County Judge Erin Ford declared Houston County a disaster area Friday, May 22, just three days before Governor Abbot made it official at the state level.
"It's killing us," said Ford of the most recent spate of rainfall. Houston County has had approximately 3 inches of rain in the last seven days, adding to the already phenomenal 50 plus inches this year, according to David Lamb, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Coordinator.
"The OEM is data gathering at this point, Governor Abbot declared a disaster in more than 200 counties," Lamb explained.
"We are waiting to see at this point when, if they do – the President is going to declare a disaster," he continued.
"Commissioner Dickey called in this morning. He said he had just put in a culvert on CR 1620 yesterday and last night it got blown out, standing straight up," Ford said.
"When we declared the disaster, the tip for me was to get resources from the state," he continued. "We are trying to access the RAP material from the state, for the roads," he said, "That would prevent having to keep re-doing the surface during all these heavy rains."
Precinct 3 Commissioner Pat Perry agrees, "We lost six to eight inches of our road surfaces," he said.
"The only ones that didn't wash out so badly were topped with oil sand, water rolls off of it," Perry explained.
The situation is dire enough in some areas that Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen has closed CR 3200 in Austonio.
CR 3045 is also impassable, and CR 2100 is almost impassible, it is a single access road, and there are several trees down as of last night's storm, according to Kitchen.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum responded to Ford's query regarding more road information.
"We don't have enough time between rains to get the roads fixed," Kellum stated.
"Ours is basically the same thing," Perry stated.
"Oil well companies are killing me, chicken house people are killing me," he said.
Kitchen explained that culverts were not as bad in his precinct as in precincts 1 and 4. "We've been fortunate in Precinct 2, we have one culvert."
Ford asked the commissioners to informally rate the roads, from one being the worst, to 10 being the best.
On average, per commissioner, roads before the rains were rated at eight.
Since the heavy rains started, the roads have dropped into the two and four rating.
Perry explained that his roads had washed so badly they are too low for the culverts to really work.
"One bright shining star, school is almost out so there will be no buses for a while," Kitchen said.
"Garbage trucks are heavy, very heavy, though," he added.
The rain has been brutal on the old courthouse, too, stated District Judge Pam Fletcher. "There's leaking from the roof, down the wall into the courtroom, there are ceiling tiles down, wires down and the carpet is wet," she said.
Despite the water, court continued and Fletcher listed 224 pending cases, 146 hearings in the month of April.
There were 19 CPS, cases, there were six in March. No jury trials but there were four bench trials. There were 93 magistrate warnings, as opposed to 82 in March; 48 felony arrests, compared to the 39 in March. Fletcher stated the court had appointed 18 defendants a criminal lawyer.
During the public comments section of the meeting, the court heard from Walter Scott, a Precinct 2 resident.
"I've lived here all my life, and I'm 65," said Scott. "I've heard it from every commissioner ever ... 'We don't have any money.'" he continued.
"Can you rearrange the budget so the commissioners are getting a whole lot larger portion of the taxes that what they are getting now?" he asked.
"You probably need to cut down from some other departments in the county, as far as hiring new people. The commissioners should be the ones that get the new employees, not these other departments, though they probably need it," he said.
"What about borrowing the money from the depository bank for the county to fix these roads? Then when you get some money, you can pay the loan back," he said.
"May I answer that?" asked County Auditor Melissa Mosley.
"I recently gave a presentation to the commissioners court for that purpose, I estimated $6, $8 and $10 million road bonds, so to speak, and that was in the works, but no one in the public has picked it up or requested it," Mosely said.
Scott asked, "How are you going to pay for a road bond when you can't even pay for the sheriff's department or the county jail – which should have never been built - how are you going to pay for that?"
"We do pay for it," Mosely answered.
"Yeah, but how long is it going to take to pay for it, 25 years?" Scott persisted.
"Sure, that's how long the road bonds would take, too," she answered.
"Well, why don't they just borrow some temporary funds from the bank?" Scott asked.
"That's illegal; we can't do that. We have to do it the right way," Mosley said.
"Almost $1 million dollars go to road and bridge," she added.
The reduction is road and bridge funds stems from the lessened use of the forest, and reduction in timber harvesting, explained Ford.
"One thing we are doing now, we are working with the National Forest Service to see if we can increase our timber harvesting," he continued.
Ford recognized Delbert Walker of Grapeland in the audience and asked for his comments.
"Well, I wasn't going to say anything," Walker started out, "but I wanted to compliment Roger (Dickey) and his sons. They worked all weekend, through the holiday ...." Walker said.
Ford thanked Walker for his comments and commended all the commissioners, all of whom worked extra hours this holiday weekend, according to Ford.
Kellum stated that he had seven big, 72" culverts. All of the culverts had been fixed except three. "I lost more than $5,000 in materials on Arbor Road," he continued. "What happened out there was a wildfire, and erosion washes the road away."
The city of Kennard donated $2,000 in repayment for work the county did inside the city. The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the donation.
Kitchen explained reasoning behind requesting standardized cattleguards. "They are a maintenance nightmare," he said.
In other business, the commissioners voted unanimously to rescind the prepayment discount for ad valorem taxes as authorized under Texas Property Tax Code Section 31.05(d).