By Chris Edwards
WOODVILLE – The Deep East Texas Council of Governments held its monthly meeting in Woodville last Thursday, Sept. 27 at the Family Life Center of the First Baptist Church. Following a steak lunch, DETCOG members and constituents received updates on a few programs and projects the council is working on.
DETCOG Executive Director Lonnie Hunt presented the proposed grant program budgets for the coming fiscal year. The amount budgeted is $20.2 million, which represents a decrease of $400,942 from the previous budget.
The grant programs budget for fiscal year 2019 was approved.
Broadband study update
An update was given on DETCOG’s rural broadband study.
DETCOG President Daphne Session appointed a committee to review and recommend a firm from a list of six. The committee will make a recommendation at the next board meeting.
Hunt said the TLL Temple Foundation has provided funds for expert help in selecting the firm and management of the study.
The broadband network study was approved by DETCOG in March when the board of directors approved an amendment to allocate $513,323 in funds remaining from Hurricane Ike Round 2.2 disaster recovery money.
In a letter to community leaders within the DETCOG region, Hunt wrote that broadband internet speed and access is “a critical issue everywhere, especially in rural areas like the Deep East Texas/Texas Forest Country region.” Hunt wrote that without adequate connections, it is impossible for businesses and community services to participate fully in today’s digital economy.
GLO buyout and acquisition program update
Christi Sullivan, who is DETCOG’s new head of economic development, gave a report on behalf of the Texas Association of Regional Councils. Sullivan detailed a buyout and acquisition program conducted by the Texas General Land Office to assist areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The GLO allocated $275 million into the program, with $31 million of it available for five counties within the DETCOG region.
Hunt said the money is available to rebuild rental properties and encouraged anyone who owns rental property to apply.
New employer coming to Lufkin
Nancy Windham, CEO of Texas Forest Country Partnership, called the decision for Illinois-based Sterling Lumber Company to locate a new facility in Lufkin “a huge win for our region.”
The project, which was announced by Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday, will bring 150 new jobs to the area for on-site work at the facility and close to 500 total (direct and indirect laborers), according to Windham.
The company will invest more $30 million into the facility, according to Abbott’s statement.
DETCOG building project update
Hunt gave an update on the DETCOG headquarters building project. The new DETCOG office, which will be located in Lufkin, was greenlit last year. “Our hope is by sometime in November everything can be in place,” Hunt said of the project. Once the ground is broke, Hunt said the timetable for construction should be eight months.
The Lufkin-based firm KSA Engineers was selected to build the office and donations from the Temple Foundation, the City of Lufkin and the Economic Development Administration helped to acquire the land and will be used in the construction.
Housing payment standards approved
Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy presented an update on payment standards for DETCOG’s regional housing authority. Murphy said that historically the payment option stays the same, which is 110%. Murphy said DETCOG has the option of approving a 90% payment standard from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for its housing assistance program, but the higher payment standard “incentivizes landlords to provide better structures for the people we are helping.”
Murphy motioned to maintain the payment standard at 110% and it was approved.