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Council Approves ‘Slight’ Tax Increase In Kennard

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The Kennard City Council voted without discussion to approve its 2016 property tax rate and proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2016-2017 at a council meeting on Monday, Sept. 12.

The city council set the tax rate at 26.2675 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, and that rate is "a slight increase" of little more than one and a half cents over last year's rate of 24.5711 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation, according to Kennard Mayor Jesse Stephens.

Alderperson Mary Ann Davis offered the motion to approve the rate, and the motion was seconded by Alderperson Donald Lamb Sr. The motion adopting the rate was unanimously approved on a vote by the city's five alderpersons.

In bringing the budget up to be voted on by the alderpersons, Stephens said, "We've got a budget for the city and utility for next year. It's pretty basic. We tried to factor in the fire department expenditures we're going to have next year when we won't have any income coming in (to the fire department from the Houston County Emergency Service District #2). Hopefully it will work out. It's really nice to have sales tax coming in from the Family Dollar store."

Lamb made a motion to approve the budget as presented, and the motion was seconded by Alderperson G.M. McClinton before being unanimously approved by the council.

Kennard City Administrator Mike Deckard said the city has two separate categories for its budget: a water and sewer utility category and a "city budget" category.

He said officials project $144,000 in revenue and an equal amount in expenses in this year's water and sewer utility budget and $24,500 in revenue and expenses in the FY 2016-2017 city budget. Therefore, the city's budget for the upcoming year is balanced, according to Deckard.

CEIDC Approaches County To Consider Tax Abatement For Potential Car Dealership

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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As a result of the diligent work of Flint Brent, executive director of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation, the City of Crockett has the potential for a new car dealership to be located here.

To help in attracting the unnamed dealer to the city, Brent asked county officials to abate a portion of the taxes that would be levied against the business during its first six years of operation in the city.
Brent submitted the request to the county commissioners at a meeting of the commissioners court on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Houston County Judge Erin Ford said the matter would have to be placed on the agenda for the next commissioners court meeting and voted on at that meeting.

"We have a potential for a new auto dealership here in the county, specifically the City of Crockett," Brent told the commissioners. "And what I'm asking for is permission to offer property tax abatements to the facility.

"Now, I calculated out – this is on 2015-2016 fiscal year tax rates for the county, the school district and the hospital district," Brent said referring to a document he had prepared and distributed to the commissioners.

"Annually, it would be about $95,200 once they're paid in full – that they're paying for the three entities," he said. "Specifically, $25,200 (for the county) on a $5 million facility. The one in Jacksonville (that he visited) was like $8 million.

"This one might be smaller, it might be the same size. I have no idea. But, this is just an extimated calculation of what potential property taxes are. Also, for the county, you get inventory taxes, and you get the registration taxes, which the city does not get. So, that's what I'm asking for.

Dr. John McCall, who was present at the meeting, told Brent that Willie Josey, the owner of Josey's Auto Parts, told him a few months ago he would be willing to sell his facility to a dealer willing to locate an auto dealership in Crockett. And Brent said he had shown that facility, as well as several other properties, to the potential new dealership owner.

"I'm just asking for tax abatements right now...," Brent said.

According to Brent's calculation – based on the 2015-2016 county tax rate of 50.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation – a new $5 million development would pay the county $75,600 over the next six years.

Under the proposed abatement the county would receive no taxes from the new dealership in year one, $5,040 in taxes in year two and $10,080 in year three. In the fourth year, the county would receive $15,120 in taxes from the dealership and $20,160 in the fifth year. The dealership would pay its full amount of taxes ($25,200) beginning in the sixth year of its operations.

Crockett City Council Approves CEIDC Budget

Third Time's The Charm

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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After failing to receive the blessing of the Crockett City Council on two previous occasions, the fiscal year 2016-2017 proposed budget of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) was approved by the council at a meeting Monday, Aug. 22.

The council voted 4-1 to pass a motion – offered by Precinct 4 Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Muriel Williams and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson – approving the budget. Precinct 2 Councilmember Ray Bruner casted the lone vote in opposition to the motion.

The motion did not pass before two concessions were made by CEIDC Executive Director Flint Brent and CEIDC Board of Directors President Chris von Doenhoff and the matter received comments – both for and against -- from Mayor Robert Meadows, council members and members in the audience speaking at the meeting.

Brent, who received praise from some for the competent and diligent manner in which he has handled CEIDC business affairs since becoming executive director, agreed to submit all contracts of the corporation not approved in the budget or in a city tax abatement agreement that require expenditures in excess of $15,000 to the city council before payment on the contracts is made, and to report on the affairs of the corporation to the council on a monthly basis.
The proposed budget projects income from sales taxes in the amount of $530,000 and expenses totaling $542,550. In the current (2015-2016) fiscal year budget expenses amount to $548,710.

Meadows, Jackson and Williams were strong proponents speaking for approval of CEIDC's proposed budget during the portion of the meeting set aside for comments from the audience and council and when the motion was made to approve it.

They were joined by Precinct 1 residents Bill Brown, a Crockett High School teacher, and Dave Deming, a State of Texas employee, in making statements in support of CEIDC and passage of the budget during the comments period.
Although Precinct 1 Councilmember Jeannie Julian and Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh eventually voted to approve the budget, they voiced skepticism about CEIDC during the comments period and when the motion was made to approve the budget.

They were joined by Holiday Inn Express Owner Joby David Hardwick in voicing concerns about CEIDC. Hardwick said he believed CEIDC should not be encouraging other hotels to move here at a time when his hotel is "operating in a trailing 12-month combined occupancy of less than 50 percent."

Meadows noted that much of the discontent with CEIDC came to light during the last mayoral election, before Brent took the reins of the corporation. He said he had the opportunity to spend several hours with Brent almost three weeks ago, and "I don't think anyone would argue that we know he's working very diligently to bring in the business."
"It's my hope that we can pass this budget," Meadows said.

"These are all elected officials just like I am," he said, referring to the council. "They all have their right to say what's on their minds. They represent people just like I do. But, my point being is – I even had a text before the meeting today about, 'I hope you pass this.' It's not a me thing. It's an us thing. And it has to be a majority.

"So, it is my hope that we do give Mr. Brent the opportunity, at least this year going forward. He's done the footwork. He is still in the pipeline. And I trust that some of these things (he is working on, such as bringing a car dealership to Crockett) will come to fruition. And I ... believe they will.

"So, all I'm saying is this. Obviously, some issues have been brought to light in terms of our (CEIDC), and we will have to address those. I do believe that we have a lot going for us to move forward."

Jackson said the city "has failed in the oversight of the corporation. There are things that were put in place from the very inception (of CEIDC) that were not honored – that were not carried out. But, Jackson noted these were things of the past, not the present.

"Now, here we are now," he said. "What do we do now? Well, I have to admit there is a glimmer of hope. There is a light that the leadership of our corporation now is such that they're doing things that hadn't been done in the past that should have been done in the past.

"And I know when you look back in hindsight there are a lot of things that you can point out and pinpoint. 'That this wasn't done right. Money wasn't spent right here. Decisions were made here that were not in the best interest of the city, et cetera. We could all nitpick the corporation, and even this council if we so choose. But, now there is a glimmer of hope with the leadership we have in Flint Brent. And I believe, if given the opportunity, this current board and this current director (will bring about positive change for the city).

"In closing, let me ask this council if we would approve the budget so we can get beyond this stalemate and allow the corporation to do what it was designed to do...."

Repeating Jackson's question, Williams stated "'What do we do, council?' That was the question that Councilman Jackson quoted. I think in good wisdom we forget those things that are behind us, and we have to press forward. We cannot undo things that were done in times past. But, we have now to press forward.

"And, with all due respect, I think we would do a great injustice to Brent by not passing this budget. In all fairness, he has to have the opportunity to show himself. He can't undo things that were done before his time. But, he has now to go forward.

"And I agree with Councilman Jackson, we all failed – the council, (CEIDC). We all failed.... So, there's no need to point a finger on who dropped the ball. We all dropped the ball. But, we have now to press forward. And I would love to see this budget pass. But, there are some other things that council will get together on – some changes that need to be made concerning (CEIDC). We can't hold against him (Brent) what others have done."

Julian stated, "I and I think everybody here on this board has expressed that they are for economic development. It brings jobs into this town, and that's what we're looking for. And it brings businesses which will bring the livelihood and the life back into this place. I want all of that just like everyone else, but I am totally against waste. I feel like there needs to be some changes in the way things are being run. Our money is too limited, so I have a few questions that I haven't really been able to get answers to."

In her questions, Julian asked, how much total debt does CEIDC have ($500,000 or $5 million), what projects are covered in that debt (one or five), how many jobs did each one of those projects create and are those jobs still with us.

"This is a present council that wants to make a change, that wants to see things get better, that wants to help people like Mr. Hardwick, who has brought us lots of things in here," Julian said. "I would never stand in the way of economic development. But, I want to see some things change. And that's what I'm all about. I want more transparency and more accountability as we go into this process.

"'Where are we at this point?' is my biggest question," she said.

Meadows encouraged Julian to get with Brent or von Doenhoff and have them answer the questions she posed and others she might have.

School Health Advisory Council Brings Family, Community Involvement To Crockett Schools

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Two board members were re-seated and six high school athletes commended for recent outstanding finishes in state-level competition at the Monday, May 23, meeting of the Crockett Independent School District's Board of Trustees.

Returning Board Trustees Joshua S. Crabtree and Trey Young, who ran unopposed and were re-elected to three-year terms on the board were re-seated as trustees after re-taking the oath of office, administered by CISD Executive Secretary Angela Fudge.

Senior William Holcomb was among the student athletes who received kudos from the trustees. He led a team of five golfers recognized by the board for their distinguished performances in Class 3A state competition. Holcomb is this year's Class 3A Medalist State Champion and has signed with Sam Houston State University.

In addition to Holcomb's individual accomplishment, he and four other Crockett High School students -- Case Robinson, Tyler Dowell, Colby Davenport and Grant Brannen -- formed the group that placed fourth as a team in the UIL state boys golf tournament.

Also commended by the trustees was Senior DaMarkus Griffin, who placed fifth in the Class 3A triple jump event at the Friday, May 12, University Interscholastic League State Track and Field Meet in Austin. To place in the top five in the event, he put forth an effort that gave him a jump of 45 feet, 8-1/4 inches. On the way to the state meet, he won the regional competition he participated in with a jump of 46 feet, 4-1/2 inches.

During the Superintendent's Report part of the board's meeting, Assistant Superintendent Wendy Tullos gave the annual report of the activities of the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), a group state law requires the district to have. It meets four times a year, according to Superintendent Terry Myers, who said there are student, parent, teacher and school representatives on the council.

Tullos added, there is "great family and community involvement" in SHAC activities. She said the council met in October, December, February and April, and there was "good turnout at most meetings."

According to Tullos, some of the things SHAC accomplished this school year include putting on a highly-successful Parent Fair on Nov. 10, 2015 and working with National Honor Society (NHS) students who donated more than 100 cans of food for families in need and worked as volunteers in the community. She said the NHS students and some parents will offer their services during a two-day field day event at Crockett Elementary School.

In addition, she said, the district was fortunate in receiving a "buckle-up grant for free car seats" which made it possible for the council to provide seats for a number of parents who needed them.

Logging another accomplishment, the district saw "an increase in report card pickups this year," Tullos said, adding "and we attribute that to the mass communication system. Parents seem to really like that. A reminder the day before is helpful. So (we've received) good feedback on that."

In the area of health services, Tullos said the council provided shot clinics, and over 50 employees took advantage of that offering. She said, "We brought the mobile clinic in this year for the first time and parents seemed to really like that. Our little ones at the Early Childhood cannot start school anymore without those. Actually, we have the first day of school." Shots are also available for older students, including high school students," who need them in order to move on, she said.

In reference to "the counseling, guidance portion of the SHAC committee," Tullos said, "We've brought in through the counseling grant a lot of professional development this year. We're doing social lessons in the classroom ... (but) we have not been able to facilitate that as well because we weren't able to provide the curriculum."

She added, Crockett Bank has funded a financial literacy program that gives youth the opportunity to receive certification for financial literacy, and four students have participated in it so far.

In the area of Nutrition Services, the Back Pack Program continues to grow, Tullos said. "We've got over 40 students right now receiving Back Pack Program services," adding, SHAC is now preparing for the Summer Feeding Program.

The Breakfast in the Classrooms Program at the Junior High School wasn't popular at the start of the year, but it is now, Tullos said. "They wouldn't go back; they love it. It calms our kids in the morning, gives us the opportunity to talk to them and build a relationship with them. It's really been a good thing."

She said the program is also being offered again at the high school, adding, it's always harder to carry out such programs at that level. "No matter what we do with breakfast, our older students just don't eat it," she added. "We're going to keep tweaking it to see what we can do."

In the area of fitness, Tullos said, "We are in the final stages of the fitness area back here. We've had lots of questions about that. We are waiting on the evaluator of the grant to come and sign off. As soon as she does, we can get the word out to the community. I love seeing these kids back here playing basketball in the afternoons. I counted 15 or 16 out there the other day. I think it's a good, safe place for our kids to be playing and congregating."

She said all but two pieces of fitness equipment have arrived and been set up, adding, "I think that's going to be a really good thing. In fact, our P.E. classes have been coming over and taking advantage of it."

For security purposes, Tullos said, "We have cameras just about at every angle. There's really not a spot that you can't see on the camera system. We've got good security out there." She said no security fence, wall or other barrier was built around the equipment "because we want it to be available to the community. That was sort of the point of that. We went with high security, and we're going to see how that goes.

Tullos said the equipment is very durable, adding, "We got a good quality product."

Turning her attention to the early childhood facility and another campus, Tullos said, buzzers were installed on the doors for safety reasons. Now, people "can buzz in and out of the buildings," she said, adding CISD is pleased with having the presence of police officers at the schools.

Myers said the district has received numerous comments from parents and others who like the idea of having resource officers present at the schools.

In addition, Tullos said all automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are in their rightful places for safety in the schools and all the coaches for the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes are in place to train teachers, staff and students.

She said, the schools have salad bars and drinking water that came through SHAC. Also, as a part of SHAC, a group of teachers at the elementary school participate in group walks and other exercises, Tullos added. Myers noted that the track around the football field is available to the community and groups, including some police officers and firefighters, who use the facility as a place to work out.

"I want to thank the people who served on this committee because sometimes the meetings get long," Tullos said. "It doesn't turn into a gripe session. They (SHAC members) really bring good things to our schools...."

Grapeland Inducts Mayor Balis Dailey

Mayor-Balis-Dailey

Balis Dailey was sworn in as the new mayor of the City of Grapeland by Municipal Judge Kathy Bush at a special called meeting of the Grapeland City Council on Tuesday, May 17. Dailey received the handoff of the mayoral torch from retiring Mayor George R. Pierson and began serving his first term of office as mayor immediately after taking the oath of office at the meeting. In addition, at the meeting, newly elected At-Large Council Member Justin Lumbreraz was sworn in and re-elected At-Large Council Member Michael Chapman was re-administered the oath of office. (By Alton Porter/HC Courier)

Crockett Council Welcomes New Business

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Crockett's elected government leaders welcomed a new retailer to the city's business community at a meeting Monday evening, May 16.

The Crockett City Council extended a cordial greeting to Manager Damon "DJ" Jackson and 6 of 20 employees of Parker's Building Supply who attended the council's meeting to make their presence known and announce the store's grand opening event schedule the first week in June.

Jackson addressed the council during the audience comments part of the meeting.Reading from a brief prepared statement, Jackson began by noting that the store is located at 1151 East Loop 304.

"On behalf of (the business), I would like to say thank you for embracing us into the community," Jackson told the council, adding, "Parker's has been family owned and operated since 1930. And now in 2016, we are making a mark in Crockett, Texas, which totals us to 22 stores, 18 in Texas and four in California.

"As a resident of Crockett for almost four months, this has become home. And that's the way Parker's Building Supply shopping experience is becoming, like finding what you need for your project with outstanding products and services."

Jackson continued, "To give you an insight of what's been going on next to Walmart for the last four months, we have incorporated many a firsts in the company. The Crockett location will be the first drive-through lumber yard (of) our 22 stores, the first store with all LED lighting, and mainly a concept for our company to change and update some of the older stores."

He said, "On June 2, 3, 4 of 2016, we will be having grand opening. And we would like to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 2 at 11 a.m., including the mayor and council members.

"In conclusion, I would like to thank a few local companies for their parts in the construction: Crockett Fence Co., Consumers LP, Culpepper Electric, C&C Heating, Gregory Plumbing and Mr. Roger on the concrete work. And last, but not least, I'd like half of my 20 employees who are local to stand up."

Mayor Robert Meadows told Jackson and his employees, "We're glad to have you folks here and look forward to a great relationship. We're excited about a new business here .... If there's anything we can do on our end to help you guys get up and going, please feel free to contact us. Thank you for hiring locally."

In the business portion of the meeting, the council followed suit with the Houston County Commissioner's Court and Grapeland City Council, passing a motion to approve a resolution designating GrantWorks, a grant consulting firm, as the City of Crockett's grant advisor and grant application preparer.

The motion to approve the resolution was offered by Precinct 2 Council Member Ray Bruner and seconded by Precinct 3 Council Member Ernest Jackson, and all four council members present voted affirmatively. Precinct 5 Council Member Mike Marsh was out of town.

Both the county commissioners and Grapeland council members approved identical resolutions just days before the Crockett council acted on Bruner's motion.

In addition, the court took a final vote on the matter of establishing a lease-to-purchase arrangement with Serenity Place, Inc., for the former Crockett State School property, after meeting in executive session to discuss the matter.

In open session after the closed session, Meadows restated the motion the council passed Friday, May 13, approving the contract agreement with Serenity Place, Inc., emphasizing that language in the contract stipulated that minor details in the agreement would be worked out by Serenity Place, Inc., executives and City Administrator Sean Hutchison, on behalf of the council.

"Those minor details have been worked out," Meadows gleefully announced, adding, "I'm proud to say at this point we have an agreement to move forward with the signing of the contract." Then, he asked for a motion, passage of which would allow him to sign the contract entering into the lease-purchase agreement with Serenity Place, Inc.

The motion was offered by Precinct 4 Council Member Muriel Williams and seconded by Ernest Jackson. It passed on a unanimous vote of the council members present at the meeting.

Another item on the council's agenda was the administering of the oath of office to Ernest Jackson and Williams, who were recently re-elected to their positions. The oath was administered to the council members by Hutchison, who said it had already been administered to Marsh, who also was recently re-elected.

In other business, the council voted 4-0 to receive Miguel Quintero as the Crockett Volunteer Fire Department's (CVFD) newest firefighter. CVFD Chief John Angerstein presented Quintero to the council. The motion to elect Quintero was submitted by Precinct 1 Council Member Jeannie Julian and seconded by Williams.