The former Grapeland Nursing Center, Inc., building, located at 205 Church St., Grapeland, is being renovated and will house the planned Grapeland Urgent Care clinic, scheduled to open March 1. (PHOTOS BY ALTON PORTER | HCC)
A new medical care facility is coming to Grapeland the first of March.
Grapeland Urgent Care, a facility to be owned by a Houston-area partnership composed of Champions Urgent Care along with its parent company Rose-Rich EM Physicians, P.A., is scheduled to open in the former nursing home building located at 205 Church Street around Mar. 1.
That's the word from Champions Urgent Care's Chief Financial Officer Dick McNairy and the entity's board-certified family medicine Nurse Practitioner Joe Tumalad, who spoke with the Courier about their plans for the Grapeland facility Thursday, Jan. 4.
Tumalad, who owns property in the Grapeland area and is relocating there where he will be a full-time resident, will serve in the clinic, which will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, helping provide primary care. Dr. Tuan Nguyen of Houston, who will be the primary medical provider in the town and community, will be the facility's medical director.
Tumalad will be on-call to provide counseling at times when the clinic is closed. Hours of operation might be extended in the future based upon the volume and need, McNairy said. "Joe is dedicated to community concerns and has a really good heart for the people."
The facility will accept Medicare, Medicaid, 90 percent of commercial insurance providers and workers compensation, Tumalad said. It will be housed in the 18,000-square-feet former Grapeland Nursing Center, Inc., building. The Courier first reported there was new life ahead for the facility in the newspaper's Jan. 8, 2017, edition following an interview with Grapeland Mayor Balis Dailey about a $350,000 grant the city had received to do roof and related repairs on the building.
The grand opening of the facility is slated Mar. 24, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the entire community is invited to attend, McNairy and Tumalad noted.
There will be plenty of treats provided for adults and children—including barbecue and games—at the event. Event attendees also will be given the opportunity to tour the facility at that time.
The event's purpose is "to inform the community that we're here and what we have to offer," McNairy said. He said the clinic will be open to patients from the entire Houston County area, and also Groveton and Trinity in Trinity County. "Rose-Rich EM Physicians is a partnership in Houston of doctors who are in ER (emergency room) and urgent care and other medical facilities," McNairy told the Courier, in explaining their plans.
"In (March) 2016, we purchased Joe's business, Champions Urgent Care in North Houston, to basically branch out into what we do. We basically have been in freestanding ERs. We've been in hospital groups.
"So, we've been running that business since March 2016. Joe has been a very principal part of that. He was looking for property and settled on this area. While he was up in this area, he got to meet some of the people who are in the Grapeland area.
"And they basically talked to Joe about the fact there are no medical facilities within a 25-mile radius of there and asked if he and his team would consider doing a clinic there."
McNairy continued, "So, Joe brought the story back to me, since he was going to buy property in the area and would basically run and be a provider in the center. And so, we entered into a discussion with the City (of Grapeland officials) and with (representatives of) Vulcraft-Nucor, which is a large company that's in the area.
"And between the two of them, we entered two agreements, one a medical services agreement with Vulcraft to provide services for their employee base, as well as, to open up the clinic for the community.
"So, the city has a nursing facility (the Church Street property) that they inherited from 2012. It's been abandoned, and they wanted to renovate that and make it a medical complex. We will be the first tenant.
"So, on the east—we've actually entered into a lease. It hasn't been finalized yet, but it's going to happen. We're all committing funds to doing things already—2,600-square-feet on the east wing of that facility that they're renovating so we can open up what we're going to call Grapeland Urgent Care."
And the rest of the facility is going to be available if they expand into physical therapy and imaging, for example, and other medical-type services eventually."He added, "So, between that and Vulcraft, it made a right business decision for us. And Joe would be the management there since he's got the experience. And so, we would open up, hopefully, around the first of March, the target date. We're actually going to have an openhouse on Saturday, the 24th of March. "We're in the process of making relationships with the hospitals in the area—Tyler, Lufkin, Palestine—so that we can facilitate transfers from the clinic of patients who have higher medical requirements than urgent care. So, we're building those relationships in those particular areas so that we know the surgeons or the hospital groups, (et cetera) in those areas who can actually put people into beds."
McNairy explained, "At this point in time, most of the business will come from the dedication to Vulcraft.... However, there's a new business (Darling Ingredients, Inc.) going into town. It's a pet food business. And the mayor has talked to them about the fact that we are kind of a primary care as well as a family care as well as an urgent care at this point.
"So, we're starting out on that profile. We could expand, based upon what we see from the traffic, the volume. We are not an ER.... But, one thing we can do, that we are offering to the city and the people there, is that we can facilitate the admission into the hospitals without going through ER, which saves a lot of expense and time."
He said, "We will have X-ray capability, so we can do chest X-rays and (examination of) extremities. We'll do lacerations, colds, laboratory work, DOT (Texas Department of Transportation) and school and sports physicals, all those kinds of things. The initial staffing at the facility will be comprised of three or four people, which could grow." To begin with, the facility will have three examination rooms and lobbies for grownups and children.
Rose-Rich EM Physicians, P.A., also staffs the OakBend Medical Center in Houston, which has two hospitals in the southwest area of the city and is taking over a third one, Gulf Coast Regional Hospital, in Wharton, said McNairy. The company has nine doctors.
Grapeland Urgent Care will be the company's latest addition, and though it will initially be under the umbrella of Champions Urgent Care, it eventually will be its own legal entity.
Champions Urgent Care's website is champions-urgentcare.com.
In a relatively short report on Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp. (CEIDC) activities in 2017, focusing largely on the last two months, Executive Director James Gentry told Crockett City Councilmembers the corporation "had a favorable result" in its sales tax allocation during the year.
Gentry said the corporation's portion of the city's sales tax revenue totaled more than $540,000 during the 12-month period.
"Of course, as you understand, that has debt associated with some of the monies that we acquire, in terms of the loans that we have outstanding right now with properties that we invested in, including Angelina College and the monies that we allotted to assist in the maintaining of the (Crockett) State School over the last several years."
Gentry added, "Along with that, small business interest continues to prop its head in our community. As I mentioned at the last meeting, we've been working with the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) out of Lufkin."
He said he is engaged in referring potential small business owners to resources to help them develop ideas, putting business plans together and in other areas of small business development.
In addition to looking at and trying to attract "large, big bang companies" to the city, "we want to encourage small business interest in our community," he said.
Gentry noted, CEIDC officials attended several activities in November and December to partner with the Texas Forest Country Partnership, an organization he serves as a board member.
One of the things the partnership encourages among its members is promoting their communities as potential sites where movie scenes can be filmed. Crockett and surrounding Houston County should be placed on the list and promoted as viable film areas whereby they might be considered as locations where such movie scenes can be shot, the CEIDC executive director said.
He noted he and members of the CEIDC board attended an economic development summit sponsored and hosted by the partnership Nov. 8 in Lufkin, at which Crockett's Bella, Gifts from the Heart gift, novelty and souvenir store, owned by Jeanette Masters, was recognized as the partnership's 2017 Houston County Small Business of the Year.
Gentry said CEIDC officials continue to meet with people who have interests in opening businesses in Crockett. He said he plans to bring two of the "business interests" to the CEIDC board members for review and possible action at their next meeting in the Crockett Civic Center today, Thursday, Jan. 11, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.
Gentry concluded, "We're looking forward to a progressive year this year. And hopefully, some opportunities that will come about will make a difference in our community."
In other business at the meeting, the councilmembers: • Heard comments from Monica Pierre, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development area director, who briefly updated them on the city's $3.327 million USDA loan which will be used to make improvements to its water storage system and announced a Housing Fair and Seminar, presented by USDA and hosted by Crockett Housing Authority (CHA), to present information on affordable homeownership for low-income and very low-income residents will be held in the Community Room of CHA's New Site apartment complex, 159 George Briggs, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 5:30-7 p.m.; • Unanimously voted to pass a motion made by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson—seconded by Precinct 4 Councilmember Rita Rodriguez—approving a resolution allowing city personnel to finance up to $210,000 through Branch Banking and Trust at an interest rate not to exceed 3.14 percent for the purchase of fire-fighting equipment during a term that shall not exceed five years from closing; • Passed on a three-to-two vote (a motion made by Precinct 1 Commissioner Butch Calvert—seconded by Rodriguez—approving an ordinance that amends the rates section of the city's garbage and trash code, in light of a 3.2 percent rate increase being made by this year by Waste Connections, the city's garbage collection company; and • Passed on a unanimous vote a motion made by Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh—seconded by Calvert—adopting a resolution and agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation for closure of state highways around the one-way square in downtown Crockett for the purpose of running the Davy Crockett Classic bike races in the city Saturday, Feb 10, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Mayor Joni Clonts, sitting, and City Administrator John Angerstein take a break to smile for a photo as they discuss a variety of projects that are destined to result in good news in 2018. (Alton Porter | HCC)
By Alton Porter News Reporter
A renewed spirit of optimism is being ushered in at the start of this bright new year over at Crockett City Hall, where officials are spearheading a variety of projects that are destined to result in good news in 2018.
"First of all, we want to say the City (of Crockett) is getting off to a good start for 2018, Mayor Joni Clonts said in a joint Courier interview with City Administrator John Angerstein. "It's going to be a positive year for us."
Many of the successes Clonts and Angerstein anticipate this year got their start last year. "A lot of what we are looking forward to stated in 2017, and we hope to reap some fruit in 2018," Angerstein said.
The first item Clonts, who became the city's first woman mayor in May 2017, and Angerstein addressed is the quality of the city's water, how it was much improved this past year and is expected to remain this year.
"The water is good in Crockett," the mayor said. The state's maximum acceptable level of trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in water is .08 milligrams per liter, she noted. That standard was set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Clonts and Angerstein pointed out, Crockett's level is now .03 milligrams per liter or parts per million. They explained, the city had some issues meeting the state standard in the past with water it purchased from Houston County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 and sold to city customers. However, that was not the case in 2017 and is not expected to be a problem this year.
"We've got our last quarter (of 2017) reports in from our labs, and the state also gives us a report on it," Angerstein said. "And we're at .03, which is twice better than what the state requires. They want you under .08. We're well under that (.08) threshold, and maintained a superior water quality throughout the year. "So, all of those being pluses, our infrastructure, we know what that is. We know the dinosaur we're dealing with. But, the water quality itself—we do have a good water quality that we're providing to our citizens and want to maintain that."
Angerstein explained, "A lot of times, what we're dealing with is some people have been mentioning the water coloring. We flush our system. The state requires all endline valves to be flushed once every 30 days, which we do.
"That is what helps to keep our water clear. When you don't flush the system or (don't do it) in the right sequence, it will muddy the water up. So, you'll get yellowish color. But, as far as the contaminants in the water, we've maintained a good year, a positive year. All four quarters came back well under the threshold for contaminant levels. And, by the state's requirements, we have superior water quality."
Clonts and Angerstein then turned their attention to the $275,000 grant the city recently received from the Texas Department of Agriculture through the 2017 Texas Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for the repair of city manholes and sewer lines and other projects in the works for 2018.
"Starting with 2018—we've been dealing with it in the last few council meetings—we've talked about the CDBG grant," Angerstein said. "That's kicking off right at the first of January. We've been funded for that.
"It's going to allow us to replace a lot of our manholes. They need service. The mortar joints are cracked. There are bricks that are falling in. Some of them need new lids. We're putting quite a bit of money into manhole repairs. "Repairing our manholes help by not bringing in storm water into our sewer (system) that we actually have to treat. If it doesn't enter our system, we don't have to treat storm water. We're only supposed to treat refuse—sewer."
Angerstein explained, "Right now, we have right at 40 percent infiltration into our system. About 40 percent of the water we treat is not sewer. It's rainwater—rainwater and groundwater that goes into our sewer. So, all of that is an overload onto our system. So, just finding all the bleeds, so to speak, the places that we're bleeding, trying to stop it there to help us to where we can operate more efficiently. That's going to help us. "We're putting in a couple of sewer lines, using the (CDBG) money. So, that's going to really help us. There have been a couple areas where our sewer system has been basically bottlenecked. We replaced it up to both sides of the railroad tracks, and we've enlarged our system.
"But, due to the lack of funding to have to bore under the railroad tracks and get permits for it from Union Pacific, it's always been put on hold.
"We're finally going to get that system enlarged and improved. And also, a lot of our system is done in clay tile. We're improving that, going to C900 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe, which has a much longer lifespan.
"With clay tile, a joint is placed every two feet. As the ground shifts and moves, so do those joints. It allows for intrusion by tree roots that seek out water and can (grow) in and completely (block) a sewer line. By putting in new PVC, we won't have those issues that we have now where sewer backs up into streets, the manholes or homes. A lot of that now is caused by clay tiles.
"And, as the ground moves, the clay tile will offset itself, and that becomes an area where the sewage is trapped. "So that's a big project that is going forward. That's one issue that's going to be a big step for us this coming year."
Turning to another matter, Angerstein said, "Obviously, the big project for 2018 is the USDA Project. That project, which will have improvements made to the city's water storage system, will be funded by a $3.327 million loan from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. It will involve completely renovating both of the city's water towers, Clonts and Angerstein said.
"Currently, the fill pipes on the water towers leak," Angerstein explained. "They're older; they're corroded. We're replacing those. We're blasting the inside and outside of these tanks. We're resealing them, re-priming them and painting them, which expands the lifespan of them for another 15 or 20 years."
In addition to the water towers, Clonts and Angerstein noted the two 350,000-gallon water storage tanks on North Fourth Street in the College Hill area of the city. Those tanks will be replaced with a one-million-gallon storage tank, they said.
"So, there will be a new facility up there," Angerstein said, adding, "Ten years ago, our engineers said (the two tanks) were (prone) to imminent failure. And you can see it. They're leaking. They're bowed out. So, structurally, they're unsafe.
"Replacing them will cost about a million dollars out of the project. It will increase the capacity of water that we can hold on hand, and we will no longer have tanks that are leaking.
"And, after years, deposits have built up in those tanks, and that's more stuff that we have to treat the water for. Having a brand-new tank, is going to help us a whole lot on keeping our water quality up—not having to add as much chemicals into our water to combat contaminants."
Angerstein said, "Hopefully, these USDA projects, which also will include installing new water meters throughout the city, will be completed within 2018.
"Our current water meters are old, and all are manually read. We have two water meter readers. It takes a month for them to go around and completely read all meters within our city."
He continued, "So, this new system eliminates the need to manually read everyone of these. They will all be electronically read remotely. It will be a whole lot more efficient in our billing, as well as not having to have two people on staff just to read meters when something can be done now by the click of a button.
"Those are just areas in which we can improve ourselves without raising water rates and doing things of that nature. We can save money—money that we're currently spending. We can keep it and invest it back into our infrastructure.... And the two (meter readers), we can use them in the Water Department or our Street Department, instead of being tied up day in and day out reading meters.
"Our system is so old that they (meter readers) literally go around with a book in their hands and a pencil and manually write those numbers down on every meter. Every meter is in a box. Half of them are full of water. So, they have to pump the water out. The other half have ant mounds inside. So, none of it is efficient. It's an old system. We're finally going to be up to speed in the 21st century.
"Those—repairing the water towers, replacing the College Hill water tanks and replacing the water meters—are kind of the big three projects scheduled for 2018."
Another sizable project is an energy performance undertaking the city is entering with Johnson Controls. In this project, the city will purchase up to $778,000 in guaranteed energy savings equipment through a financing contract with Branch Banking and Trust Co. The equipment will be used to help the city reduce its energy consumption.
At a meeting Friday, Dec. 22, Angerstein told Crockett city councilmembers the city's annual electric bill currently is almost $500,000, one of the city's biggest expenses.
The project will help city officials and staff members find areas in which they can be more prudent in the way they spend the city's money for electric service and more efficient in how they use energy.
"It doesn't take a big percentage of savings to equate to lots of dollars in our budget," Angerstein said, adding, officials renewed the city's electrical contract with its provider, Cirro Energy, under a plan that saves the city right at 30 percent on its energy bill. The contract had not been renewed in several years.
"Whereas we were paying about 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour, we're now paying 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour," Angerstein said. "That's a lot of savings. That equated to close to $175,000 in savings in electricity."
On top of that, Clonts noted, Johnson Controls representatives have projected they will help the city save up to $57,000 a year on its electric bill. A big part of the savings will be made possible as a result of converting all city buildings from using light bulbs under current technology to LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology and installing new HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, Angerstein added. The average age of the city's current AC systems is 22 years; some are 30 years old, he said.
"Those are areas in which we have been bleeding," the city administrator said. "(Now,) it's just triaging our city and seeing where we can address the biggest areas of waste. And those are some of them."
As part of the energy performance project, Clonts said the city will tear down the green building behind Crockett Public Library and convert the land to a lot to provide more parking space for library patrons. In addition, the old former hospital building across the street in front of City Hall will be taken down and the lot possibly converted to green space for a park, unmanned visitors center or gazebo-like area where people can visit and relax.
These buildings currently are eyesores, and the city is looking for partners to help make the lots people-friendly, possibly with reading areas and other attractions once the buildings are torn down, Clonts and Angerstein said. In addition to grant funds for projects to be undertaken this year, Angerstein said city councilmembers included a substantial amount of funds in the current year's budget for replacement of water and sewer mains and lines. City streets are what "everyone sees and want to be fixed," Angerstein said. "(However,) the first step toward fixing those streets is replacing those water lines. And 2018's budget is the first one in which we have a significant amount (about $500,000) set aside toward replacing water lines, which have leaks everywhere in the city.
"Since we have shown an effort toward replacing those water lines, TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) has also shown and are putting forth the effort to replace some of our streets.
"Whereas in the past, unless we gave them a plan to replace some of those lines, they wouldn't put new streets in—South Fourth, Goliad, Houston. Those are all streets that have needed to be replaced for a long time.
"But, they (TxDOT) hadn't put the money toward them since they know we hadn't addressed the water lines underneath them. They're not going to invest that kind of money into our town when we're going to dig a hole in it (in the future to repair the water lines)."
In addition, Clonts and Angerstein said they are hopeful a $275,000 downtown revitalization matching grant the city has applied for will come through that will help fund improvements along Houston Avenue from Fifth Street to Seventh Street.
And the Davy Crockett Classic bike-racing event, that is put on by Local Bike Racing and draws people to the city, is returning to Crockett and the surrounding area Feb. 10 and 11. So, parts of Seventh and Corto streets are being smoothed over with materials the city has on hand in preparation for that event.
Also, city officials are applying for a grant that would add to funds the city has set aside in the budget for 2018 to help purchase new equipment for Davy Crockett Memorial Park, they said.
Clonts and Angerstein encouraged area residents to support area businesses by spending/buying locally. And Clonts concluded, "If we clean up our town and make it look good, that's going to draw people into our town. And they're going to bring money here. And they're going to spend money here. And that helps the city.
"Whatever is spent here includes tax dollars. It's going to help the city. So, we need to encourage tourism. When you go someplace, promote Crockett. Tell people to come to our town because there are a lot of good things here. We want our town to grow. The more we have here, the better off we're going to be."
"Crockett: A Place to Call Home," is a new slogan Clonts and city councilmembers recently approved to have painted on the city's water tower on the east side of town. That slogan is fitting and sums up what Clonts and Angerstein want residents and others to feel about the city.
"Good things are happening in Crockett," Clonts said. "We don't need any naysayers. We need positive people on board to help us make out town grow and do what we know it can do and become. There is a lot of potential here. We want people to take pride in their town."
Weather-related fire incidents have been nonexistent in Crockett during the current cold snap, which has brought frigid temperatures to the area, as of Courier press time Tuesday, Jan. 2, according to Crockett Fire Department Chief Jason Frizzell.
Other than temperatures dipping into the teens, causing cold weather discomfort, the city has faired well, the fire chief said.
"We haven't had any major weather-related emergencies. We had a structure fire New Year's Eve night. It was an abandoned house that caught on fire. It's still under investigation. But, that's the only thing we've really had. We've been fortunate."
Frizzell said firefighters received a call to the scene of the fire in the 900 block of Grant Street at 7:11 p.m. Sunday evening, Dec. 31.
"It was actually sleeting out there when we were putting it out," Frizzell noted about the weather condition at that time.
He said, as of Tuesday, there were no electric- or gas-heater related fires or other incidents reported in the city. "I guess everybody has been minding their Ps and Qs, keeping stuff like they're supposed to be kept, Frizzell said. "Of course, it's still early in the game. We've still got a few more days of cold weather ahead of us."
Frizell offered some tips for maintaining and using heaters and other heating equipment and devices during cold weather, such as our current frigid temperatures.
"My main concern is if people have fireplaces with chimneys, they need to have the chimneys cleaned at least yearly. Most people don't have them checked."
He noted the Houston County Lake Fire Department was paged to a chimney fire Tuesday morning. "People don't realize they need to have their chimneys cleaned at least once a year," he repeated for emphasis.
"And people need to keep their portable heaters at least three feet from items like curtains and beds.
In addition, they should make sure they don't use extension cords to run electric heaters. Those heaters pull a lot of amps and that will melt extension cords."
Frizzell said, "And they definitely don't need to be running extension cords or any kind of wires underneath rugs trying to hide them because they can overheat, then catch those rugs and stuff on fire if the cords short out." Frizzell added, "They also need to make sure—if they are using natural gas or propane heaters or burning wood in their fire places—that they have carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they're not getting excess carbon monoxide in their houses. Carbon monoxide detectors are just as important as smoke detectors this time of year.
"Like chimneys, heaters need to be checked yearly to make sure they are performing well and there are no issues."
Also, Frizzell pointed out, people should not use their stoves—stovetop burners and oven heating elements—to warm their houses. "I know a lot of people—especially the older generation—will turn their ovens on and open the oven doors to heat up their houses. Stoves are not made to do that.
"Something can fall onto or be blown onto a stove that has the burners wide open on top by someone who is walking past the stove, starting a fire. So, using the stove to warm the house is not a safe idea."
Houston County officials have hired a recent UT Law grad to serve as the county's assistant attorney.
County Attorney Daphne Session recently selected Paul Andrew Hill, a May 2016 University of Texas School of Law graduate, to assist her in the role of assistant county attorney.
County Judge Jim Lovell and the two county commissioners present at a commissioners court meeting Thursday, Dec. 21, voted to approve Hill's salary. Commissioners Kennon Kellum (Precinct 4) and Pat Perry (Precinct 3) were absent.
"We have a new county employee," said Lovell, in introducing Hill to the commissioners and others present at the meeting and in placing the matter of approval of Hill's salary before the court. "I should have recognized and introduced him at the beginning (of the meeting). But, for those who don't know Paul, Paul Hill is the new assistant county attorney."
Lovell then told Hill he was glad to have him as a new addition to the county's legal staff and welcomed him to the county. Hill responded, "Yes sir, thank you, I'm happy to be here."
Then, Lovell continued, "I have a letter here from our county prosecutor, County Attorney Daphne (Session). It says, 'Please add to the December 21, 2017, commissioners court agenda, to discuss and consider approval of the salary for the following new employee within the Houston County Attorney's Office: Paul Hill, as assistant county attorney, at the pay rate of $2,289.34 bi-weekly."
Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen immediately offered a motion to approve the salary, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Lovell seconded the motion, which passed on a 3-0 vote.
After the vote, Kitchen noted he had been told Hill passed up a position in a much larger city to come to Crockett to work in Houston County because he likes Crockett so well, and asked Hill if that was true.
Hill responded, "Yes, I met with Daphne, and the interview went great. I got a chance before the interview to see the town and to see the county. ... The feeling was right. And it's just a great opportunity and it's such a great community. So, I'm happy to be here."
"Thank you for choosing us," Lovell said.
Hill replaces former Assistant County Attorney Amber Bewley, who resigned in November to accept a like position in her hometown of Lufkin. In an interview after the meeting, Hill told the Courier, "I was born in San Marcos. I did college at University of North Texas. I majored in political science. And then, I did my law school at UT-Austin. I graduated in (May) 2016.
"After that, I was working at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. I was doing family law there. And then, I was looking for something a little different. So, I came up and interviewed with Daphne (in early November). I saw the town.
"The job seemed like a really good opportunity. So, after about a year of practicing family law down in Corpus Christi, I decided to make the change and come and work for Daphne to be a prosecutor up here." Hill said he first learned about the Houston County Assistant County Attorney employment opportunity from a job posting online. "I'm just really excited to be here," Hill told the Courier. It's (Crockett) a nice town. I like being here. It's been really, really nice so far. Everybody has been really welcoming, so nice and so kind. I felt very, very welcome.
"I was able to find a place to live really easily. Everything is easily accessible. I can walk to work every day. So, I'm enjoying it here." He said, "Coming into the interview, I was a little unsure because I'd never been here before. But then, I had some extra time before my interview. And I was driving around the town, seeing everything. I hung out at the public library for a little bit to print-out extra copies of my resume. And I had my interview with Daphne, and it just all felt right."
In deciding how he wanted to spend his career while in law school, Hill said, "I knew that I wanted to help people."
Like most law school educations, he said his was "pretty general." "I wasn't too specific, so there was no real specialization in law school," he said. About his duties in his new job here in Houston County, Hill said, "I'll just be a prosecutor. In the county court at law, we do misdemeanors. And then, over in district court, we'll be doing CPS (Texas Child Protective Services) cases.
"We also do protective orders for people who need protection from family violence and handle juvenile cases."
In other action at the meeting, Judge Lovell and the two commissioners present voted three to zero to pass a motion offered by Kitchen—seconded by Commissioner Lovell—rejecting a sealed bid in the amount of $25 from DeGerrian Evans of Crockett for Lot 4 in the J.W. Hogg Addition, located at 809 Sycamore St., Crockett.
The Houston County trust property, which has an old house on it, measures 54 feet by 125 feet, has a judgment value of $7,078.70, is part of the Frank Johnson Survey and was previously owned by the estate of Clyde Randolph and others.
The judgments against the property are for 2005 through 2012. County records show $915.96 in taxes is owed on the property to the county, $83.31 is due Houston County Hospital District, $1,536.44 is owed the City of Crockett and $4,506.99 is due Crockett Independent School District.
The county already has spent $915.60 in court costs and other expenses associated with the property.
County Tax Assessor-Collector Danette Millican noted the obvious: the bid amount is "not sufficient to cover post judgment taxes, and will not cover the $30 fee to record the Resale Deed."
In other business, Lovell and the two commissioners: • Voted passage of a motion made by Kitchen—seconded by Commissioner Lovell—accepting a $21,532 allotment of donated reclaimed asphalt from the Texas Department of Transportation to help repair county roads this fiscal year; • Voted to pass a Commissioner Lovell motion—seconded by Kitchen—approving acceptance of a donation of road materials of undisclosed value for County Road 1535 in Precinct 1; and • Passed another Commissioner Lovell motion—seconded by Kitchen—authorizing Judge Lovell to be designated signatory for the county on its contracts with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Attorneys for the City of Crockett and Crockett Independent School District (CISD) have reviewed the sale and purchase agreement for the former Crockett State School property and officials are looking forward to closing the transaction, possibly at a joint meeting less than two weeks from now, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018.
That's according to City Administrator John Angerstein, who gave city leaders an update on the progress of negotiations between city and school district officials on the pending sale-purchase of the state school property at a special city council meeting Friday, Dec. 22.
Several weeks ago, CISD Superintendent Terry Myers offered, on behalf of the school district, to purchase the state school property from the city for $650,000 and the school district's $61,000 transportation facility.
However, the sale-purchase transaction was stalled to allow the city time to purchase insurance on the state school property and the entities the opportunity to complete title searches on that property and the school district's transportation facility, which are being exchanged in the transaction.
The purpose of the searches is to give the city and the school district the opportunity locate documentation that ensures the titles and deeds they are passing on the properties are free and clear of encumbrances.
The city council members were hoping to consider and possibly approve action to authorize the purchase and sale agreement, and Mayor Joni Clonts and City Secretary Mitzi Thompson had placed the matter on the meeting's agenda.
However, the city had not received final paperwork from the school district, so city officials had to table action on the matter.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Marsh, councilmember for Precinct 5, offered the motion to table the item, Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson seconded the motion and it carried on a 3-to-0 vote, with Precinct 4 Councilmember Rita Rodriguez voting along with them. Councilmembers Butch Calvert (Precinct 1) and Darrell Jones (Precinct 2) were absent.
Explaining why the matter was placed on the agenda and opening discussion on it, Angerstein said, "(W)e put this in here as a placeholder, just in case the (sale-purchase) documents would be provided in time (to be acted on). We don't want to be the reason for any holdup on that.
"I did speak with Mr. Myers a couple of days ago and he confirmed that they would not have the title search and the survey complete on the transportation (facility) and bus barn. With that being said, he spoke with both of them (attorneys for the city and school district).
"They have ... intents of moving forward on the 8th (of January), which, more than likely, will be our next council meeting. It's the first Monday after New Year's.... So hopefully, by the 8th, he said that he would have survey title search complete.
"And both of our attorneys have already reviewed the sale and purchase agreements and the proposed deed and have agreed on and completed that document. They're going to forward it to us for us to have on hand."
Angerstein added, "They have already put it on their agenda to meet with us as a joint meeting at our council meeting on the 8th (to possibly close the deal). We hope that all things will come together.... (For now,) I request that this item be tabled."
In answer to a question from Marsh, Angerstein said, in their sale and purchase agreement, school district officials would not agree to a request by the city to be reimbursed by the district for insurance expenses or any funds the city has expended on the state school property since Dec. 18.
"That means basically, we don't incur expenditures," said Angerstein. "If we have to incur some expenditures, I will advise council. But, as of the 18th, our maintenance—the facility maintenance man out there—was let go. We're not incurring utility fees. Oncor (Electric Delivery Company, L.L.C.) said that if they need to turn the electricity off, they will advise us ahead of time.
"Currently, we have no need for electricity out there, but the school district does have some food in the freezers already.
"That was us trying to help them out.... We're not using it for storage. But, once again, I made no guarantee that electricity would be maintained. So, if we do receive notice it has to be turned off, we'll let them (school district officials) know, and they can either turn it back on or move their food out of the freezer.
"I just made it clear with Mr. Myers that we can't take any responsibility for anything out there. That we'll be good neighbors if they need to store something, but we can't take any responsibility if the electricity goes off or anything like that. We're not paying the utility fees.
In answer to another question from Marsh, Angerstein confirmed the only expense the city now has associated with the state school property is the cost of property insurance coverage, which he highly recommended the city keeps to protect its assets until after the sale-purchase transaction closes.
"He (Myers) reached out to me and questioned council's intent on not paying anything after the 18th," Angerstein said. "So, I let him know once again, we're not going to incur utility fees and maintenance, for sure. The only thing we have to keep is the insurance, but we're not going to incur any additional expenses. Or, we have no intentions on it. I will let you know if we do run into something.
"So, hopefully, the 8th is going to be the closing.
In other business, the councilmembers voted 3 to 0 to pass a motion made by Jackson—seconded by Rodriguez—approving a resolution that allows the city to contract with Branch Banking & Trust Co. (BB&T), to finance up to $778,000 in guaranteed energy savings equipment at an interest rate not to exceed 2.88 percent. The financing term is not to exceed 15 years from closing.
The equipment is to be used to help the city reduce its energy consumption through a project the councilmembers recently voted to enter with Johnson Controls, Inc., in accordance with a proposal approved Nov. 10 to improve energy efficiency.
Angerstein said, "The reason to try to put this (the resolution) for today's (Friday, Dec. 22) special, called meeting was due to the Tax Reform Bill that has now passed from our (U.S.) House (of Representatives) and Senate (and signed into law by President Donald Trump). Interest rates are on the rise.
"And after Friday, they (BB&T) will not guarantee this interest rate. And in fact, they said that very likely by this time next week, it would be half a percent to one percent higher. ... It was in our best interest to have this meeting and close on it. As soon as this meeting finishes and we sign the documents, we'll fax them or email them off. And then, overnight the documents to them. And they said they would honor the interest rate."
Angerstein told the Courier, "Between our air conditioners and our lighting in all of our buildings and outside our buildings, we spend close to $500,000 a year (for electricity). So, any percentage of a change on that pays back just in energy consumption. Using less energy means we pay less for it. So, we will pay ourselves back in less than 15 years for that contract.
"What it costs to upgrade it all, we will get that money back in the first year. So, the action by the council today was to go ahead and move forward and approve that financing so we can purchase the equipment."
In other action, the councilmembers: • Passed, on a 3-to-0 vote, a motion offered by Marsh—seconded by Rodriguez—authorizing Angerstein to purchase for $78,578.61 from Crockett's Collins Tractor and Equipment, a New Holland tractor/loader backhoe; and • Voted 3 to 0 to pass a motion made by Rodriguez—seconded by Jackson—to approve having a slogan that reads "Crockett A Place to Call Home" painted on the east elevated water storage tank near Wal-Mart and a catchphrase that states "Crockett Home of the Bulldogs" painted on the southwest elevated water storage tank near Crockett Independent School District and the state school properties to promote positive images of the city.