hiring practice when a job vacancy occurred during the coming months.

Murphy noted county policy requires commissioners to approve hiring of each new employee unless there is an emergency situation that would prevent the department involved from providing minimum services. She noted that in recent years, all departments have been using the emergency provision to hire all new employees.

"I doubt that any commissioner can come up with the name of any employee that has been hired because they are being bypassed," she said, adding that practice will have to end.

She noted that on average, each county employee costs $40,000 a year in salary and benefits and the expected $600,000 loss of revenue translates into 15 employees.

"We've got to reign in spending so we have to go back and do what the policy actually says," she added.
Murphy added that she also is asking all department heads to cut or avoid spending as much as possible until the commissioners can get a handle on the loss of revenue.

She noted that while they are now expecting a $600,000 loss of income, the actual amount could climb as high as $1 million.

The loss of revenue is due to changes at the IAH Adult Detention Facility located near Livingston, which houses illegal immigrants taken into custody by the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the past, the county received a per capita fee for the inmates housed there that ran up to $1 million a year.

Murphy said recent changes imposed by the Obama administration to release the inmates has greatly reduced the number being held at the IAH facility to the point the county now expects to lose $600,000 under the current budget.

"Right now we don't know how much income we are going to lose so we have to prepare for the worst," she said, noting that just because the departments have money allocated to spend in their individual budgets, does not mean the county will now have the revenue to cover that total.

"We're going to have to tighten up until we see just how big an impact this is going to have," she said.
During the discussion, Sheriff Kenneth Hammack noted that it could cause problems for his department if they had to hold off on offering jobs to new deputies until commissioners can approve them.

"I thought that as long as I had the position budgeted, there would be no problem," he said.

Murphy noted that the IAH funds also were budgeted under revenue and indicated commissioners now have to adjust the expense budgets for all departments to compensate for the loss.

Murphy did assure Hammack that because of the nature of his department, the emergency hiring provisions in county policy could still apply and said when the situation arose, all he would need to do is come by her office so she could "sign off" of the new employee.

In related action, the commissioners approved changes to the budget for the sheriff's department and county jail to incorporate changes made last month in order to come up with funds to hire six additional jailers. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards cited the county for not having enough jailers to handle the number of inmates housed in the local facility and the county was forced to hire more personnel.

Murphy noted that the county's maintenance supervisor, Jay Burks, also agreed to not fill a vacancy on his staff and to make other cuts to help cover the costs of the new jailers.

Other business
During the meeting, commissioners also:
-- Approved a job description for the new pre-trial services coordinator and approved a resolution in support if an Indigent Defense Discretionary Grant. Murphy noted that the county court at law and district judges found the grant, which would be used to hire an indigent defense coordinator. Both the pre-trial and indigent services coordinators would be tasked with helping reduce the number of prisoners being held in the Polk County Jail.
-- Rejected the purchase of a computer update for the Polk County Museum at a cost of $848.72. Murphy reported that the current computer at the museum was still working and commissioners indicated it would probably have to remain in use for another year or two.
--Approved a State Homeland Security Program grant for $49,300 to purchase digital communications equipment for the Mobile Command Post.
--Discussed minor modifications to the route of Plant Road in Corrigan and learned that the bids for the project are now expected to be opened on April 24.
-- Approved the base and alternate bids for the replacement of the Polk County Courthouse's roof. Commissioners approved a base bid of $355,000 and $12,500 in alternates to set a maximum guaranteed construction cost of $367,500 on the project. The Texas Historical Commission has awarded the county an emergency grant of $204,000 for the project and the balance will be paid using local funds.

CCISD board gives kudos to five different local civic organizations

By Lew Vail
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CORRIGAN – Early registration for pre-kindergarten students will be held from 6-7 p.m. Monday, March 23, at the Corrigan-Camden Primary School, members of the Corrigan-Camden School Board were told during their meeting Monday.

Primary School Principal Barbara Roden noted that while the event will kickoff early registration, parents may come in anytime during school hours to register children who are four years of age for 2015-16 pre-k program.

In her report, Roden thanked the board for expanding the program from a half-day to a full day of learning. It was noted the state legislature will hear this week from advocates asking that pre-k programs be expanded because children who enter kindergarten without the ability to read and recognize letters and numbers never catch up to their pre-k peers.

Roden also reported that three teachers attended ESL (English as a Second Language) training and when they pass the final exam all teachers on the primary campus will be ESL certified.

In other discussion, Superintendent Sherry Hughes related the Texas Association of School Boards through its Stand Up for Texas Schools program, is encouraging school districts to acknowledge local business' who support their students and programs throughout the year. The Corrigan-Camden Independent School District has prepared packets to acknowledge this year's five local organizations:
-- The Corrigan Lions Club was recognized for providing eye glasses for students and a yearly scholarship. The packet was received by Lion David Butlers.
-- The Salvation Army was cited for providing for families in need and yearly Christmas gifts for kids. Its award was accepted by Dorrie Cotton.
-- The Corrigan Sonic was thanked for providing Wacky Meals each six weeks for honor roll and perfect attendance children. Accepting the recognition was Robert Paoge and family.
-- Whataburger was recognized for its donations to school organizations to fund projects. Maci Dover accepted the award.
-- ADAC (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council) was thanked for funding the Red Ribbon anti-drug program and bringing Leo "The Drug Free Lion" to present programs to students. Accepting the award was Melanie Patterson.

In reviewing utility costs for February, Hughes reported they were able to purchase fuel for the transportation department while prices were low, a move that will show a savings when the yearly costs are averaged out. She added natural gas and water costs are down and the electrical issues have been identified and will be remedied when school is out for the summer.

Hughes said there is not a calendar ready to pass for the 2015-16 school year because there are measures before the legislature that could allow schools flexibility regarding when they can start. Rather than to adopt a calendar now and have to amend it later, she said recommend they wait and possibly have one ready for action by the next meeting.

It was reported the district has collected 74 percent of its current taxes, compared to just 44 percent last year at this time.

Hughes said that the state is paying C-CISD for an estimated student population of 920 while it is actually just 908. This means in October, when accounts are rectified, C-CISD will owe the state funds and Hughes said they are presently banking this overage and will not spend the money. The superintendent noted their budget is actually predicated on a student population of 900, so there is no affect on the actual budget. All spending will effectively cease on May 1 with teachers now making their final purchases to complete their yearly programs.

The superintendent said she will be making presentation's to the community regarding the may bond election proposals and teachers discussing items with the students.

During the campus reports the high school reported enrollment of 285 students and a 95.3 attendance rate.

Tardies are down 37 percent for the semester from 207 in this quarter of 2014 to this year's 76.

Vicente Lazcano has won the calf scrambles in Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston livestock shows this year and has earned enough to buy a calf to show next year in the shows.

The elementary school leaders recently attended a Region VI workshop and brought back the concept of GRIT (Gumption, Resiliency, Integrity and Tenacity leading to My Goal) to be implemented now and expanded for the coming year. Posters are using images of the late actor John Wayne in his many western roles as a model for youth.

In action, board members individually voted for members seeking election to the Region Six Education Serice Center's board of directors and the ballots will be forwarded to the center for counting.

Also on the agenda were two bids on tract 7, 3.253 acres, N Hendry, Abstract 779 and the board voted to accept the higher of $5,000. The board voted to accept the bids on two properties which met their minimum criteria. Minutes, vouchers and financial reports were accepted after reviewing.

The board adjourned to executive session for personnel matters and when they reconvened voted to employ Kyle Spivey as assistant principal for the high school.

DETCOG director: East Texas “struggling to emerge” from recession

SAN AUGUSTINE – "Despite all you hear about how well the Texas economy is doing, the 12-county Deep East Texas Region is struggling to emerge from the recent 'Great Recession'," Deep East Texas Council of Governments Executive Director Walter Diggles told his board of directors at their January meeting.

STATE OF THE REGION – DETCOG Executive Director Water Diggles presented the State of the Region report to the agency’s board of directors.STATE OF THE REGION – DETCOG Executive Director Water Diggles presented the State of the Region report to the agency’s board of directors.Diggles went on to summarize the slow and steady growth in jobs and population the region had experienced in the first decade of the century.

"Between 2000 and 2010 the population of the Deep East Texas region grew by over 6%, but after reaching a peak in 2011, census estimates are now showing that the regional population has dropped by more than 2,000 people," Diggles reported.

Current job reports are showing a similar trend.

"The region reported slow but steady growth in jobs from 2000 to 2010. However the past four years the numbers have been down and then back up in a 2,000 jobs range. According to the methodology used to compile the jobs numbers the 2,000 variance is within the margin of error for the reports," said Diggles, "which indicates there has been no growth in jobs".

The report also covers the region's local sale tax allocations from the state. After tracking individual city and county allocations for several years, DETCOG has started preparing a Comprehensive Regional Sales Tax Report. Much like population and jobs, the report shows a recent downturn in local sales tax allocations to the cities and counties in the region. Those numbers indicate an over $85 Million drop in taxable sales in the twelve counties from 2013 to 2014.
"The State of the Region 2015" also covers DETCOG Programs and Activities that have brought money and jobs into the region. Hurricane Ike Disaster Recovery funds have been used for a job creating Forgivable Loan Program that has committed $4.75 Million to create over 300 jobs at thirteen businesses across the region.

Working with cities and counties in the region, DETCOG has assisted in securing nearly $9 Million in Economic Development Administration grants for Industrial Park Infrastructure, a Commerce Center and Water/Sewer Infrastructure improvements. DETCOG's Regional Housing Authority has paid part of the rent on 1,800 units of housing this past year. Those payments put over $10 Million into the regional economy.

The Hurricane Ike Housing Recovery Program has completed 26 site built, single family, homes in 2014. There are another 53 homes either authorized to be built or being built. The program is projected to build a total of 110 new homes in the region. DETCOG also participated in bringing $5 Million into both Lufkin and Nacogdoches to build or enhance storm shelters. Those funds were used to expand their civic centers.

"We think it is important that everyone recognizes what is happening and that we do not wait until 2020 to start doing something about it," concluded Diggles, "DETCOG plans to expand its Economic Development Efforts in 2015 and encourage the cities and counties in the region to focus on helping their local businesses create jobs."

DETCOG's region covers 12 counties. Those counties are Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler.

Commissioners take no action on jail

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 that 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.

C-CISD Board approves tax abatement agreement for proposed timber plant

TEAM THANKED – Members of the Corrigan-Camden school technology team were recognized during last weeks meeting of the school board. The team is working to help the district distribute and set up the Chromebooks and other infrastructure, both during class and after school. They include (L-R) teacher and team leader Susan Torres, Samuel Beauchamp, Francisco Martinez, Daniel Gonzalez, Sebastian Pecina and Daniel Nguyen. Not pictured are Patti Villarreal, Hector Robledo and Heriberto Felip.TEAM THANKED – Members of the Corrigan-Camden school technology team were recognized during last weeks meeting of the school board. The team is working to help the district distribute and set up the Chromebooks and other infrastructure, both during class and after school. They include (L-R) teacher and team leader Susan Torres, Samuel Beauchamp, Francisco Martinez, Daniel Gonzalez, Sebastian Pecina and Daniel Nguyen. Not pictured are Patti Villarreal, Hector Robledo and Heriberto Felip.

CORRIGAN – Although details of the plan were not released pending a review by the State Comptroller's Office, the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District board has approved a tax abatement agreement for a proposed timber products manufacturing plant.

The C-CISD conducted a public hearing Tuesday evening at 6 p.m to hear from interested parties regarding the application for an abatement of school taxes submitted by Martco Limited Partnership.

The board entered into executive session with attorneys, financial advisor and principles of Martco.

Returning to regular session the attorneys and financial advisor covered the application form submitted to the Texas Comptroller's office and how the abatement would effect the district.

At present the land in question is on the school's tax roll for ag value, which means it has a minimal taxation value. If the company gives the final go ahead to build the $280 million oriented strand board plant just outside of the Corrigan city limits, the value of the land would change to commercial levels or about $2,500 per acres.

Roy O Martin III, president of the company, spoke of why his firm selected Corrigan for this facility, telling those present that "Your school district is one of the best we have seen while selecting a place for our plant." He praised the superintendent and board members for "caring about the students and their future".
A resolution was made to approve the application, pending a final review by the Comptroller's office for legal correctness, grammar and punctuation; the motion passed unanimously.

During the board's regular business meeting, Sydney King, who was unable to attend the meeting, was recognized for her artwork that won the 2015 Childrenz Haven Super Hero Calendar art contest. Her work is on the cover of the just released calendar.

Also recognized was Samuel Beauchamp, who was an academic all star in cross country.
Members of the C-CISD technology team were recognized for their work, both during and after school, helping with the updating and teaching the new Chromebooks to staff and students alike.

The Technology report showed that all but 40 of the 296 Chromebooks received are checked out. The district also received a grant from Adobe for Photoshop Elements 12 and associated software. This is for a five-year license and is valued at $64,290. A $10,000 grant from ArcGIS Online will furnish geography information to be used in the environments sciences classes.

The district has received from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) almost $400,000 worth of refurbished computer equipment including 900 desktops with monitors, 200 Dell laptops and 35 NC Books along with 70 printers. Over 90 percent of the technology at C CISD is from the TDCJ and almost every campus office is using refurbished computer equipment.

During principals' reports, the high school reported enrollment at 282 and attendance at 96.53 percent. Tardiness has decrease 49 percent.

Board President Sean Burks said he was recently in the building at class change time and was impressed at how quiet and purposeful the students were. Over 100 parents came to the pick up report card event, the Christmas Concert will be Dec. 16,with the bands from the junior high and high school as well as the elementary choir performing.

Regarding attendance, Superintendent Sherry Hughes told the board there are a few children below last the last reporting period, however, they have three transfers from other districts pending. The district does not charge tuition or fees for out-of-district transfers and welcomes applications from students wanting to join C-CISD.

The junior high reported their enrolment at 218 with 97.46 percent attendance.
The journalism class led by Coach Garcia will be starting an online newsletter and Coach Baker is starting an Art Club. All the teachers are working on UIL or club functions, Superintendent Sherry Hughes reported. The academic UIL events will be Dec. 9 and 11.

The elementary campus reported 204 students with 97.32 attendance. They had 99 students with 100 percent attendance during the second grading period. On Dec. 4 the campus received $500 from Polk's Pick It Up, Brookshire Brothers and Exxon to be used for math and science instruction. Walmart in Livingston and Lufkin donated $1,000 each and $500 was given by Sam's Club.

The Primary campus reported that the second grade student swill participate in UIL this month. Over 200 parents visited the campus for the Thanksgiving luncheon and 50 percent of parents attended the report card pickup. The children will travel to Lufkin Dec. 16 to watch "The Polar Express" at the Pines Theater.

The board also held a public hearing on the Early Resignation Program, which allows those para-professionals and teachers who are planning to leave the district at the end of the semester to receive a small bonus for notifying the superintendent before Feb. 20. This allows the district to seek replacements or phase out the position. The bonus amounts vary from $1,000 to a maximum for $2,500 and the amount of money available for this is also capped.

The Corrigan Community Service League has requested a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the district to assure the continued operating of the Corrigan Heritage Center should the service league cease to operate, thus continuing the museum and other functions of the center. The matter was tabled until January, pending review by the district's attorney.

Hughes reported in closing that the school has adopted the nursing home and each resident will receive a pair of 'skid proof' slip-on socks, appropriate teats or candy which students will deliver during a visit. The items are being paid for by donations from staff and others. The Art Class also has made large Christmas cards to be delivered to businesses in Corrigan.

Chamber meeting allows for sneak peak of Corrigan Heritage Center

BY KIM POPHAM
Times Staff

CORRIGAN – The first event was held last week in the Corrigan Heritage Center.
The Corrigan Heritage Center hosted the quarterly Polk County Chamber meeting last Thursday.
The meeting was a chance for the Corrigan merchants to get a sneak peak at the building and some of the items that are placed in the center.

The members of the Corrigan Heritage Center committee that helped make all this dream a reality are: Kelly Shadix, Carolyn Elmore, Lync Cavanaugh, Deidre Cornelius, Shelia Kirkland, Don Reily, Thelma Stanford, Susan Torrez, Raymond Wood and Nancy Stovall.

Carolyn Elmore (CHCC member) spoke at the meeting stating that the center is a wonderful facility. She was raised here in Corrigan and her father was Jasper Cockrell, who was the superintendent of the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District for many years. She moved away to Austin but still visits Corrigan frequently and considers Corrigan her roots.

"This is a tremendous thing that has been accomplished here," stated Elmore.
"If you are ever a Corrigan Bulldog, you will forever bleed blue," Elmore said.

Elmore stated that she hopes the center gets more volunteers and funding. She also hopes to tie the center with education.

" The younger generation need to visit the center and see where they come from and we need everyone to help make this possible," Elmore said.

Corrigan City Manager Darrian Hudman spoke at the meeting informing everyone that the 2014 Winterfest will be held on December 6 beginning at 8 a.m. and the tree lighting ceremony will be held on December 4 beginning at 6 p.m.