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Commissioners Court Accepts Unexpected Timber Funds, Rejects TxDOT Request For Road Closure

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief

The Houston County Commissioners Court addressed a medley of issues during its regular meeting Tuesday, June 24.

The county has received an unexpected $363,000 in timber funds, another road project has been approved by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and will be funded by the County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zones (CETRZ) grant awarded to Houston County and the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association's (PWFAA) free summer concert series is drawing visitors to Houston County and

The commissioners unanimously voted to use part of the timber funds to pay off a lease purchase agreement in the amount of $224,334.95 on June 30. The loan was made at Citizens National Bank in Crockett for road equipment. During the discussion, County Auditor Melissa Mosley said the county's fund balance is very healthy, that this commissioners court is very conservative and builds its budget each year based on funds already in the bank. By paying this debt, the county will save any additional interest fees (the rate is more than 1%, Mosley said).

With the commissioners also unanimously voted to approve, per TxDOT requirements, a revised project list of estimates for the CETRZ grant. Pct. 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen said the list is basically the same as previously approved, but it includes the addition of a road in Precinct 2.

The CETRZ grant is for repair to roads damaged by heavy oil and gas traffic. The project list now includes 4,000 ft. of CR 2210 in Precinct 2, 4.5 miles of CR 3375 in Precinct 3, 1.5 miles of CR 3510 in Precinct 3 and 1.75 miles on CR 3400 in Precinct 3.

The state's share of the funding of these projects is $788,085 and the county's share is $87,564.

With regards to roads and bridges, the commissioners unanimously rejected TxDOT's request to close FM 227 at Hickory Creek and Hickory Creek Relief on FM 227 for approximately 18 to 24 months.

TxDOT will be rebuilding the bridges at those locations and sought the road closure to give themselves total access to the bridge sites.

The bridges are in Precinct 4 and that precinct's Commissioner Kennon Kellum objected to the closure. Kellum explained the closure would result in a complete road shut down and cause his constituents to make about a 10-mile detour to exit the area.

Kellum suggested that TxDOT build a temporary by-pass for access to the construction sites, noting he does not feel it would be every expensive for TxDOT to do so.

In March, the county entered into an interlocal agreement with the PWFAA for its free summer concert series. With the goal being to enhance and promote tourism here and through this agreement, the commissioners court approved PWFAA's application for $5,000 of the county's Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) for the concert series.

One of the conditions of that agreement was that PWFAA would present a post-event report to the commissioners court. On Tuesday, PWFAA representatives Ann Walker and Glenn Barnhart presented that report during commissioners court.

Walker reported that she surveyed 23 persons who attended the series, and of those 23, 65% were from out-of-county. Some came from Frankston, Bryan-College Station and Madisonville, she said. PWFAA will be sharing these results with the state as local fine arts/entertainment patrons continue their pursuit of a cultural arts district designation from the State of Texas for parts of Crockett.

Walker and Barnhart reported HOT funds were used for out-of-county advertising, noting the large sandwich-board posters in neighboring counties appeared to be successful.

The commissioners also unanimously approved an agreement with MOdesigns (Mikey Osborne of Crockett) to develop and host a tourism website for Houston County. Osborne was the only bidder for the job.

In accordance with the agreement, MOdesigns will provide Houston County Tourism with a rough draft of the website within two weeks of the project start date. The fee for creating the website is $500, plus a $30 per month hosting fee. It does not include a logo design (+$150) or domain name ($20 per year).

In other action, the commissioners unanimously voted to accept a Texas Historical Commission Round VIII Emergency Grant in the amount of $178,364 with a 50% county match and necessary budget amendments.

The grant funds are for repairs to the county courthouse roof. Kitchen commented the roof has needed repair since he took office in 1999.

Houston County Judge Erin Ford and Kitchen both stated that the THC said the county can change its mind about the grant at a later date, but if the commissioners did not accept it now, the money would be gone.

Ford and the commissioners expressed concern about the county being able to afford 50% of the repair cost.

The THC requires a courthouse easement while making the repairs, which the commissioners unanimously voted to approve.

A third requirement attached to the grant is to approve an architect for the design and construction administration services for the roof replacement scope. THC asked the county commissioners to approve Bailey Architects.

Bailey Architects is familiar with the Houston County Courthouse, having done some work here previously. They also helped with the preparation of the grant application.

However, the commissioners court is not comfortable with the price tag of $12,530. The commissioners unanimously voted to table this decision in hopes of getting a lesser price for the architect services.

The next Commissioners Court meeting will be a special meeting at 2 p.m. Monday, June 30, to accept the independent outside audit of county funds for the Fiscal Year 2013. Todd, Hamaker and Associates.

The commissioners also will consider action on a request to amend the Hurricane Ike Round 2.2 grant budget by removing the Senior Citizens Center generator project ($70,000) and reallocating funds to road improvements, and to rescind the bid advertising to accept proposals for the generator project.