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Chester lights up its city park

by Michael G. Maness

The Chester city park will be getting new lights soon.

The Chester city council met at its regular meeting on Monday evening, 6 p.m., Oct. 5.

Mayor C. E. Lawrence convened the council, a quorum coming to fruition after a couple of members arrived shortly after the start.
The council approved the minutes to the previous meeting and the financials for the city and Chester Gas Company and went into detailed discussions on the city park.

Entergy will not be able to rebuild the current lights on the city's own poles. A lively discussion ensued on several options. Councilman Vincent Incardona did come quick calculating on the cost of buying vs. purchasing the light poles. The council voted to contract with Entergy to install three security flood lights on the existing poles near the highway and install two additional poles inside around the walking field. Councilwoman Gale Williams will be looking at the location in consult with the others. And the all will continually assess to make the light shine on the city park.

The air conditioning out in the truck, Councilman John Wayne Davis made a heated trip Livingston to pick up the city trailer. And not a few a jokes livened up the atmosphere between him and Councilman Floyd Petri, as Petri had offered to accompany Davis. It was hot that day.

The council approved the bid by JSW Construction to remodel the concession stand according to the bid specs and after lengthy consult with Mayor C. E. Lawrence. Petri revised his motion to approve to include some hinged plywood covers to close and protect the windows when the stand is not in use.

The four playground seesaws will be renovated with brand new oak boards. The jungle gym will be renovated (or tore down) and the metal slide is coming down. They might replace the slide, but not too soon. Much more is being discussed.

Homecoming will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 11 a.m. with a parade organized by Susan Grimes. Councilwoman Charlotte Barnes had secured ten banners for the city from the same vendor as Woodville. In the Chester ISD school colors, the school's yellow jacket hoovers in a sea of a dark purple and over the city name blazoned in yellow at a 45-degree angle. They will be strategically placed throughout the city, which, Barnes noted and Lawrence has been coaxing, will be cleaned up a bit—all very proud of their beloved little town.

WISD Special Called Meeting Workshop, Business Meeting

by Darby Kethan

Woodville ISD Board met Monday, August 10 for a called workshop and business meeting.

Superintendent Glen Conner provided the District Academic Performance Update regarding Accountability Ratings for the district in Academic Progress, (the school); Student Progress, (individual student performance); Closing the Gap, (between two largest sub groups of students as compared to other similarly sized ISDs; and Post Secondary Readiness, the ability of the ISD to provide classes to prepare students for further education. WISD was in the top ¼ percentile of schools graded as "recognized". Mentioned as receiving exceptional and receiving achievement were High and Middle Schools. Intermediate school (rankings include elementary grades as well) met standards in all four indices, with performance increases being an area indicating a need for improvement.

WISD is in the process of assessing existing facilities with regard to current and future needs. Board members will head committees consisting of teachers, parents and community members to collect input about what is needed, what needs renovating, what needs changing, and other concerns about the physical plant of WISD. Persons interested in serving on such committees are encouraged to contact Conner.

Repairs to the roof of the transportation building are completed along with custodial and maintenance work, including tree trimming is on schedule to be completed prior to school starting. The football facility is to be completed on schedule by August 26.

WISD coaches Carrell and Waldie presented information about summer and upcoming athletic programs and ideas for increasing participation in sports by more students. Carrel said summer sports activities averaged 20-25 girls per day, an increase of 50 percent from last summer. Thirty seven girls came out for volleyball, and games are already scheduled and in progress with tournaments starting August 15. Waldie reported a great summer workout program and cited the Woodville Athletics Booster Club for their help. They averaged 40 football boys with over 60 on one day and have 82 football players turned out.

A proposed athletic policy to encourage cross-training and participation by students in two or more sports was presented by Waldie. The goal of such policy would be to have athletes who typically play only one sport participate in training for other sports to avoid students being in "off" season during the part of the school year they are not actively playing a sport. This participation will enhance skills necessary for a individual's primary sport, such as basketball and baseball athletes benefit from cross country training, football athletes benefit from weight lifting, and enhance "school pride" as students will be keeping in better shape all year long resulting in better performances and personal and team development.

A discussion about school athletics practices and programs being in conflict with outside athletic programs was held. Problems with students missing school practices in order to attend outside practices and with parents wanting school coaches to adopt methods espoused by non-school programs have surfaced. Pride in belonging in school teams along with the commitment to participate in school athletic programs needs to be encouraged by all concerned with non-school programs adapting to school schedules and methods.

Cody Jarrott presented information about the WISD bids for surplus materials in which approximately $10,000 was collected. Additionally, the 2015-15 budget was approved. Jarrott received authority from the board to move money within his existing budget as needed with reports made to the board.

The 2015-16 WISD School year calendar changes proposed were passed, adding five early release days. This is to accommodate planning periods where teachers plan curriculum sequence and scope and coordinate TEKS plans. Students will attend half day, and teachers will remain for a work day.

State school funding information regarding the 2015-16 preliminary and proposed budget and tax rate was presented by Jarrott. Funding for the upcoming year is based on the value of property and minerals for the year prior to the current year, so it is a three year cycle, with changes in property and mineral values for the first year determining the third year state funding based on student population. The state money coming to the district changes because of adjustments to state property values; enrollment has declined at WISD, which mitigates any apparent shortfall in state funding.

A public hearing for discussion and approval of the WISD budget and tax rate is scheduled for Monday, August 31, at 6 p.m.

Auditors find Tyler County ‘In Compliance’

by Kelli Barnes

Audit reports for Tyler County's financial business are in from the accounting firm Belt Harris Peckacek, LLLP in Houston, and according to reports, the audit states "we did not identify any deficiencies in internal control that we consider to be material weaknesses."

The auditor's opinion of the handling of each major federal program, which would include the IKE disaster recovery grant money is, "In our opinion, the County complied, in all material respects, with the types of compliance requirements that could have a direct and material effect on each of its major federal programs for the year ended December 31, 2014." Total federal expenditures for the county in 2014 were $3,585,749.

Total revenues for the county in 2014 were $15,984,509 and total expenditures were $14,770,439, which means the county stayed within its budget for 2014 and actually added $1,986,859 to the bottom line. Ending fund balance for Tyler County as of December, 2014 was $13,939,102. According to county auditor, Jackie Skinner, the county has a year's worth of cushion in the bank, which will help in the event of a county disaster.

County Judge Jacques Blanchette asked the outside auditor, Darla Dear, if "this information is appropriate and stable." Dear said, "The first think I look at is fund balance of 25 percent to 35 percent of your annual expenditures and Tyler County is almost at 100 percent. It is a nice, healthy fund balance.

"The county is prepared for a disaster and the flow of information from the county to the auditor's office is much improved. The new system is easier and overall you are doing well...the county auditor should be commended."

In other business, the county approved minutes from the August 10 meeting, amended and corrected the July adult probation report and renewed the Xerox service agreement for the district clerk's office. Title IV-E Child Welfare Services contract was renewed, the annual luncheon expenses for the Deep East Texas Council of Government (DETCOG) meeting to be held locally were approved and also the contract for the 2016 Volvo Dump Truck with First National Bank in Wichita Falls was approved.

Commissioners met again for a special called meeting Monday morning, to authorize Jackie Skinner to sign certification for grants for: violence against women special prosecutor grant and crime victim's coordinator grant.
The next meeting for Commissioners Court will be Monday, September 14 at 10 a.m.

Woodville ISD board looks at end of year data, declining enrollment

by Darby Kethan

Woodville ISD met in a busy July session. The Board looked at end of year data, including a concerning drop in enrollment.
Cody Jarrott reported on financial matters within the district regarding the closing of school year 2014-15. The district has ended the year having spent less (15M) than the anticipated budget of 17M. Tax collections have totaled 11M of 13M. Budgeted items for salaries and payroll in school year 2015-16 are anticipated to be less than last year. Board members commented favorably on the budget report.

Of concern to board and community members is the difference between the October reporting of 1,248 students enrolled and the ending enrollment of 1,223. Decreased enrollment impacts school finances through loss of revenue for average daily attendance payments from the state. Some possible reasons mentioned for the decline in attendance include parental mobility, temporary residence with relatives that end after the school year begins and the economy.

An increase in the price of adult meals served at WISD to $2 is necessary to cover the deficit in federal support for the meal program

The Code of Conduct for WISD will remain unchanged, and follows the TASB recommended policy. Some changes to the truancy section are anticipated in an addendum after the legislature makes decisions on that issue.

The board approved August 24, at 7 p.m. for the Public Hearing to discuss the district's proposed budget and tax rate for the 2015-16 school year. Immediately following the hearing, at 7:30 p.m., the board will have a called meeting to adopt the district's proposed budget and tax rate for the 2015-16 school year.

The board approved trustee elections on November 3, for places 3, 4, and 5 on the WISD School Board Applications for a place on the Woodville I.S.D. Board of Trustees election ballot may be filed July 25 through August 24, at 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Applications may be filed by mail or in person at Woodville I.S.D.

Glenn Conner presented the superintendent's report on facilities, legislation, upcoming opportunities and other information. Roof repairs on the transportation facility are on schedule and should be completed by the end of July. The football field construction project is going well and may be completed ahead of schedule. Workers are currently completing the large drainage system and setting goal posts. Campuses are being cleaned with additional work outside the buildings being done as well.

August 24 begins the first week of the new school year, with professional development for staff and budget workshops for board members.

Surplus WISD property is available, including lot items on a pallet (buy all items in a lot) and a trailer and bus, through a "sealed bid garage sale", with items available for "come and see" view. Bid packets can be obtained at the WISD Administration Building and interested parties can view items at the WISD Transportation Building during business hours Monday-Friday .

The Intermediate School Improvement Plan requested by the board will address areas of academic concern at the 3-5 campus. Areas to be covered include data analysis, time lines for gathering and reporting information, consideration of effectiveness whether contracted services are being used most efficiently and effectively, reading interventions, goal setting, changing school culture, teacher "walkthroughs", student "walkthroughs", and team teaching. These results will be presented to and discussed with the board.

Spurger Superintendent dies after cancer battle, Zeller named as interim

by Emily Waldrep

Spurger ISD Superintendent died Sunday, July 26 at his residence after a courageous battle with cancer.
Fisher served in the U.S. Navy for five years in the Persian Gulf and for the past ten years, served as principal and superintendent at Spurger ISD. He also served as a Deacon at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jasper and was a member of several organizations, including the Texas Association of School Boards.

Fisher voluntarily resigned from his Superintendent position on Tuesday, July 21 and Chuck Zeller will be serving as interim Superintendent for Spurger ISD in Fishers absence. According to friends and family, Fisher loved sports, fishing, travelling, and spending time with family and friends. Fisher left behind a son, as well as a host of family, friends and co-workers.
A military Graveside service was held for Fisher on Wednesday, July 29 at Fort Sam Houston Cemetery in San Antonio, in addition to a Celebration of Life Service on July 28 and a visitation for friends and family on July 27.

Woodville Council approves Fire Truck lease-purchase

by Darby Kethan

Woodville City Council began with a prayer and with pledging the American Flag. All council members were present.

Entergy representative, Sam Bethea, presented information regarding Ordinance 20150313-1 which proposed rate increases by Entergy, and asked the council to deny their request. This is to allow Entergy to go to the PUC with a single request for rate increases rather than adjudicate the individual cities one-by-one. Although an average nine percent rate increase is requested, riders and other sources will reduce the actual increase to about 5-5-1/2 percent. Included is planned expenditures by Entergy is 234 M for purchase of an existing natural gas facility in Arkansas, and 29 M for capital improvements.

A request for Walt Davis Drive street closure during the time of the Woodville United Methodist Church Vacation Bible School, August 3-7, from 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. daily was approved.

Mayoral appointments to the 2015-2016 Budget Committee were Herb Branch and Janice Weatherford. During two workshops with city employees, they will review and discuss salaries, major expenses, capital expenditures and help develop a proposed budget for the city council to approve.

The council approved awarding GLO Ike 2.2 New Water Well and related improvements bid package "B", plant, control and line construction contract to low bid of $399,394 submitted by Duplichain Contractors, Alto, Texas. This bid is for the construction of a plant, controls, and water line for a new well at the Industrial Park. The Council awarded bids for drilling the well at this location in May. The well will serve as a backup for the Gib Lewis prison facilities.

This project is to be funded with a disaster recovery grant and bids for the project came in higher than the grant amount originally allocated to the City. DETCOG approved an additional $136,500.00 in recaptured, unused disaster recovery funds for this project. The allocation of these additional funds will cover the shortfall for this project and permit the City to complete construction without any local match of funds.

The council approved a recommendation from Senior Project Engineer Danny Hays with KSA Engineering to postpone work on the Beech Street culvert construction project for 4-6 months. There were only two bids submitted and the engineer felt this was a result of contractor backlogs caused by the recent rainfall. The two bids received were significantly higher than the engineer's cost estimate for the project. The council approved the rejection of both bids.

The purchase of a new Fire Truck for $315,000 was discussed. The council approved resolution No 20150712-2 regarding a contract for the purpose of financing a fire truck. The options before Council were to approve a lease/purchase agreement, or a cash purchase using General Fund reserves. A lease/purchase agreement was proposed rather than a cash purchase due to anticipated decreases in projected revenue for the General Fund and the low interest rate that was offered. The lease/purchase will cost approximately $5,000 per year (2.98 percent annual interest rate) for the term of the lease, which is 5 years. The truck may be purchased for $1 at the end of the lease. The council elected to hold on to the cash and finance for 5 years using the lease-purchase option.

The opportunity for individual city council members to serve on the TML (Multi State Intergovernmental Employee Benefits Pool) commission was declined.

Approval was given to an engagement letter from Alexander, Lankford & Heirs, Inc., to conduct the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year Audit.

Continuation of the Expanded Enforcement Program was approved by the council. As presented by Police Chief Scott Yosko, this is a continuation of an existing, successful program for expanded law enforcement in the city. Officers currently employed by the city may work additional hours for the department during their official time-off periods, and provide traffic control services which support the officers on duty. These citations enable the Police Department to collect approximately four times what the officer costs are, adds to individual officer's income, and increases police visibility in the city. Participation by officers in this program is voluntary.

Judge Judith Hayney reported 89 traffic violations and that the average driver cited is going between 15-30 miles over the posted speed limit at the time they are stopped.

Mayor Fortenberry presented for discussion his concerns about the current ban on drilling private water wells in the city limits. Regarding Ordinance no. 20150713-3, an ordinance amending section 66-36 subsection (B) of the code of ordinances, City of Woodville, Texas, he is asking the council to consider amending the existing ordinance to allow private wells for watering lawns and for purpose of irrigation only. He urged the council to "weigh economics with liberty", and wants "incrementally to restore liberty to our citizens" through his proposal. During the discussion, concerns regarding this proposal were voiced by council members and city officials and included the possibility of cross contaminating our existing water systems, the impact of other wells on the city's water source, the financial loss to the city and the amount of time required to enforce the new policy if approved. Sprinkler and irrigation systems within the city currently provide $35K in annual revenue, with Wal Mart being the largest consumer of such water. The Woodville school system will be reducing sprinkler/irrigation water usage with the installation of artificial turf on the athletic field. Herb Branch commented, There was no action taken on the matter.

Mayor Fortenberry proposed consideration for approval Ordinance No. 20150713-4, an ordinance amending section 50-10 of the code of ordinances, City of Woodville, Texas, by deleting certain provisions . The Mayor proposed changing the existing city ordinance regarding burning leaves on property within the city limits. The state prohibits all burning in cities. The state further authorizes cities to permit certain burning such as small fires for warmth, cooking, and ceremonial events. The mayor proposes to allow burning of leaf and limbs on property within the city limits as long as permission from neighbors has been secured. The mayor's stated reason for requesting this change is to, "provide a reasonable amount of liberty to our citizens." The council members and city officials discussed that the city currently provides a free leaf and limb pick up for no additional cost to residents. Thus, burning "vegetative material", leaf and limbs, (all other materials are banned by the State) is unnecessary. Concerns about the impact on neighboring home owners and danger of fire-related accidental burning were expressed. Police Chief Yosko expressed concerns that the additional increased responsibility of policing of property owners who do not follow the rule or accidentally allowed fires to get out of control would be additional burdens for police officers. The council did not act on the proposal.

Mayor Fortenberry proposed making a change to the existing system for building fee permits and plan review schedule. His proposal is to encourage construction in the city by charging the currently existing fee with the change that when the owner gets a certificate of occupancy, then 75 percent of the fee charged will be refunded. His purpose in making the proposal is to use fee reductions as a "marketing strategy" to make building in the city more attractive, drawing more residents which will increase city revenues. Discussion about this proposal included City Manager Risinger's comments that currently tax abatements are considered and negotiated, if appropriate, in each specific situation and are based on the return of investment to the community. Concerns were expressed by council members and staff that plan review and inspection services were contracted services and the permit fees charged merely cover the City's cost for these services. If refunded, the City would still be responsible for these expenses and would essentially be subsidizing the costs associated with plan reviews and inspections for new construction with property taxes collected from existing property owners. Council members felt this process would be unfair to existing property owners. This proposal was not acted upon. Mayor Fortenberry commented on the discussion by saying, "We will continue to discuss this."