Commissioners Court - November 28, 2017

   The Trinity County Commissioners met in regular session on Tuesday, November 28, at 9 AM. With all commissioners in attendance County Judge Doug Page brought the meeting to order with a prayer by Rodney Langley, Groveton Church of Christ. Page led the pledge to the American and Texas flags. No one asked to speak during the open forum time period. The minutes of the regular meeting, November 14 were approved, the minutes from the special meeting, November 20 were amended to clarify the action by commissioners in declining to file for the 2015 CHGD-DR(GLO) grant opportunity, and then approved.

   No bonds were requested nor any request for pauper funerals payments. A representative from the Trinity Sheriff department in attendance said there was nothing remarkable to report.  No personnel action forms were presented.

   Jason Due, representing the Dixie League Youth Baseball spoke to commissioners regarding the facility and the progress that has been made in recent years. Due said that in 2016 they opened the fields to visiting teams and held tournaments increasing participation of boys and girls by adding softball. In 2017 they fielded teams serving more than 300 youth from Trinity County. They have been using porta-potties and that is one of the issues, the other is adding another field for expanding the number of games that can be played; They have received bids for a concrete building or a metal building for restrooms. Commissioner Neal Smith said “I am in favor of what you are trying to do, but those bids are way high”; Smith said that the county could do better to use inmate labor with supervision from the League and commissioners to improve the facility.  Commissioner Grover “Tiger” said that he has worked on fields before and suggested adding the new field. All four commissioners agreed they could help the project to expedite completion in time for spring games. Due also asked that a temporary road that has been used for reaching the property behind the fields, be closed as the county road is there and it is not safe for this temporary drive when the children are playing. Commissioners voted to close the road, with the current culvert being perhaps an issue; and to go on with the dirt work for a new field. They will meet with the Dixie League group to discuss fundraising and building the restrooms.

   Chief appraiser Gary Gallient presented a list of bids received on 19 properties in Port Adventure, six in Trinity Plantation, two in Harbor Point and one in Pinecrest Estates which have received bids to purchase. Commissioners approved all the offers.

   Commissioners received three bids for work on the roof of the Annex; only two bidders were present, and they heard and questioned them, they deferred the decision to the December 4 meeting to allow time for the third bidder to appear. County auditor Bonnie Kennedy discussed the difference between a Request for Proposal (RFP) and advertising for bids and the monetary limits of each.

   County treasurer Bob Dockens reviewed the Receipts File Listing and Specified Activity Report with commissioners; Dockens asked for approval for the approval of the longevity payroll which will be paid December 1, rather than on the regular payday December 8; commissioners approved both the report and disbursement of longevity payroll.

   Judge Page left the meeting during the recess to attend a funeral. Commissioner Worsham conducted the remainder of the meeting. County Auditor Kennedy reviewed the Personal Action Summary Report for October, Commissioner Smith said he had issues with the maintenance department hiring without the approval of the court; Kennedy said that the court approved the salary in the budget, and approves the department heads, the department heads then interview and tell the auditor who they want to hire. Smith said “the cleaning is terrible, the restrooms are awful and my office trash pails are always jammed full”, Commissioners approved the report with those reservations.

   Kennedy requested approval to purchase 30 hours of Computer Maintenance Time from CMS IP Technologies, Lufkin; these will be prepaid and if not used in the current year would roll over until needed. The court approved the purchase.

   Commissioners opened the bids for Road Material, Rock Hauling to Sonny Sailor Road and Onalaska Road for Road and Bridge Precinct 1 FEMA Project. With only two bids the commissioners selected the low bidder, Triple J James Johnson, Huntsville; whose bid averaged $2 per item per ton lower. Commissioner Smith discussed the need for these bids to be solicited in every media in Trinity County, commenting that “there are many other people, besides Groveton business’, which would appreciate the opportunity to bid on county work”.

   The court approved the county auditor to solicit department heads to serve as coordinators and find a sponsor to engage county employees in TAC Healthy County Wellness program. This effort is designed to encourage activities and learning regarding the individual health and fitness of all employees. The court will name sponsor and coordinators when they are presented at a future meeting.

   Commissioners discussed a Memorandum of Understanding between Texas A&M Rural Community Health Institute to develop a Blue Print for future medical facilities in Trinity County. They deferred a decision until the December 4 meeting.

Also deferring discussion and action on other grant-related business. With no further business, the court adjourned.

August Hospital Board Mtg.

By Dr. Sharon Schuetz

At the August 21 hospital board meeting, the board asked questions of Dan Watson, CEO/COO of CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial Clinics about what is happening at the clinic and what the future is for the Trinity hospital. He reported that in the short time it had been reopened, the patient numbers were increasing weekly. The first week, Drs. Deshpande and Quan saw a combined total of 37 patients. The second week, even with Dr. Quan out of the office half a day they saw 146 patients, and last week the numbers rose to 208.
Watson said focus now is to retrain the staff to use a new system of software and new programs used by CHI St. Luke’s Memorial Health, it’s much like Windows and Mac, two different operating systems.
He stressed the importance of finding providers willing to come to Trinity, but he assured the board that the clinic could take care of the minor problems of a small community. He further explained that Trinity would not have an emergency room or trauma center unless the people agreed to raise taxes enough to pay for it. Right now, it is not an option.
Watson told the board that the CHI St. Luke’s Memorial system is divided into districts. Our clinic operates through CHI St. Luke’s Memorial Health in Lufkin, which has hospitals and clinics in various locations. Trinity is encouraged to use the Livingston hospital for serious medical needs or emergencies. They are equipped with physicians, specialists, and equipment to handle any trauma or illness.
He continued to explain that we should have lab services set up by mid-September, so that many of the lab needs can be handled here in town. For those things that cannot be done in Trinity, he said, they will create an easy pathway for patients to use Livingston facilities. He added that the absence of X-ray should not delay treatment, “If we can’t provide it here I don’t think the service will suffer.”

Commissioners hear budget proposals in special session

In a special session on Monday morning, Trinity County Commissioners heard presentations and requests from several department heads in preparation for the fiscal year 2018 budget.

The proposal that drew the most discussion was County Treasurer Bob Dockens', which called attention to a disparity between the salaries of certain elected officials and non-elected county personnel. Dockens proposed a raise in salary that he said would enact "some kind of equity" among salaries. He made it clear that he wasn't "taking shots at anyone's salary," but noted "over time the disparity in salaries seems a little off-kilter to me."

Part of the existing disparity that Dockens noted is the lack of perks for certain officials (e.g. vehicle allowances and state supplemental funds) as well as limited personnel in his own office versus the average number of workers in other departments.

Dockens' proposal would raise the salaries of the four commissioners and himself at least $6k more than the highest-paid non-elected or non-appointed county personnel. He also proposed that County Auditor Bonnie Kennedy receive a raise of $7k, due to her duties. "All of this can be accomplished for $40,000 or less," Dockens said. He noted that the money is within the county's coffers for such raises, and said it was important to give certain elected officials compensation in line with what others are making.

Dockens said there are funds left in the current budget earmarked for merit raises as well as money in the reserve fund, both of which will roll over into the next budget cycle, and can be applied to the raises.

The proposal drew some questions from other officials who were present. Trinity County Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Madden Warren asked Dockens why he only included certain officials in his proposal, and noted an apparent gender bias. Dockens replied that his ideas had nothing to do with gender or race; that he wanted to address what he saw as a disparity in the salaries, and was only speaking of his own office as well as the commissioners.

Presentations for budget increases were also made by Kennedy, District Attorney Bennie Schiro and Sheriff Woody Wallace, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Danny Martin and Constable Tommy Park, Elections Administrator Priscilla Rasbeary, and Precinct 3 Constable Carl Casey.

These officials asked for small increases to their respective departments, and Constable Park asked that all four constables receive an equal salary. Fairness and conservative spending was stressed by more than one official present. County Clerk Shasta Bergman asked all the commissioners to "be fair across the board for all offices" when making their decisions.

Trinity Co. Commissioners approve patrol vehicles’ purchase

By Chris Edwards

GROVETON – The purchase of new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department and a lengthy discussion about several properties reported for environmental concerns were among the issues brought before last Monday morning’s meeting of the Trinity County Commissioners Court.

Sheriff Woody Wallace presented information and bids from three separate dealerships for the two new patrol vehicles. Precinct 1 Constable Tommy Park helped explain some of the figures and the schedule of vehicle acquisition and trades by the Sheriff’s Department. 

Sheriff Wallace explained that the two vehicles, both Ford Explorer SUVs, would come equipped with the implements necessary for patrol work from the dealer. He answered questions about the necessity of acquiring new vehicles, and spoke about the wear and tear that patrol vehicles endure in relatively short periods of time.  

The purchase of the vehicles, from Silsbee Ford, for a total of $85,905.18 was approved after a motion was made by Precinct 3 Commissioner Neal Smith, and seconded by Precinct 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham, who said that he would put the motion on the table provided the purchasing process is monitored by the county auditor. Sheriff Wallace said that of the three bids presented to his department, Silsbee Ford’s was the most economical and said that a representative had stated that they would stand by their bid.

When it came time to discuss and act on financing for the vehicles, County Auditor Bonnie Kennedy suggested buying one of the vehicles outright, and financing the other. Kennedy’s recommendation was to finance through Bancorp South, due to the bank’s low interest rate. This item was approved following a motion made by Commissioner Worsham, and seconded by Precinct 4 Commisioner Jimmy Brown.

Environmental Management Complaints

A long-simmering issue that has been a point of contention among both residents and officials is the number of properties within Trinity County harboring various types of nuisance, or environmental hazards. As County Environmental Officer, Carl O. Dyer has been working hard to ameliorate this issue, but the process to clean up a property is a long and costly one, Dyer explained to the court. According to Dyer, the average cost to get rid of a place that has fallen into complete disrepair and harbors nuisance(s) is $4,500.

Part of the problem with several properties within older subdivisions that have been the subject of complaints has to do with legalities, and steering through them in order to work. “Subdivisions have no teeth,” Dyer said. “In order to get teeth, they have to hire a lawyer...they don’t have the money.” 

Dyer cited success in cleaning up many properties in the past, including 22 pieces of property in Westwood Shores, and said that with the county’s cooperation, all of the properties that have been the subject of complaints would be seen to.  Dyer mentioned the possibility of obtaining a solid waste grant from DETCOG, as well as using possible grant monies for surveillance equipment to curb illegal dumping. 

In other agenda items, the commissioners and County Judge Doug Page received monthly reports from the auditor’s office, the reports from the treasurer’s office, and an update on the remodeling of the tax office in Trinity. 

• Tabled the action to keep membership active in the Association of Rural Counties. The fee for the county’s membership in this organization is $395 annually. Commissioner Worsham asked what benefits the county sees from membership, and the item was tabled pending further information.

• Approved a maximum speed limit of 25 miles per hour on Martin Thompson Road and Evans Lane in Precinct 3.

• Set a hearing for the date of April 10 for a hearing to determine a maximum reasonable and prudent speed limit of 25 miles per hour for Helmic Road, Apple Springs-Helmic Road, and Dominy Road.

With no further business items for discussion and/or action on the regular agenda, the court went into a closed session, pursuant to the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas Government Cofe Section 551.074, to discuss personnel matters, particularly a 911 addressing coordinator.


Commissioners discuss possible county park project

By Chris Edwards

Trinity County Commissioners agreed to act upon a letter to the Trinity River Authority regarding a tract of land for a possible county park at its recent meeting on Monday, February 13.

County Judge Doug Page referred to the site as the “White Rock Creek Park Project,” and said the land has been sitting idle for 20 years. Judge Page said that recently he has discussed the desire to create a recreation area with TRA. The project, if brought to fruition, will include hiking trails and public access to the lake, according to Judge Page.

County environmental officer Carl O. Dyer spoke on behalf of the project and said it would be a step in the right direction of “making Trinity County a recreation destination.” Dyer added, “The county would be remiss in not grabbing [the property].” 

Judge Page said that the goal of entering into an interlocal agreement with TRA to develop the property would keep any overhead down.

Dyer said that the water along the tract of land, which amounts to nearly a mile, was too shallow to use for launching boats, but that it would be a good idea to allow TRA to put in canoes and kayaks, so that visitors to the park could explore White Rock Creek.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Neal Smith said the project sounded like “a good idea,” and put forth a motion for the county to pursue it. 

Internet Service for Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff Woody Wallace approached Commissioners to acquire separate internet service for his office. Currently, the Sheriff’s Department shares internet service with the courthouse, and issues with available connection speed (as well as frequent needs of tech support from Windstream) have been “problematic for a couple of years,” Sheriff Wallace said. 

The cost for the service is $4,550 for the months of March through September, plus part of February (if installed during the month), according to a report put together by county auditor Bonnie Kennedy, and read by assistant auditor Dan Fuller during the meeting. Fuller said the funds were available for the service from the contingency or reserve funds.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham provided a motion for the Sheriff’s Dept. to purchase a separate 12 mps account for its office, provided the county is not tied into a long contract. Commissioner Smith seconded the motion and asked for a report to be made within 90 days. 

In another item on Monday morning’s agenda, Commissioner Smith asked the court how it wanted to proceed with repairs to the tax office located inside the sub-courthouse in Trinity. Commissioner Smith asked if the court wanted the maintenance department to handle the project, or for him to oversee it. Judge Page said it would make sense for Commissioner Smith to handle the project, given his residency in the city. Commissioner Smith also expressed concern about communication between the judge and commissioners in regard to hiring and termination decisions for county employees. Commissioner Smith spoke of an incident that occurred soon after he first took office, of when a former employee approached him in public and told him she had been terminated, which he knew nothing about. He urged Judge Page and the other commissioners to better communicate with one another regarding such matters. 

Commissioners also heard from J.E. Anderson on the topic of building fences near the county fairgrounds. Anderson spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting, and said that the grass also needed to be mowed. On an agenda item, Commissioners heard from Anderson about a fence row that needed clearing behind the show barn at the “Y.” The area in question belongs to James Williamson, who gave Bill Wagner permission to clear the trees along the fence. Williamson had told Carl Dyer that he didn’t want a mess on his land, and Wagner had relayed the message to Commissioner Smith. Commissioner Smith stressed the need to get Williamson’s allowance of the job in writing. 

Commissioner Worsham made a motion to allow the work to be done provided that allowance to do so is provided in writing.

In other items, Commissioners voted to:

• Approve e-grant applications for the county attorney’s office for the Victim Assistance Program.

• Approve the interlocal cooperation act between UTMB Health and Trinity County for indigent healthcare.

• Approve a proclamation declaring February as Black History Month in Trinity County. Judge Page read the proclamation to the court, and added that the region recently lost a “great black leader” with the passing of longtime Groveton community leader Glen Ward. 

•Approve county sponsorship and the request for partial closure of FM 3154 for the upcoming Davy Crockett Bear Chase Marathon in April.

Memorandum of support for potential regional growth approved

By Chris Edwards

Commissioners approved a memorandum of support for the Texas Forest Country Stronger Economies Together (SET) team’s regional economic development plan at their regular meeting on Monday morning at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton.

The plan, which was drafted after a group of East Texas counties in the Texas Forest Country region were selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to participate in the SET program, which is designed to help multi-county teams strengthen skills and resources for collaborating on economic development goals, according to a press release issued by Texas A&M’s AgriLife extension. Trinity County Judge Doug Page said that if the program’s goals could see fruition, the region could possibly earn recognition similar to what the Texas Hill Country region enjoys. 

Prior to the discussion on the item, Precinct 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham inquired about another project that, although promising, had not been discussed for some time. The project in question was the planned bio-fuels plant, which was proposed by Oklahoma-based firm SR20 Holdings. County Treasurer Bob Dockens gave an update, and said that the project is currently on hold due to the price of oil making such a venture not profitable. Dockens also said that the company’s option on purchasing land in the county has exceeded its two-year window.

Another agenda item saw approval for the County Attorney’s office to apply, via e-grant, for grant funds to go toward the Victims Assistance Program. County Attorney Joe W. Bell said that the “odds are good that we’ll get it,” and that the amount his office wished to pursue is $40,000. The grant Bell’s office is looking at is issued through the office of Governor Greg Abbott. Precinct 3 Commissioner Neal Smith put a motion on the table to approve the County Attorney’s office to apply for the grant, and Commissioner Worsham provided a second.

In other agenda items, Commissioners also voted to:

• Change the previously scheduled date of a public hearing from February 27 to March 17. The hearing, which is planned to extend Texas Transportation Code laws to all roads included in the Westwood Shores subdivision, conflicted in its original slated date with a meeting of the Westwood Shores POA. 

• Approved a proclamation to recognize January 23 – 28, 2017 as “School Choice Week” in Trinity County. Judge Page read the proclamation, which stressed the critical importance of education in the area. Judge Page said that the observation of School Choice Week hasn’t happened in Trinity County heretofore, but it was brought to his attention by several educators in the county.

• Approved the compliance of SB546 for Trinity County Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Madden-Warren. SB546 requires for county tax assessor-collectors to successfully complete 20 hours of continuing education annually. According to the transcript provided for Warren, she has completed 28.50 hours of continuing education credits for 2016.