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Sidewalk error’s cost challenged by commissioners

By Greg Peak

LIVINGSTON -- Who is going to pay for a $3,200 error made on the sidewalk leading to the new senior citizens' center in Livingston was an issue this week during the Polk County Commissioners Court meeting.

Convening on Monday instead of their normal Tuesday due to conflict with a state conference, commissioners received a change order request from engineers on the construction of the senior center that sparked the debate.

According to the Chow Bao representing EHRA engineers of Houston, the slope of the center's main sidewalk from its front entrance to the parking area needed to be changed to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet noted from the beginning of the project it was emphasized that because this facility was for senior citizens, it had to be ADA compliant. He questioned how such a mistake could be made and asked who was responsible for the error.
"Why are the people of Polk County being asked to pay to correct something for whoever made this mistake?" Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy asked. "Exactly," Overstreet added.

In the end the commissioners tabled the change order request to allow the project's grant consultant Randy Blanks and Bao to confer with others involved with the project.

Also related to the new senior center, commissioners decided to handle the parking lot striping and building landscaping in-hour rather than to hire outside contractors.

Disaster declaration
In other business Monday, commissioners approved the extension of the county disaster declaration for another 30 days, meaning it will now run through at least Oct. 30.

Having such a declaration gives commissioners added authority to handle road and bridge repairs throughout the county.

The declaration was issued originally by Murphy on Aug. 25 as Hurricane Harvey approached and was confirmed and extended for 30 days by the full commissioners court on Aug. 31.

Other business
During the meeting, commissioners also:
• Presented the Texas Historical Commission's Distinguished Service Award to the Polk County Historical Commission for their work during 2016 to preserve local history.
• Authorized Sheriff Kenneth Hammack to advertise for bids for the purchase of six patrol units and two criminal investigation units.
• Authorized Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis to advertise for bids for the purchase of four pickup trucks.
• Accepted a bid of $65,000 for the concrete headwall construction on the Freeman Road bridge in Precinct 3.
• Voted to re-nominate all of the current five members of the Polk Central Appraisal District Board for new terms.
• Accepted the annual bids on road materials, tires, oil and gas and pest control.
• Approved the sale of properties seized for the non-payment of taxes, including four lots in Precinct 1, a one-acre tract in Precinct 3 and four lots and a 2.664-acre tract in Precinct 4.

District Attorney orders store to stop selling liquor

By Chris Edwards

CORRIGAN – Dale and Melanie Helton have owned and operated their namesake store, D&M Liquor, for almost a year and a half; however, Polk County officials have insisted that the Heltons cease selling liquor.

Melanie Helton said she was served papers from the office of Polk County District Attorney Lee Hon on Saturday. The papers stated that D&M Liquor was in violation of county law, pertaining to the sale of spirits within the store's location. The Heltons were instructed to stop the sale of liquor at their establishment by Monday, October 9, or face possible litigation by the county. Melanie Helton said that D&M Liquor is currently within its legal rights, with both state and county entities, to sell liquor. "We have a current permit with Polk County and with TABC," she said. The issue stems from the location of the store, which is on Stryker Road (FM 352). Currently there are only two areas within Polk County designated for package stores to operate and sale distilled spirits: Onalaska and Seven Oaks. This designation is something Melanie Helton was unaware of when she was getting the proper certifications to open the store, and also went ignored by county officials, who signed off on the permit. "The county signed off for spirits to be sold [at D&M Liquor]," Melanie Helton said.

Hon acknowledged the oversight. "An improper certification was made by the county clerk's office," he said. The permit, which was issued on March 2, 2016, allows for both the sale of beer and wine as well as the sale of spirits. Helton said she had to go through three separate county offices to obtain her permits, and none of them told her that it was illegal to sale liquor at her location. "If the paperwork was wrong, you'd think they would've caught that," she said. Hon said that the Sheriff's Department brought the topic to his office's attention "a week or so ago". "They were flying below the radar," he said. "We gave them a deadline, but this shouldn't affect their beer and wine sales at all."
The county-issued liquor permit is good for two years, and Helton said her store plans to continue to sale liquor until the permit runs out. "They allowed us to buy this permit, and we spent over $100,000 to get our business up and running," Melanie Helton said.

Helton said she has contacted representatives with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who told her that what has happened to her business is not unprecedented, but that a county cannot protest the sale of liquor at a business in such a situation until two months prior to the county-issued permit running out.

D&M Liquor is the first liquor store to operate in the Corrigan area since 1937. On May 13, 2006, a special election ballot item permitted the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption throughout the county, and according to the TABC website the measure passed with a vote of 2,875 for to 2,035 against. Prior to that vote, Polk County was only partially "wet" for the sale of beer and wine. Melanie Helton pointed out the low turnout for that vote, that only around 5,000 people out of a countywide population of over 37,000 voted. She encouraged area residents to voice their wants at the polls. "If they want a liquor store in the area, they need to push for it on the ballot."
Hon also said that the countywide sale of liquor was an issue that hadn't made it to the ballot yet. If it is wanted, he said "they need to get it on the ballot."

Although frustrated by the costly oversight, Melanie Helton is determined to continue to operate her business for the permit's duration. "I don't see why we should have to pay for the county's mistake," she said.

City approves 25-cent increase in water, sewage fees

By Lew Vail

CORRIGAN – A 25-cent increase in both water and sewer fees was approved Tuesday by the Corrigan City Council for usage over the first 2,000 gallons.

The new fee structure means users will pay 75 cents for each 1,000 gallons above the initial 2,000 gallons of use for both fresh water supplied and wastewater disposed of with the city. The city charges a basic fee for the first 2,000 gallons of $16 for single-family usage inside the city limits and $20 for single-family usage outside the city limits.

Under the new rates, customers that exceed the 2,000 gallons in a month will pay and additional $1.50 — up from $1 — for each 1,000 gallons of use. Multifamily and commercial user rates also increased by the same 25 cents per month for both services. The rate change takes effect Oct. 1.

In other business, the council reviewed the August financial reports and accepted them. In addition, council approved the minutes from the August board meeting.

Alvin Freeman requested council settle a problem with the land in his deed. The deed lists metes and bounds for the property at (lot 418) Fifth Street, but when recently surveyed, a portion of the property was located out on the street. City Attorney Luan Tatum was at the meeting and explained that the city does not own the area in dispute and has no jurisdiction. Freeman was advised to seek remediation in civil court. The original deeds are more than 50 years old and no heirs have been located for help.

Reports from city departments showed the municipal court handled one alcohol related case, six ordinance violations, 30 misdemeanor cases and 326 traffic infractions during August. The Corrigan Volunteer Fire Department responded to one structure fire, one tree fire, two vehicle fires and five trees across roadways during hurricane Harvey.

The police department responded to 208 calls for service, made 28 arrests, issued 962 citations and conducted 1,144 building checks. They also processed 24 cases, sending 32 to the Polk County Criminal District Attorney for prosecution. There were five accidents in the city with no fatalities.

The Mickey Riley Public Library had 995 patrons, 344 computer users, 37 who brought their own laptop or other device and addressed 524 reference questions. They issued seven new membership cards.

The water and sewer department was busy with fixing leaks and re-reading water and gas meters; and flushing lines. The public works division was busy with limbs after the high winds, removed a beaver dam from railroad tracks at Bear Creek and prepared generators prior to the storm.

Council entered executive session under the provisions of personnel matters, discussion of real property, and consultation with their attorney. They returned 30 minutes later and took no action by adjourning.

RoyOMartin accepts first load of raw materials

CORRIGAN – RoyOMartin announced today the first three loads of pine pulpwood were received at the new Corrigan, Texas, oriented strand board (OSB) manufacturing plant of its subsidiary, Corrigan OSB, L.L.C. Alexandria, Louisiana-based RoyOMartin currently owns and operates two wood-products manufacturing facilities in Louisiana: a pine plywood plant in Chopin and an OSB plant in Oakdale.

Construction of the Corrigan facility began in 2015, and start-up is expected later this year. The facility will employ approximately 165.
To mark its first log delivery, the plant held a celebratory gathering with employees and industry and community partners. The logs, delivered by J&J Logging under the supervision of Walsh Timber Company, L.L.C., will be unloaded and held in the site's log yard to be used in operationalizing new wood-processing equipment and in training. A versatile structural wood panel, OSB is commonly used in the construction of residential and multifamily housing, as well as in a variety of other applications.

"We are excited to receive and unload our first three loads of pulpwood at Corrigan OSB, L.L.C.," stated Terry Secrest, vice president of OSB and corporate safety director for RoyOMartin. "This is the first of many milestones on the path to running a world-class OSB facility later this year. Thanks to everyone for making this happen safely."

RoyOMartin Vice President of Land and Timber Cade Young added, "We have eagerly awaited this log delivery and look forward to many more at the Corrigan site. We appreciate the relationships formed with our raw-material suppliers and vendors, the Texas Forestry Association, and others throughout the region who have welcomed us to Deep East Texas.

Commissioners thank volunteers, workers

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 last 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.

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.

Voting boxes
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.

The voting location for the Nov. 7 ballot in Corrigan is: Sechrest Webster Community Center, 100 W. Front Street in Corrigan: Voting precincts 8, 9, 10 and 11.

C-CISD students, faculty now offered free breakfast daily

By Lew Vail

CORRIGAN – Food Service Manager Debbie Hueske told members of the Corrigan-Camden School Board during their meeting this week that every student and teacher is now being offered a free breakfast each day to ensure that students have easy access to healthy nutrition.

As a welcome back on Sept. 5, each cafeteria featured College and Career Day decorations. The Nutrislice web link is on the C-CISD web page and parents and students can find out what is for lunch each day, including photos, complete or partial nutrition information, and allergens. National school lunch week will be Oct. 9-13 with exciting contests at all grade levels.

The elementary school hosted a visit from the writing academy on Sept. 12-13 for fourth graders. On Oct.r 16 the academy will return to work with teachers on strategies across the curriculum. The benefits are useful in all subject areas. There will be a public meeting Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. to gather public input on the elementary target plan.

The new junior high teachers are doing an outstanding job working with students and learning their way around a campus. The cheerleaders are doing their job encouraging student athletes. The sixth graders have found their way to all their classes and are doing well. Eleven boys and two girls are on the cross country team. The four volleyball teams, two seventh and two eighth, currently have only two loss's after seven games. There are 39 girls and 55 boys in athletic programs; 48 band members; 24 in ag; and 7 in choir. Adventures in Learning is doing better that the principle thought, with teachers using it on all subjects this year.

According to the high school principal, they are "rocking." They are concentrating on learning and having fun doing it. Two teachers, Mrs. Rabino and Mrs. Watts, will attend the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Clark is known for his teaching in Harlem, wrote a book, and now created this school. His students were all economically disadvantaged and became successful; the school is high energy and students enjoy learning.

Mrs. Perez met with students who are interested in forming a LEO club. This is a Lion International program for youth, those who join will pay $4 per month dues, and the Corrigan Lions Club will pay their international dues. LEO is an acronym for Leadership, Experience, and Opportunity and Mr. and Mrs. LeBlanc are helping with the program. The FFA is preselling meat from a brochure. The band is working on a trip in the spring pending board approval.

The board approved the consent agenda consisting of minutes for the special board meeting Aug. 28; a TEA missed day waiver for Hurricane Harvey; the dates for the annual board calendar; amendment to the junior high budget; the forth reading of policy update 108 and an appointment to the Polk County Tax Appraisal District Board. They reviewed the certified tax roll, and accepted it. Superintendent Sherry Hughes discussed the annual investment report.