Journalism in the public interest for Northeast Texas

Category archive

Local Government - page 3

Early voting numbers begin to decline, but turnout still considerably higher than 2012

in Lamar County/Latest News by

In the past nine days, well over 8,500 people in Lamar County have cast their vote for the general election.

With less than one week left in an election that seems to have become a kind of caricature of itself, many Lamar County residents cite a desire to get the process over with, and the uncertainty of what election day might bring– in the form of long lines and hectic personal or work schedules– as their prime motivator to get to the ballot box early.

img_0347
A voter enters the Lamar County Courthouse annex, aka “the Old Post Office” on Lamar Ave. for early voting Wednesday. (Colton Sanders, Paris Free Press)

But turnout has waned since Saturday, with daily totals now dropping below 1,000. Lamar County Elections Administrator Tricia Johnson said that one reason for the drop is that many people think early voting is over.

“Some people think we’re finished voting. They think (the last day) was either last Friday or Sunday,” because early voting typically occurs in the final two weeks of October, Johnson said.

But election day falls later this year, which gives voters until 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 to vote early. (Election day falls on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November)

During the first week of early voting for this election, turnout was several hundred people above the daily totals from the 2012 election. Only 5,712 people had cast their ballots at this point in 2012.

As of Wednesday, the total number of votes are at 8,762, setting the county on a path to break it’s past record for early voting.

Keep Reading

Amid early voting rush, Texas sees voter ID hiccups

in Latest News/Local Government/State by

This much is clear after two days of early voting in Texas: Legal wrangling over the state’s voter identification law is stirring confusion at the polls.

Amid Texans’ mad dash to polling places this week, the front end of 12 days of voting before Election Day, civil rights groups and some voters are questioning how some county election officials are portraying the state’s voter identification requirements, which a federal judge softened in August.

Among the complaints in pockets of Texas: years-old posters inaccurately describing the rules — more than a dozen instances in Bexar County — and poll workers who were reluctant to tell voters that some could cast ballots without photo identification.

Though it’s not clear that anyone walked away from the polls because of misinformation or partial information, civil rights advocates called the sporadic reports troubling.

“Not everybody is an aggressive voter. Some people are shy and laid back, and if you’re told you have to have an ID, it might cause them to get out of line and go home,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer working for groups challenging the state’s strict 2011 voter ID law.

In July, a federal appeals court ruled that the law discriminated against minority groups, who were less likely to possess one of seven forms of acceptable photo identification.  

In August, a federal district judge drew up a temporary fix for the election, which splits Texans into two groups. Those who possess qualifying photo ID must bring it to the polls. Those who cannot “reasonably obtain” one must present a document showing their name and address, such as a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or voter registration card. They must also sign a statement noting the “reasonable impediment” that prevented them from getting a photo ID.

Keep Reading

City delays decision on architect for EMS station

in City of Paris by

Paris city council met Monday night to talk about the new EMS station, various zoning changes, and Kimberly Clark.

Cleonne Drake, who represents District 6, asked to pull the EMS station from the consent agenda for discussion.

Drake asked why City Manager John Godwin recommended Ron Hobbs Architects of Garland over the two local firms– Denney Architects of Paris and W.C. Ferrell Architects of Commerce.

“(Hobbs has) built over 200 public safety facilities,” Godwin said.

Having worked with him before, Godwin said that he’s good to work with and has done extra work when something unexpected came up without charging an additional service fee.

Both of the other candidates had experience with public safety projects, Godwin said.

Godwin said Denney was “extremely competent,” but cited a lack of information on W.C. Ferrell.

“Ultimately, (I went with) the firm that had the most total experience related to public safety facilities,” Godwin said, recommending Ron Hobbs Architects.

Once an architect is chosen, the designs are expected to be completed in the next several months, and construction should begin in 2017.

The $100,000 reserved for a new EMS station in the 2016-17 budget represents about half or one-third of the total construction costs, Godwin said, and the rest will come out of the 2017-18 budget.

Designs are expected to account for $30,000 of that total.

The new station would have two bays for ambulances, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a utility room, and two bathrooms. It would be located just outside of Loop 286 on Northwest 19th St. and would replace the current station located at Paris Regional Medical Center.

Most of the council seemed to be favorable of the city manager’s recommendation. Drake wanted to think more about it.

Mayor A.J. Hashmi wanted to see the council decide between Hobbs and Denney as soon as possible, and asked Paul Denney of Denney Architects if he could finish the designs in the same time frame.

“We could jump right on it,” Denney responded, saying business was slow at the moment.

Dr. Steven Clifford, who represents District 4, asked Paul Denney if he had designed any similar buildings in the past.

“It’s not the most complicated building to ever be designed,” Paul Denney said, saying that his company could, “more than handle it.”

Denney said that if there was any weakness in his experience, he would be more than willing to look at other facilities and ask what was liked and what didn’t work.

“Because of the small to medium size of it, I feel like we can do it satisfactorily,” Denney told the council.

Mayor Hashmi motioned to table the item to bring back it back at a later date. Drake seconded, and the item was unanimously tabled.

The council went into executive session to discuss a financial agreement with Kimberly Clark.

Upon reconvening into open session, Mayor Hashmi announced that the council found them to be in compliance with a previous financial agreement and that no action would be taken.

Other items discussed at the meeting:

  • The consent agenda was passed without the item authorizing City Manager John Godwin to execute a contract with Ron Hobbs Architects
    (Clifford motioned, Drake seconded. All were in favor.)
  • After deliberation, the council denied a petition for a specific use zoning permit to allow a mobile home in the 1400 block of West Walker St. The Planning and Zoning Commission and it’s staff also recommended denial of the petition. No one from the neighborhood spoke out against the petition at City Council nor at the Planning and Zoning meetings. A letter from Timothy Waugaman and Vera Wright stated that the property only has one neighbor who says they’re okay with putting a mobile home on the lot. The pair said they are both disabled, and would greatly improve the property. Some on the council, including Mayor Hashmi, initially seemed receptive of the petition to the point of at least directly asking those in the neighborhood for their opinions on the issue, but once Godwin stated deciding in favor of this petition could set a precedent against current city ordinances concerning mobile homes, the council unanimously swayed towards denial.
    (Hashmi motioned to deny, Lancaster seconded. All were in favor.)
  • The council heard from Lesa Coder of Crest Water Properties– the new owners of the Pavilion Apartments and the storage units at 425 NE Loop 286– concerning the company’s petition for a special use zoning permit to allow the existing storage facility to be in compliance with the commercial district zone in which they’re located.
    (Clifford motioned to approve, Drake seconded. All were in favor.)
  • The council opened a public hearing for a specific use zoning permit for auto fuel sales at 2735 S. Church St. No one from the public spoke at the meeting, and the public hearing was left open until a later date.
  • Downtown parking restrictions will be loosened, after the council agreed to lift the time-limits on overnight and Sunday parking.
    (Hashmi motioned to approve, Clifford seconded. All were in favor.)
  • A second reading of and a vote a franchise agreement with Oncor Electric Delivery Company to use of the city’s public right of way. A third and final reading will take place at the next meeting on Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m.
    (Hashmi motioned to approve, Drake seconded. All were in favor.)

Downtown parking, EMS station, and Kimberly Clark on today’s City Council agenda

in City of Paris by

The Paris City Council meets today, Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. for their regularly scheduled meeting.

The council will convene into executive session to discuss a financial agreement with Kimberly Clark. Check back at parisfreepress.org Tuesday morning to see whether or not action was taken.

Downtown parking limits are also on the agenda.

City Manager John Godwin suggested in a memo to the mayor and the council that there are two issues with the two-hour parking limit in the downtown area. “First, the city’s traffic control map,” Godwin wrote, “has not been consistently and accurately updated.” And the map doesn’t represent all of the time-limited parking downtown.

The second issue, he wrote, was that there is a growing number of people living downtown that need to be able to park over night.

The proposed ordinance would allow for unlimited parking at night and on Sundays by reducing the use of two-hour limits to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. It would also allow for, “police enforcement of the existing signage and markings regardless of whether or not the traffic control map has been timely updated,” Godwin wrote.

The consent agenda includes an authorization from the council for the city manager to execute an agreement of services with local non-profits.

Traditionally the city has, a memo from Godwin reads, “partially funded some nonprofit agencies whose services either overlap city services or provide services less expensively than the city could provide those services.”

The recently adopted 2016 -17 City budget provided funding for the following nonprofit agencies:1

  1. Lamar County Historical Society
    $5,000
  2. New Hope Center of Paris
    $10,000
  3. Children’s Advocacy Center
    $12,500
  4. East Texas Council on Alcohol & Drugs
    $4,500
  5. CASA for Kids
    $2,500
  6. Lamar Co. Human Resources Council
    $12,000
  7. Safe-T Shelter Agencies
    $5,000
  8. NE Texas Trail Coalition
    $8,000

The consent agenda will also include a council authorization for the city manager to execute an agreement with Ron Hobbs Architects of Garland for a new EMS station just outside the loop on Northwest 19th St.

According to a memo sent out by the City Manager, up to $30,000 has been included in the 2016-17 budget for the designs. A quick review of proposed budget shows that there is $100,000 allotted for “New station” in the buildings section of the Emergency Medical Services.

This new station, which will serve almost the entire northern half of the county, would replace the station currently located at the Paris Regional Medical Center campus.

EMS Section of Proposed 2016-17 Budget

Also on the agenda:

  • Second reading and vote on Oncor agreement
  • Approving Sept. 26 council minutes
  • Approving committee minutes
  • Approval of four plats
  • Public hearings on two commercial zoning changes
  • Public hearing on one residential zoning change

And it looks like the city council again will decline to take up the issue of ‘cost of living adjustments’ for retired city employees at this meeting. The PEDC’s spec building is also not on today’s agenda.


 

  • A memo from City Manager John Godwin to the City Council states: “Funding requests are made during the budget process with the agencies filling out an application, providing information on the services performed, and providing requested financial information. Agencies funded in the City budget must sign an agreement with the City to provide those funded services.”

 

 

Commissioners to address PJC’s proposed expansion Monday at 9 a.m.

in Lamar County/Paris Junior College by

Lamar County Commissioners will meet Monday, Oct. 10 at 9 a.m. to discuss a possible resolution supporting Paris Junior College’s expansion of its taxing district to include all of Lamar County.

PJC’s tax district is currently limited to the Paris city limits and the old Cunningham school district, a small area in the southeastern part of the county.

Community colleges rely mainly on property taxes from their district, tuition/fees, and funds from the state to operate, and PJC has one of the smallest tax districts out of the 50 community colleges in the state.

In a recent interview with KETR, PJC President Dr. Pamela Anglin said tuition is right at the state average.

“If you look at the surrounding community colleges, we have some (where) tuition is lower than ours. So there is that point that we really can’t go any higher,” Anglin said.

The clearest benefit from voting yes would be the decrease in tuition for residents in the county.

Those who live in the county could expect to add $85 a year to thier property taxes for every $100,000 their home is valued at.

At the same time, however, tuition would drop from $100 per credit hour to the in-district rate of $55 per credit hour, ideally making PJC more affordable to Lamar County residents.

What that looks like on paper

Students from outside the tax district pay $300 in tuition for a 3 semester credit hour course while in-district students pay $165 for the same course, based on literature provided by PJC.

According to an economic impact study completed by Economic Modeling Specialists International in 2014, Paris Junior College employed 485 people in 2012-13. During this same time, enrolled more than 10,000 students in total.

Commissioner’s Court is a public meeting, and therefore the public can come to express their opinions on any agenda items or other county issues.

Citizens of Lamar County can voice their support or concerns by attending at 9 a.m. or calling their commissioners. Contact information can be found here, and you can determine which precinct you reside in by using this map.

For background reading, click through to the following articles:

  1. PJC’s 2015 report (Paris Junior College)
  2. PJC Fact Sheet Summer 2016 (Paris Junior College)
  3. PJC’s annexation fact sheet (Paris Junior College)
  4. PJC eyes taxing district election (Herald Banner July 2016)
  5. New Paris Junior College taxing district?  (KSST July 2016)
  6. Anglin: PJC threatened if tax district vote fails (Herald Banner August 2016)
  7. PJC Tax Annexation Interview with Dr. Pam Anglin (KSST August 2016)
  8. PJC’s new proposed tax rate is confusing (Sulphur Springs News Telegram September 2016)
  9. Voters to decide on PJC property tax question (KETR September 2016)

Also on the agenda:

  • Receive an update on repairs to Lamar County Courthouse and county property
  • Public hearing and decision on 2016-17 annual county clerk records management and archive plan that will call for the continuation of a $10 filing fee
  • Allowing Reverend Rodney C. Slaughter and other community leaders to use courthouse parking lot to conduct a “Community Revival” to promote peace, understanding, and good will in our area
  • A potential contract with RWCS Janitorial Services
  • A potential contract with Northweast Texas Pest Control
  • Line-item transfers for various county offices

Clifford, Lancaster come out strong against spec building

in City of Paris/PEDC by

The Paris City Council met 5:30 p.m. Monday in the City Council Chamber to discuss the proposed PEDC spec building at 2305 NW Loop 286.

PEDC Executive Director Michael Paris presented the council with the bid it received from Bobby Smallwood Construction1 for their spec building project, which totaled $738,380. A bid bond and a surety bond will also be included in the final costs. The Builder’s Risk Insurance was already included in the bid, making the second insurance estimate redundant.

According to Adjusters International, builder’s risk insurance is coverage that protects an organization’s insurable interest in materials, fixtures and/or equipment that’s being used in the construction or renovation of a building or structure should those items sustain physical loss or damage from a covered cause.1

Prospects, primary jobs, and the public’s perception of the PEDC

Paris addressed the perceptions that have overshadowed the PEDC’s efforts.

“The reason we wanted to do this spec building was to recruit primary jobs to Paris, Texas, and since it is already zoned heavy industrial, we wanted to use this asset to capture a prospective market that we are not capturing right now,” Paris said.

The Texas Economic Development Corporation suggests that about 75 percent of companies coming to the state are looking for an existing building, Paris explained. Even eliminating those prospects that demand an interstate or a nearby international airport, the City of Paris still not capturing a prospective market that needs to be looking at Paris, Texas, he said.

Paris explained that colleagues in Sherman, Denison, Mount Pleasant and Sulphur Springs have spec buildings that they’re able to show to potential businesses.

If we build it—will they come? Dangling carrots, and other questions

Keep Reading

Ronnie Bass appointed new Precinct 3 commissioner

in Lamar County by

Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville appointed a new Precinct 3 commissioner Monday.

Ronnie Bass was appointed by the county judge following the Sept. 30 retirement of incumbent Rodney Pollard. The commissioners accepted his resignation during a meeting Sept. 12.

“Rodney has left Ronnie in a really good situation,” Superville said Monday, referencing several bids read earlier in the meeting for equipment to be used in Precinct 3. “There are about 200 miles of road in each precinct… each commissioner only has $1 million to maintain (those roads). … It’s a tough job, but it’s vitally important.”

Superville said a formal letter will be sent to Bass offering him the position of appointee for the remainder of Pollard’s term, which ends Dec. 31. If accepted, commissioners are expected to approve his appointment at a future meeting.

Bass’ elected term will begin Jan. 1 and continue until Dec. 31, 2020.

Keep Reading

County to hold final public hearing on tax rate

in Lamar County by

Lamar County commissioners will hold the final public meeting to discuss the proposed 2016-17 fiscal year budget and tax rate at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Commissioners will discuss and possibly adopt the proposed .4066 effective tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, a one percent decrease compared with the current tax rate of .4275.

The commissioners will also discuss and possibly adopt the property tax increase reflected in the proposed 2016-17 budget, which will raise property taxes by one percent compared with last year’s budget.

Of that amount, $163,789 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.

The amount of revenue and percentage increase in revenue are based on the proposed budget. These figures are subject to increase, or decrease, depending on the actions taken during the special meeting Thursday.

In other business, commissioners are expected to approve a resolution authorizing the submission of an application o the Texas Department of Agriculture for a Texas Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief.

The meeting will be held at the Lamar County Courthouse, located at 119 N Main Street.

Editor’s Note: You can view the meeting’s agenda here

PEDC to bring discussion on proposed spec building to city council next Monday

in PEDC by

Paris Economic Development Corporation met Tuesday to discuss obtaining approval from the Paris City Council to use funds from PEDC reserves to finance the construction of a spec building at 2305 NW Loop 286 that it plans to use to court future industries.


Google maps shows the site at 2305 NW Loop 286 before the old structure was torn down. A bare concrete slab with sewage and eight-inch water line remains.


‘Consternation’

“When I went to our city council with regards to our 2016-17 budget, there was some consternation with the city council about the spec building and the process of what we went through,” PEDC Executive Director Michael Paris said.

“What we want to convey is, this building is being built for the creation of primary jobs. And that indicates if somebody were to (be interested in it for a) short term, we would go and pursue approval from the council. The City Council would be involved in that decision making process,” he said.

Paris asked the board to discuss how they wanted to move forward and explained that he needed the PEDC’s permission to take the issue to the council meeting Monday.

The corporation’s bylaws state that any spending over $400,000 must be taken to the city council for approval.

“So what I’m asking y’all to do is to go ahead and approve not only the bid, but also the other expenses related,” Paris said.

The PEDC plans to take the following items to the city council for a general discussion Monday:

  1. approval for the bid for $738,380 from Bobby Smallwood
  2. a construction contingency of $25,000
  3. a bid bond at $10,880
  4. builder’s risk insurance of $2,040

This puts the total at $776,300. This could be tweaked, Paris explained, depending on feedback from the council.

Keep Reading

City Council looks to adopt 2016-17 budget

in City of Paris by

The Paris City Council will meet in special session at 5:30 p.m. today to potentially adopt the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

Here is the agenda:

Notice is hereby given that the City Council of the City of Paris shall meet in special session at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, September 19, 2016. The meeting will be held at the City Council Chamber, 107 E. Kaufman Street, in Paris, Texas.  The matters to be discussed and acted upon are as follows:

1. Call meeting to order.

2. Conduct a public hearing on amendments to the FY 2016 -2017 budget.

3. Discuss and act on an Ordinance authorizing and directing the Director of Finance to transfer funds from unencumbered appropriation balances to over – expended accounts for FY 2015 -2016.

4. Discuss and act on an Ordinance adopting a budget for the ensuing fiscal period beginning October 1, 2016 and ending September 30, 2017.

5. Discuss and ratify the property tax increase reflected in the budget as required by Local Government Code Section 102.007(c).

6. Discuss and act on an Ordinance fixing the tax rate and the tax levy and levying ad valorem taxes for the City of Paris for the year 2016 upon all taxable property within the City of Paris in conformity with the Charter provisions and Ordinances of the City.

7. Adjournment.

Go to Top