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July 1, 2019 - Hot summer temperatures often mean high utility bills. These bills often place a strain on household budgets and especially for those who are on limited income. Saving money on energy bills makes a huge difference for families on a tight budget. Greater East Texas Community Action Program is seeking home weatherization applicants for low income households in San Augustine, Sabine & Shelby counties. The work is free to eligible households. Weatherization addresses energy saving measures in homes to make them more efficient. Generally the end result is lower utility bills. Elderly, disabled, families with young children and the working poor are the target households. Proof of household income& citizenship is required. The condition of the home is also a major consideration in order to be eligible. 

The program does not provide rehab work such as roofs, plumbing, electrical and major home repair. U.S. Dept of Energy rules are followed and is research based. 

Kelsey Roberts, Program Coordinator commented, “We suspect there are a lot of eligible homes in this area and we want to encourage people to apply. This program does not cost the resident anything. It saves people money on utility bills. ” 

Karen Swenson, Executive Director commented, “GETCAP has been performing weatherization services since 1976. Common measures include adding insulation, assessing the efficiency & safety of heating & cooling units and air infiltration work. We know from our history weatherization works! It reduces energy bills at no cost to the resident. For those on a fixed income this is significant.”

For information call 800-621-5746 or direct at 936-585-7224. Information and the application are available on the website: www.get-cap.org. A list of GETCAP services by county is found on this website as well as more detailed information. 

Greater East Texas Community Action provides weatherization services in 30 counties in rural east Texas. All GETCAP programs are available regardless of race, color, creed or national origin.

July 1, 2019 - A 30-year-old Carthage, Texas man has been convicted of federal violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown today.

Winfred Earl Ware, Jr. was found guilty by a jury on June 28, 2019, of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, obstruction of justice and witness tampering following a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone.

According to information presented in court, from 2014 through 2017, Ware conspired with others to possess with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The evidence presented in trial showed that pending trial for the drug conspiracy charge in August 2018, Ware created false Facebook entries purported to be from a government witness which would tend to exonerate the defendant. 

By submitting those false documents to the court to be used at trial, the government had to dismiss the pending drug charge against Ware to investigate these messages. Upon examination, the government determined that the Facebook entries were created by Ware in an effort to influence the testimony of several witnesses in the original trial and to corruptly influence the due administration of justice. Ware was then indicted in Dec. 2018, on the original drug conspiracy as well as the charges of obstruction of justice and witness tampering. 

Under federal statutes, Ware faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison for the drug trafficking and tampering charges and up to 10 years in federal prison for the obstruction violation. The maximum statutory sentences prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Panola County Sheriff’s Office. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lauren Gaston and Michelle S. Englade. 

July 1, 2019 - Weather statistics June 2019 are prepared and submitted by Ann Forbes, U.S. Weather Service Observer.

Highest Temp was 95 degrees on 6-21 and 6-22-2019
Highest Temp on Record was 108 degrees on 6-13-1943
Lowest Temp was 60 degrees on 6-12-2019
Lowest Temp on Record was 45 degrees on 6-01-1984

Rainfall Recorded was 8.67 inches
Average Monthly Rainfall is 5.30 inches
Above Average by 3.37 inches
Highest Recorded was 12.81 inches in 1981
Lowest Recorded for this Month was 0.00 inches in 1948 and 1954

Rainfall through June is 37.53 inches.

Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July everybody!!!

Full weather report, click here.

Angelina and Shelby counties to see new construction

June 28, 2019 Lufkin – Texas Transportation Commissioners on Thursday approved more than $619 million for construction projects statewide that included more than $43 million in the Lufkin District.

Angelina County was approved for Phase III of a widening project on US 69 that will continue to widen the two-lane roadway to a four-lane divided highway from FM 1270 to the Jasper County line. Drewery Construction, Company, Inc., Nacogdoches, TX will serve as contractor for the $37.4 million project. No timeline for completion has been determined.

Phase I of this construction is an $11 million project that includes widening the roadway from the Huntington city limits to FM 844. Phase II is a $65 million construction project from FM 844 to FM 1270 in Zavalla. Both Phase I and Phase II are currently under construction.

Shelby County was also approved for a new construction project on FM 1645. The work will include rehabilitating and widening existing pavement and placing profile edge and centerline markings from US 59 to SH 87. Longview Bridge and Road, LTD., Longview, TX will serve as contractor for the $5.7 million project.

As these construction projects begin, motorists are urged to reduce speed through work zones, stay alert to workers and moving equipment and respect all traffic control in and near a work zone.

For more information, contact Rhonda.Oaks@txdot.gov or (936) 633-4395.

June 27, 2019 - Significant weather advisory for Southwestern Shelby County until 4:30pm

At 3:43pm CDT, Doppler radar was tracking a strong thunderstorm 9 miles southwest of Center, moving north at 10 mph. Pea size hail and winds in excess of 30 mph will be possible with this storm. Locations impacted include Jericho, Stockman and Arcadia.

Precautionary/Preparedness Actions
Heavy rainfall is also occurring with this storm, and may lead to localized flooding. Do not drive your vehicle through flooded roadways.

June 26, 2019 - The Shelby County Commissioners received and considered several bids for the remodeling of the Juvenile Probation building to accommodate the Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 office.

Although the bids were opened and considered, the conversation still continues as the agenda item was tabled for further consideration.

Roscoe McSwain, Commissioner Precinct 1, opened the bids with the first being from Mike Smith at a total of $50,055 without leveling of the building. The next bid was from E-Z Way Construction for a total of $48,450 also without leveling. A third bid was from Bolton Carpentry for $40,385 with the addition of building leveling and the concrete walkway to the ramp would be $4,950 extra bringing the total bid to $45,335.

Once the bids were read the commissioners discussed the potential of taking the project in a different direction.

"I think that we need to discuss before we decide to accept one of these bids or reject all of them," said Charles Barr, Precinct 3 Commissioner. "We need to decide if we want to put this much money, I mean what's the courts opinion on that, back into a house that we've already put, if I understand last time, it was about 60 plus the purchase price. I'm just bringing that up for discussion."

McSwain said he really doesn't want to spend the projected amount of money on an old structure, "So, I'm gonna ask Mr. Bellmyer has he had an opportunity to get us any metal construction building figures or any options that we might do different than this, like on some of the other county projects."

Tom Bellmyer, Commissioner Precinct 4, explained the specifications were gathered about Melissa Crouch, Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, office space to attempt and replicate that with another building and get an estimate on cost.

"What we requested, we wanted for a turnkey building and the only thing lacking was to connect the utilities which would be the water, sewer, and electrical would have to get hooked up and to have them placed on site," said Bellmyer.

Barr said the dimensions are just a little less than 1,000 square feet. Bellmyer stated the structure itself would be 60x16.

The proposals were sought from Campbell Portable Buildings and Spartan Structures. At this time they only have a cost estimate from Spartan Structures; however, Barr assumed the amount would be competitive.

Specifications on the structures include a wheelchair access, egress windows and air conditioning.

Bellmyer expressed a desire to have a clarification from the bidders on the specific nature of their quotes and what all they included since one included a bid for leveling and at least one other said that was something he could do. If the court were to decide to go the route of building a structure, he said there are several property options they have discussed as well as the school building.

"If you don't work on that building how long is the other part of the building going to last? If it's going to fall down in three or four years, five years y'all talking about a lot of it rotting and stuff. Then, I would say let's do the construction part," said Jimmy Lout, Commissioner Precinct 2.

Another concern Bellmyer mentioned would come up either way is the Juvenile Probation building is not currently wheelchair accessible, and to be compliant that would need to be added.

Barr had additional concerns of what might be found once construction began on the house.

"Everybody here knows that's ever done any kind of construction on an old house, you find other things once you start tearing out," said Barr. "I think they've been pretty thorough, but there's still a lot of things that you can't see."

McSwain said his opinion is he would rather spend $50,000 to $60,000 on a structure that would be around for another 30 years and could be added on to rather than invest that in a building that may not last 10 years.

With the bids now being public information as originally submitted, Clint Porterfield, County Auditor, cautioned the court about visiting with the bidders before approving because the bid could potentially be manipulated to entice a bid approval. If clarification were necessary, he advised first approving one then seeking that clarification.

A motion carried to table the remodeling until the next commissioners' court meeting.

The meeting was then adjourned at 10:03am.

Agenda items approved during the meeting include:
1. Pay weekly expenses.
2. Current payroll.
3. Adjourn.

Agenda items tabled during the meeting include:
1. Sealed bids for remodeling the Juvenile Probation building to accommodate JP. 1.

June 26, 2019 - The Shelby County Commissioners embarked on a fact finding talkathon during their June 12, 2019 meeting. Although the agenda was light, one particular item which was a non action item carried enough weight to engage the commissioners and many from the audience for a little over an hour and 20 minutes.

It began with an inquiry into an incident involving an unknown individual on an unknown date who was reported to have had a heart attack and EMS personnel were allegedly lax in their response time and knowledge of the area.

Roscoe McSwain, Precinct 1 Commissioner, in response to hearing someone had issued a complaint to the sheriff about the call, summoned Allegiance Mobile Health to the court for the inquisition. However, there was no accuser to give the background on the incident in question.

This was combined with radio issues that have long plagued Shelby County since the decision was made to switch to a digital radio system funded by DETCOG.  

Representatives for Allegiance Mobile Health were Justin Cude, Regional Vice President of Operations - East Texas; David Head, District Supervisor for Shelby County; and Dan Gillespie, Chief Operating Officer, were lured to the court under the guise of discussions involving their contract. 

Not only was the court unaware of the identity of those victims of the alleged incident from the previous week, but Cude stated he had not received any complaints in the previous week. 

"When we got the phone call asked to come to court nobody could give me a reason other than it was to discuss contract, so I don't have any information I can give you per the individual complaint," said Cude.

McSwain said it all goes back to a complaint made to the Sheriff's Department and the reason he included wanting to discuss the contract is because the issue had everything to do with dispatch.

According to McSwain the alleged call was for a heart attack at Grisby Lake off State Highway 7 West just near the county line. McSwain said after waiting for an hour the caller and the patient left in a private vehicle. The ambulance then met the car on Highway 7 in Nacogdoches County. 

"The Sheriff told me the lady kept calling, and somebody correct me if I'm wrong but if my memory serves me right about this we discussed this about the dispatch, y'all wanted to dispatch yourselves," said McSwain.

He said the caller kept speaking with someone (a dispatcher) in an area not related to Shelby County. McSwain said the county assumed the 9-1-1 calls were being handled locally in Shelby County.

"She couldn't explain to them where to go. Well that's my question, because that's a problem, if it's here local and you're dealing with local people there's so many people still say Grisby Lake. They don't say county road so-and-so Highway 7 West," said McSwain.

McSwain said if the dispatcher is someone in another county and they're trying to tell them where to go, they aren't going to know where they're talking about. 

"He happened to be, if my memory is right, a ex-Police Chief from the city of Nacogdoches. It don't make no difference who it is, but their (dispatchers) ill informed about how the system's supposed to work too," said McSwain.

Cude explained how their dispatch works and he said the dispatch is still in Shelby County 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they haven't removed dispatchers. He said the way their digital system works is if the local dispatcher is on the phone, the call immediately is rolled to another dispatch center in another area. He said they also have to contend with unreliable internet in Shelby County, and when it goes down the calls are then also forwarded to another dispatch center.

"In our past history the Sheriff's Office just calls and gives us the information, they don't transfer the caller to us," said Cude. "When someone calls 9-1-1 it's answered by the Sheriff's Office. They then take the information and then call our dispatch, they don't transfer the caller to us, not always."

Cude explained in other areas where they work, the dispatch forwards the 9-1-1 call to them when they realize it's a medical call, unlike Shelby County. 

"Other areas they transfer the caller to us when they realize it's an ambulance call, then we talk to the caller, get the information we need, do pre-arrival instructions by EMD certified people who give them pre-route instructions," said Cude. "That's something that we've battled here being able to get those callers. Because that's something that we give to the caller not the Sheriff's Department dispatch."

Cude described how in other ares they cover Push to Talk (PTT) phones and radio are both utilized to dispatch; however, PTT doesn't work in Shelby County. Each truck has it's own cellular phone, and then they all have radios.

Cude explained they always try to keep two ambulances available in Shelby County. If one has to leave, he said they call another in from Nacogdoches. 

McSwain said he wished he had the caller that complained or her case before him, so he could even help explain to her how the system works to her.

Gary Rholes, County Attorney, asked if there was anything the ambulance company could do in situations where a caller may use an old name for an area rather than a newly given name or number.

Cude explained they did develop a list kept at the local office to help with such areas as Possum Trot, which would indicate what part of the county that would be located.

Although all of the procedures of the company were discussed, no clear indication of what might have happened or not happened on the call in question was ever brought to light, because neither the commissioners nor the ambulance company had the names of the complainants involved or when the alleged incident occurred.

"I'm not saying you did nothing wrong, but it's hard for me to defend you or criticize you when I don't know all the facts," said McSwain.

It was even suggested as a possibility that dispatch for the ambulance could be housed within the Sheriff's Department since they receive the initial call. 

The commissioners invited anyone in the audience to address them about issues with radios. 

Roy Cheatwood, Constable Precinct 3, said from Center to Joaquin the radios have a consistent problem functioning at all. 

"We've had several occasions here lately on chases. Saturday me and this [Deputy] were down in Huxley and that area we don't have no radio, we don't have cell phone we just down there by ourselves, we have to fend for ourselves," said Cheatwood.

He said he believes the issues lies in the radio system itself and he described circumstances when he will be in Joaquin or Huxley and the radio won't work on the Shelby County Sheriff's Department frequency, but will work with the Center Police Department frequency.

Cheatwood described other instances during pursuits in the southern and eastern end of the county where communication between officers was non-existent. 

"We can try to find out what the problem is now and fix it, or wind up in a court of law on a death of an officer, and we don't want that. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," said Cheatwood.

Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers were able to communicate via their own DPS radios with Lufkin; however, communication to Shelby County Sheriff's Department and Center Police Department was unreliable from the area of FM 147 and FM 139.

Steven Ewing, Joaquin Volunteer Fire Department, spoke with the commissioners about an Emergency Medical Response (EMR) program the Joaquin Volunteer Fire Department has started. 

"When we've worked with Allegiance, they've done a really good job and they're very professional. We've got no complaints whatsoever there. The biggest issue we have is the gap in coverage, you know, from the time a 9-1-1 call is placed to the time we get an ambulance at our end of the county it is 15-25 minutes," said Ewing.

Ewing said the department has created an Emergency Medical Responder program, which includes equipping two of their trucks with basic EMS supplies such as oxygen tanks, automatic external defibrillators and basic first aid equipment. 

"We've currently got 11 of our members enrolled in a class through Kilgore College. By the end of the summer we'll have hopefully all 11 of us certified as Emergency Medical Responders. That's a notch below an EMT," said Ewing.

This would help to have someone provide immediate medical attention to someone at an incident scene, and help EMS before they arrive.

Brian Loudenslager with Nalcom Wireless Communications was asked to speak to the court about the radio communications in Shelby County and he said he has been dealing with the county for the past six to seven years involving the radios.

He gave a history of the changes to the radio system from analog to digital, the removal of equipment and relocation to another tower. The main direction he suggested to the county of a way to find out what the radio system needs to resolve its issues is to seek an independent study of the communications system, and find out where the problem areas are. He said that has never been done for Shelby County, and it would help guide decisions on what the system needs.

Related article:
Commissioners Appoint Johnson to DETCOG

June 25, 2019 - The Shelby County Commissioners appointed a minority representative for Shelby County to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) during their meeting on June 12, 2019.

Tom Bellmyer, Precinct 4 Commissioner, informed the Commissioners' Court he had taken the place of Charles Barr, Precinct 3 Commissioner, on the DETCOG committee along with Allison Harbison, Shelby County Judge.

"June 3 we received an email from DETCOG saying we that we didn't have a minority member representing the county," said Bellmyer. "No one had volunteered to be on it and been approved so the instruction from DETCOG was to the Commissioners' Court and I'll read it to you it says, 'This means it's up to the Commissioners' Court to appoint a minority representative for your county."

Bellmyer said he spoke with different people in the community and different commissioners. In speaking with Debbra Johnson, she agreed to be a minority representative for Shelby County with DETCOG.

A motion carried to appoint Debbra Johnson as the minority representative for Shelby County on the DETCOG board.

The old hospital location on Hurst Street that most recently and formerly housed the Shelby County Probation office was up for discussion during the meeting. Charles Barr said the county has been researching potential options available, first of which would be to remove the structure.

Another goal would be to make the property productive in some way. 

A motion carried to table the item until further research is completed.

The meeting adjourned at 11:08am.

Agenda items approved during the meeting include:
1. Minutes of the May 1, Special meeting, May 8, Regular meeting, May 15, Special meeting, May 22, Special meeting and May 29, Special meeting. 
2. Pay weekly expenses.
3. Pay payroll.
4. Officers' report.
5. Appoint Debbra Johnson Shelby County minority member on DETCOG board.
6. Adjourn 11:04am.

Agenda items tabled during the meeting include:
1. Repurposing of the Old County Hospital Site. 

Related article:
Commissioners Grill Ambulance Service on Procedures; Have Round-Table Discussion on Radios

 

June 25, 2019 - The 100 block of Sandel Street in Center was the scene of a structure fire Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019 at around 9:20am.

Firemen have extinguished the majority of the blaze at this time from a garage located behind a home and seem to have prevented further spread of the flames, saving the house.

The Center Police Department is actively investigating the cause of the fire

According to the Center Fire Department, they ere dispatched to the residence of Francesca Solomon and when they arrived the structure was fully involved and already on the ground.

Once the fire was out, the firemen returned to the station at 9:55am..

June 25, 2019 - The Center City council discussed the Streetscape Project Monday, June 24, 2019 and Chad Nehring, City Manager, stated Bob Staehs, Project Manager, and White Oak Studios have worked diligently with the lone bidder to refine some of the specifications and materials to present the council with a revised cost estimate.

The only bid received was from the Fain Group, Inc. and was corrected to $4,904,320 and with alterations to date the total has been reduced by $1,035,152 to a new amount of $3,869,168.

Nehring advised the council if they were to approve the bid, to make the motion contingent on the approval of the TxDOT Municipal Use agreement and Maintenance agreement. 

"We had expected that those weren't going to require additional approval. TxDOT advised us last week that before construction started they wanted a specific approval of those two agreements," said Nehring.

He said that holdup is waiting on their evaluation and recommendation on the intersections and traffic signals they should issue. Nehring was optimistic those two agreements should be available at the next council meeting to allow for construction to proceed.

"The majority of the changes were in the actual specification for the light poles not necessarily a change in quality, size or even appearance. Purely a vendor change that allowed for I'm assuming ready built and in stock fixtures as opposed to having to be custom made for this job. That was in excess of $3-hundred-some-odd-thousand in and of itself," said Nehring.

Nehring described several other material items that have changed, but should not be a reduction in quality.

Howell Howard, Councilman, asked if the traffic lights are state expense. Nehring said what was originally stated by TxDOT four years ago was the city would purchase the poles and TxDOT would install and continue to maintain the new lights. They, however, are taking a different position now and should there be poles installed, maintenance will be something TxDOT may expect the city to handle.

At this time there is still the potential the recent study will allow for the lights to be removed.

Collard asked if the beginning of the project was being pushed back each time it isn't approved at a meeting and Staehs said plans have been to start after the What-A-Melon Festival, July 15.

"It depends upon what TxDOT comes up with. We did hire a traffic engineer out of Tyler to do the study and they have completed their report. I received it today, so it will go to TxDOT tomorrow," said Staehs.

A motion carried to approve the bid with change order #1 subject to final decision by TxDOT on traffic signals.

Ballard Street soccer field electric improvements were discussed in the meeting a motion carried to White Electric with a total bid of $81,770.

It was recommended to the council to purchase two additional InCode modules for Project Accounting and Human Resources. Project Accounting could potentially allow the city to better track costs associated with large projects across multiple accounts, multiple vendors, and multiple fiscal years. 

The Human Resources module could allow city staff to continue to move away from paper files, provide tools to set up alerts for when employees need evaluations or licenses expire. The total projected cost through Tyler Technologies of these modules is $15,681.

A motion carried to purchase the modules.

Because the Center Housing Authority was established under the City of Center, federal regulations allow them to request and allow the council to grant a waiver to their payment in lieu of taxes. 

Under the federal system since they get grant subsidies and assistance to operate a competitive housing rental operation, they are exempt but they are required to pay in lieu of taxes what otherwise would be taxed on a private operation unless the city grants that waiver. Those dollars are supposed to be used for the improvement of the facility and dedicated for that purpose.

Randy Collard, councilman, asked if there is any oversight of how the funds are used for the facility. Nehring stated there used to be a report given every couple of years; however, there have been three different directors in the last few years.

A motion carried to approve Resolution 2019-9 - Waiver of Payment in Lieu of Taxes with the addition of discussed oversight.

The council approved the employee health insurance annual rate following discussion.

"We actually have had several years of no rate reduction and no large claims. Finally our premiums are going to catch up to some of that recent claims history," said Nehring. "We're seeing a 3% reduction in the employee part of the equation."

A motion carried to approve the employee health insurance annual rate.

David Masterson has recently been painting retaining walls in Center. The original agreed upon amount for the walls which have been completed on Hurst Street and those at Tenaha and Timpson Streets was $1,500. Masterson determined to complete the project an additional $1,500 would be necessary.

A motion carried by the council to approve the additional $1,500.

The Center Rotary Club has requested temporary road closures for their upcoming 5K run. The closures will be from 6am to 9am Saturday, July 13. Barricades will be needed on Tenaha Street and Cora Street as well as Logansport Street at Kennedy Street. 

The inside lane will also need to be blocked around the square. A police officer has also been requested to direct traffic at the intersection of Logansport and Porter Street.

A motion carried to approve the proposed route as well as the requests.

The Center Police Department has requested to add Timothy Magness as a reserve officer. He graduated from East Texas Police Academy on May 31, 2019. The addition of Magness gives the police department five reserve officers.

A motion carried to approve Magness.

During the items of interest portion of the meeting following the action items, Nehring shared an alert from Keri Shofner, Shelby County Emergency Management Coordinator.

Texas Department on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) contacted her about Buddin Dam on property belonging to Galal Mahesh just off Pine Street near Austin Street in Center. The TCEQ dam specialist stated the threat level of the dam breaking has been raised to high. TCEQ reported being unable to reach Mahesh and the situation has been turned over to the Texas Attorney General's office.

The main concern is for residents down river should the dam break. According to the report, from TCEQ the most recent inspection revealed seven new residences have been built downstream from the dam. Due to the risk to the seven homes the threat level was raised.

Agenda items approved during the meeting include:

1.  Minutes of the June 10, 2019 meeting.
2. Ordinance 2019-08 - 401 MLK Dr (SCAD ID 20876).
3. Ordinance 2019-10 - 521 Shelbyville St (SCAD ID 20405)
4. Resolution 2019-8 Adopting Budget Calendar for FY 2020
5. Resolution 2019-9 - Waiver of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT)
6. Bid for Streetscape Project with change order #1 subject to final decision by TxDOT on traffic signals.
7. Surplus equipment bids awarded.
8. Ballard Street soccer field electric improvements with a total bid of $81,770.
9. Contract for Parks Master Plan Update.
10. Human Resources and Project Accounting modules through Tyler Technologies at a cost of $15,681.
11. Employee health insurance annual rate.
12. Additional $1,500 to be paid to David Masterson for retaining wall murals.
13. What-A-Melon Crawl 5K route and barricades.
14. Addition of Timothy Magness as a reserve officer with the Center Police Department.
15. Adjournment.

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