Commissioners pass burn ban, discuss proposed budget

By Chris Edwards

Trinity County commissioners unanimously passed a burn ban at the regular meeting of the Commissioners' Court on Monday, August 10. The ban, which prohibits all outdoor burning within the county, will last for 90 days, however if conditions change, Judge Doug Page will change the order.

The decision comes in the midst of a lengthy drought the region has experienced this summer, along with consistent triple-digit temperatures. While discussing the conditions before approving the order, Precinct Three Commissioner Neal Smith made note of a recent fire on Sawmill Road near Groveton. The out-of-control brushfire took firefighters from several area fire departments to contain, as well as assistance from the Forest Service.

In other business, the commissioners heard a presentation from county treasurer Bob Dockens concerning the possible appointment of a dedicated personnel director for Trinity County. Although the topic of Dockens' presentation was not explicitly stated on the court agenda (instead the item of approving a procedures outline for county personnel was listed) the officials agreed that having a personnel or human resources director was something that needed to be looked into.

Dockens made reference to other counties which employ staff members who handle personnel matters.

He said that he was able to crunch the numbers to figure out a budget for a personnel director's salary of $40,700 annually, give or take $100. Dockens said there was also available office space in the courthouse. While the commissioners agreed to discuss it during budget talks, County Attorney Joe Bell reminded the county officials that topics brought up for discussion and/or action in commissioners' court need to be explicitly referred to on the agenda, which the matter of Dockens' presentation was not.

The budget workshop to begin preparing for fiscal year 2016 during last Monday's meeting took place with some tension. Judge Page announced a proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, at the current tax rate, for $424,508 as the base amount, an increase of $81,073 from last year's budget of $343,435. Although Judge Page was confident that the proposed budget would serve the county's needs, Commissioner Smith expressed concern over not having seen the budget. "I think it's only right that the commissioners get to hear what the department heads want, where they want it and why they want it," Smith said.

Judge Page clarified the protocol of putting budgets together with the commissioners and those in attendance; that as chief budget officer, he is responsible for putting the budget proposals together to bring to the court for discussion. Smith cited a previous issue with money from insurance reimbursement going toward a telephone system in the sub-courthouse in Trinity, repairs to the sub-courthouse and the construction of a courtroom for Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Rod Blair.

Smith expressed concern and confusion that although bids were brought to the court for the first two projects, construction on Judge Blair's courtroom had recently begun without acknowledgement or approval from the commissioners' court. Judge Page said that approval had already been given when the monies were accepted to go toward the projects.

An addendum to the Monday meeting agenda that was addressed right before adjourning was the approval of a resolution stating the county's opposition to a residential treatment facility that would locate itself in Groveton at the old Headstart building.

The proposed facility, which would be operated by a for-profit group calling itself Hands of Faith based out of Huntsville, would house 13 emotionally unstable girls ranging in age from six to 17 years of age. The facility has proven controversial among county officials and community leaders in Groveton, none of whom support the possibility of it opening in the city limits. Judge Page referred to it being "burdensome" to local and county resources, while Sheriff Woody Wallace called it "a very bad idea."

Other items on the agenda, which were approved by the commissioners' court included:
A contract with DSHS for reducing potentially preventable adult hospitalizations. Trinity County Environmental Officer Carl O. Dyer presented on this issue and gave a handout detailing such conditions that fall under the classification, including COPD, diabetes and congestive heart failure. The goal of the program is preventative care and education to avoid hospitalizations. Precinct 2 Commissioner Richard Chamberlin called the initiative a "very positive" thing. It was agreed that the county would enter in to an additional two years for the next phase of its contract with DSHS.
The approval of $10,000 in funds from TDA for Texans Feeding Texans for home-delivered meals courtesy of the senior citizens' centers within Trinity County was made. The funds will be divided between the three centers.

An update was given on the remaining work done with CETRZ and Ike 2.2 funds to county roads and other projects. Commissioner Smith reported that there are two remaining roads to rock in his precinct, and estimated them to be done next week.