HCEC Prepares For Hurricane Harvey

Upon request of the Houston County Courier, the Houston County Electric Cooperative (HCEC) issued the following statement regarding preparations for the potential impact of Hurricane Harvey:

The current path of Hurricane Harvey shows potential impact in Houston County Electric Cooperative's service territory. Ahead of the storm, Alert Level One of HCEC's Emergency Response Plan was activated Wednesday, Aug. 23.

As always, the impacts of the storm can be unpredictable, but HCEC is prepared with our emergency response plan to ensure that we can safely and efficiently maintain and restore power to all of our members.

Our employees will be working hard throughout the storm to make sure that we are bringing our members the best service possible. Our mission is to continually improve our members' quality of life by providing reliable and cost effective electric service, so our number one priority is to keep the lights on for all of our members in the safest and most efficient way possible.

To report an outage in your area, call 1-800-970-4232.

We always encourage our members to be prepared for any disaster. A few things we suggest to keep on-hand are:

Battery-operated radio
Five gallons of drinking water, in bottles or jugs, for each member of the household
Extra batteries
Enough canned food or packaged nonperishable food for several days
Candles and matches
Warm blankets
Change of clothes for each member of the household
A basic first-aid kit

Keep these supplies in a clean, dry area that will be easy to reach in an emergency.

CEIDC Hears Update On Dealership From Gentry At Meeting

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation Board of Directors had planned to hear updates on the three proposed new facilities at the corporation's industrial park at a meeting Friday, Aug. 18.

Those facilities are the firefighters training center, planned by the Houston County Firefighters Association and Emergency Services District No. 2; the Muscles and Curves business owned by Houston County Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen; and the Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram of Crockett auto dealership.

However, due to a medical emergency in CEIDC Executive Director James Gentry's family and the inability of some of the scheduled updates presenters to attend the meeting, it was shortened and only an update of the car dealership was given.

The review of progress toward the firefighter training facility was tabled, and the CEIDC board members agreed to reschedule Kitchen's update on efforts toward the establishment of his business in Crockett Industrial Park.
Gentry, who received a letter he requested from planned partial dealership owners Bill and Marinda Sweatt, presented the update on the dealership.

"One of the things I know everybody is interested in knowing, both the board and the city as whole, is our Chrysler dealership status," Gentry said. "Last month, we had talked about a temporary facility to make a presence here sooner than later."

However, "they (the proposed dealership's owners) went before the Chrysler Corp. at a national meeting in Florida, ...and they were encouraged to forego the temporary and go full board," Gentry said. "With that in mind, they (the owners) were told that they (corporation representatives) wanted them to go back and meet with the Chrysler Capital people.

"They met in Houston two weeks ago. Part of that involves some more paperwork or documentation or rebidding because they (the owners) had already done a lot of work with contractors lining up for the temporary.

"Well, they have almost shuffled the board now and come back with a full package. That was a little frustrating on their (the owners) part that they had to do that. But, the positive of that is that the Chrysler is doing the full financing."

Gentry said he met with Chrysler Capital representatives, who visited Crockett two weeks ago, and they were "quite impressed" after touring the proposed dealership site and the City of Crockett.

"They told me, 'It's on us to get this (complete the paperwork for the financing) done before the end of the year,'" Gentry added. "So, they're in the process of doing the reappraisals, all of that, right now."

Gentry explained, the corporation representatives and dealership owners project that construction of the proposed $8 million dealership will take between seven and 10 months after all financial agreements are signed, approvals are given and decisions on contractors are made. And that is projected to take place by November.

CEIDC Board President Ansel Bradshaw noted, the Crockett City Council voted Aug. 15, 2016, to abate property taxes to be levied on the dealership for a number of years.

"So, it's good that the word is finally getting out that everything is trying to come together because there's been a year to where it's just kind of set there," Bradshaw said.

"That's encouraging news because it (building the dealership) certainly creates opportunities for the City of Crockett, the citizens of Crockett, as well as Houston County."

In other business, the CEIDC board members accepted the resignation of Board Vice President Gene Glover, who stated in a letter, he has accepted a full-time position with the Rice Consolidated ISD.

"(I) will not be able to drive the distance to serve in the capacity (of board member) as needed and required," Glover said.
Glover was appointed to a two-year term on the CEIDC board by the Crockett City Council on Jan. 9, and was elected vice president by board members on Feb. 20.

Woman Charged With Felony Theft

By Lynda Jones
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Mary Elaine Stephens, 72, was booked into the Houston County Jail and released Friday, Aug. 11, on $10,000 bond for a felony theft charge. (HCSO Photo)Mary Elaine Stephens, 72, was booked into the Houston County Jail and released Friday, Aug. 11, on $10,000 bond for a felony theft charge. (HCSO Photo)A Houston County Grand Jury indicted Mary Elaine Stephens, 72, in June for alleged theft of funds from the estates of Vencie and Melba Beard between June 1, 2012, and Feb. 10, 2016.

Stephens was arrested by the Houston County Sheriff's Office Friday, Aug. 11, and released on $10,000 bond.

The indictment alleges Stephens did, "Unlawfully appropriate, by acquiring or otherwise exercising control over, property, to-wit: U.S. currency, of the value of $100,000 or more but less than $200,000, from the estates of Vencie and Melba Beard, the owner thereof , without the effective consent of the owner, and with intent to deprive the owner of the property."

According to the indictment, the alleged crime is a second degree felony.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty by due process of law.

Texas Sales Tax Holiday This Weekend — Aug. 11-13

(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar reminds shoppers the annual sales tax holiday is scheduled for this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11-13.

The law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced for less than $100 from sales tax, saving shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend during the weekend.

Lists of apparel and school supplies that may be purchased tax-free can be found on the Comptroller's website at

This year, shoppers are expected to save an estimated $87 million in state and local sales taxes during the sales tax holiday, which has been an annual event since 1999.

County Proposes 2.6 Cent Tax Increase

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Houston County real property owners can expect an increase of just under 3 percent in their next property tax bills.

The Houston County Commissioners Court unanimously voted at a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 8, to set the county's proposed new property tax rate at 55 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation.

The proposed rate of 55 cents is down .4 cents from the 55.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation the commissioners considered at a budget workshop last week.

The current county property tax rate is 52.4 percent per $100 of assessed value.

recinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen offered the motion to set the proposed new rate and Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum seconded the motion.

Immediately following action on that matter, the commissioners unanimously slated two public hearings on the proposed new property tax rate to be held Tuesday, Aug. 22, and Tuesday, Aug. 29. Both hearings are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

The commissioners agreed the proposed 2.6 cents increase in the tax rate is needed to support the county's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, which projects $14.5 million in both anticipated revenue and requested expenditures.

In other action at the meeting, the commissioners unanimously:
• Voted to approve a Hotel Occupancy Tax Application and Interlocal Agreement allocating $2,000 to organizers for the 81st annual World Championship Fiddler's Festival, slated Sept. 22-23, which is expected to draw an attendance of 2,000 people;
• Passed a motion made by Kitchen – seconded by Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Lovell – approving renewal of the Affordable Care Act Reporting and Tracking Service, which tracks county employee' participation in the health insurance plan and is conducted by Texas Association of Counties on behalf of Houston County.

The regular commissioners court meeting followed a second workshop on the county budget, at which jail and other requested expenses in Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt's section of the budget were discussed at length.

In addition, a request by Judge Pam Foster Fletcher, of the 349th District Court, for a salary increase for one of her employees was discussed at the workshop, as was a request submitted by Precinct 2 Constable Kenneth "Red" Smith for his community services budget and a request by Precinct 1 Constable Morris Luker to combine functions he performs into a full-time employee position.

Walter Diggles, wife, daughter found guilty

LUFKIN -- Walter Diggles along with his wife Rosie and daughter Anita were found guilty Thursday on all charges stemming from a conspiracy to divert federal funds intended for hurricane victims to their own use or groups with which they were affiliated.

Diggles, 64, the former executive director of the Jasper-based Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG), helped oversee the disbursement of a number of federal grants intended to help a 12-county region served by DETCOG, which includes Tyler County.

The federal jury found all three Diggles guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Walter Diggles was found guilty on a total of 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of stealing federal funds and three counts of money laundering. His wife, Rosie, was found guilty of nine counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. His daughter, Anita was found guilty of one count of wire fraud

Sentencing by Judge Ron Clark will be held in four to six months. The three could be facing up to 30 years in federal prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Closing arguments in the eight-day long trial were held Thursday in the federal courthouse in Lufkin in a case that began in March 2014 when FBI and other federal officers executed search warrants at the DETCOG headquarters, the Diggles residence and the New Lighthouse Church of God in Christ in Jasper where Diggles served as the pastor.

A federal indictment charging the three family members was handed down in Beaumont in December 2015

According to evidence presented during the trial, Diggles defrauded federal authorities by inflating the amount the Deep East Texas Foundation needed for social service programs. Diggles was listed as the "registered agent" for that foundation.

He received about $4.4 million from 2007 to 2012 through federal Social Services Block Grant funds. Of that, $1.3 million was spent on personal expenses, such as transportation, funeral expenses and church rent.

Prosecutors said members of the New Lighthouse Church operated an after-school program, and that Rosie and Anita Diggles prepared documents and reimbursement packets to request funds in support of the learning center.