The court had on Dec. 16 approved having a Big Sandy grant administration firm, Amazing Grants, begin work toward a process which could land the grant. Commissioners authorized the firm to work with the court “on the necessary preliminary actions related to the county’s participation in the County Energy Transportation Infrastructure Fund (TIF), and possible creation of a County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone (CETRZ).”
Melinda Smith of the grant firm said at the hearing that Upshur was originally allocated $630,000 in state grant funds under the program, but that figure could increase. At the Dec. 16 meeting, County Judge Dean Fowler had said grant funds were given to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to allot to counties based on such drilling and the road use for it.
Tuesday’s hearing was to “consider creating County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zones” and the potential boundaries. Fowler said Dec. 16 that the county must designate a zone, and that certain tax increases must go for work on roads in it.
Creating the zone costs the county nothing, he added, although it would have to match 20 percent of any grant amount, which Fowler said is still “a pretty good deal.” Ms. Smith had said Dec. 16 the court is out no money if the county receives no grant, and that the court can also dissolve the zone should that occur.
At Tuesday’s hearing, former Upshur County Juvenile Probation Officer Ronnie Mitchell, who is now interim Road and Bridge Administrator in Karnes County, told the court he had been involved in legislation that created the program and that he was to implement it in that county. Noting he still owns property and pays taxes in Upshur County, Mitchell said he was at the hearing to “sell” the county on the program.
He said this was the first time the state has allocated money to improve county-maintained roads, and that Karnes County has created its zone. He urged the court to designate the entire county rather than establish the zone in a particular area.
But Mary Kay Thomas of Amazing Grants, displaying a map, said she believed a smaller zone “would take less of the auditor’s time.” She proposed a zone for an area in the northern part of the county, which includes Peony Lane, Lavender Road, and Ginger Road.
Ms. Smith said they had identified a road with damage from oil and gas traffic, and that county Road Adminstrator Andy Jordan is identifying all roads in the county with such damage. She said the court could define zone boundaries at its Jan. 31 meeting.
Jordan, who praised Mitchell for his assistance, said grant funds would be spent throughout the county, but that he wasn’t sure how he felt about having a countywide zone. He said he favored the smaller zone, asking what he would do if grant funds were no longer available after 10 years.
In other business Tuesday, Commissioners Court took no action on whether to request proposals for Information Technology support and maintenance and infrastructure.
Fowler said there had been “some confusion” over what the court needed to do. Brock Leger of Inline Networks in Longview told the court he thought his firm could inform commissioners what it believed is needed by the middle of next week.
Leger said he believed 65-70 computers (of the county’s 178) needed replacing, that other computers needed upgrading, and that the county needed a new computer operating system.
Fowler said the matter would be placed on the court’s next agenda.
Also on Tuesday, over the objection of County Auditor Brandy Lee, the court moved $87,000 received from an auction of road and bridge equipment from the county’s general fund into the Road and Bridge fund.
Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka said he understood Mrs. Lee’s “reluctance to release” the money until the county sees down the road where it is financially, but he noted the Road and Bridge Dept. had “sacrificed this summer”—a reference to a major cut the court made in the R&B budget to help resolve a major budget shortfall.
The court also approved Berka’s proposal to apply for a one-year Veterans Transportation Assistance Program Grant of $150,000.
He said the county has 3,712 military veterans, and that a grant allows 56 cents per mile round-trip for volunteers who drive veterans to medical facilities. Berka said the funds come from state lottery proceeds, not taxes, and that 27.7 percent of the veterans need transportation assistance.
The grant requires no matching funds from the county, he noted.
In other business Tuesday, the court raised its mileage rate for county personnel by one cent a mile, to 56 cents, and also approved executing an agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Fowler said the agreement involves such matters as testing kits and blood tests, which the DPS can obtain cheaper than the county.