Under the extension, effective from 2017-2022, Calthan Cattle Co. will pay 10 percent more per acre--$15.07, as compared to $13.70 now. The firm will also continue paying the current equivalent of $3 per acre per year for improvements on the 17,712 acres in Baylor and Throckmorton Counties.
Certain revenues from the land go to benefit the nine school districts lying partly or wholly in Upshur County.
Calthan owner Robb Stewart, who’s had the lease for two years, proposed either a five or 10-year extension. He told the court the benefits to him and the county would be “about equal.”
Stewart said he could run more cattle on the land for a longer time, and that the county meantime would receive “the highest lease paid for any range in northwest Texas.”
He also said he had already made 95 percent of the required improvements under the current 5-year lease in the first two years, but that he would make no further ones beyond the current contract’s requirement without an extension. County Judge Dean Fowler told the court Stewart “doesn’t want to spend the money” on certain improvements unless he got the land for longer.
The cattle company owner, who subleases out hunting rights on the property, told The Mirror he will spend $265,000 next year on improvements, which he said will satisfy the requirement for upgrading in all five years of the extension.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer had told the court, “He’s fixing to spend money that he wouldn’t have to spend” until later. Added Fowler, “It’s going to make the land more profitable to him, too.”
Stewart told commissioners his firm has dug tanks on the land in Throckmorton County, and that he wants to spend $100,000 on tank work in Baylor County. He also said he has started eradicating prickly pear, which he termed “hard to kill.”
He said 10 years will be required to see the main benefit from spraying it, and that it and mesquite trees are his company’s “two greatest problems” on the property.
Pct. 3 Comm. Cole Hefner told The Mirror Stewart has already sprayed 6,000 acres of prickly pear, and that he will now spray on the rest of the acreage.
In other business Monday, the court voted to re-post for bids on computer software to allow bidders the opportunity to bid on only certain portions of it, as well as all of it. The previous bids had to include the entire package.
Under the new specifications, bidders can make proposals on the financial/jury aspect, and/or the courts/law enforcement portion. Bids must be submitted by 5 p.m. July 14, will be opened at the court’s July 15 meeting, and Fowler said he hoped to vote on them July 31.
The court also Monday approved an “Upshur County Inmate Food Project,” under which jail inmates would grow their own food in a garden.
Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka, who is working on securing a possible grant for the project, said any excess food would be given to the Gilmer-based Upshur County Food Shares. He also said he hoped to involve schools’ agriculture departments and perhaps juvenile probationers in the project.
The county knows of one possible site for the garden, and is seeking others, the commissioner said.
Berka indicated he got the idea when he and Spencer attended a seminar on inmates growing vegetables which were given to food programs. Spencer said he had toured a garden in Smith County, where thousands of pounds of onions and potatoes are being harvested (by inmates for food banks), but not used to feed the prisoners.
Berka said Sheriff Anthony Betterton and his staff were “very receptive” to the idea of a garden, and that the Sheriff’s Office is compiling data for a potential grant of up to $100,000. Berka, who is working on the grant application, said the county must match 25 percent of a grant, if one is awarded, but that not receiving one won’t “stop us from initiating the program.”
Fowler thanked Berka and Spencer for working on the proposed garden, saying “It’s a great idea.”
The court also Monday voted 3-1 to give employees the option to use part of their “sick time” to make up for the 30 percent part of their pay they lose by going on workers’ compensation.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry opposed the move, saying “I don’t feel like they should have to lose their sick time” to draw full pay, but Spencer, Hefner and Berka approved the motion.
Under the new policy, the county will pay workers for five days’ lost wages prior to their receiving the compensation.
Fowler said that when an injured worker qualifies for workers’ compensation, the county’s insurance company pays him/her 70 percent of the employee’s salary tax-free. After the meeting, he said the Texas Legislature sets that amount.
But Section 504.052 of the Texas Labor Code lets Commissioners Courts give workers the option to use a proportionate amount of their sick time to make up the 30 percent difference, he told The Mirror.
Thus, should a worker miss an 8-hour day, said Fowler, the individual could choose whether or not to use 2.4 hours of sick time, which is 30 percent of an 8-hour day.
Fowler had opened the discussion of the issue by saying County Treasurer Myra Harris recently learned the Texas Assn. of Counties would no longer send worker’s compensation checks to the county, but will send them directly to the employee instead.
Mrs. Harris then said “We don’t have a policy, basically” on worker’s compensation, and that the county needed one set up through the court.
In other major business Monday, the court:
• Adopted County Indigent Health Care program eligibility standards under Texas Health and Safety Code section 61.023(d) and, in a separate vote, adopted an application procedure for the program pursuant to that code’s section 61.024(a).
• Adopted a special budget to spend unanticipated revenues of $5,774.25 received from Steitler Land and Timber for road damages, and $10,544.65 received from the Texas Assn. of Counties for insurance losses.
• Approved County Road Administrator Andy Jordan’s proposal to build cover sheds in commissioner Pcts. 1 and 2 at a total cost of about $9,000. He said county personnel would build the sheds to keep materials out of the weather, allowing workers to get dry materials on rainy days.
• Approved purchasing a $119 desk chair for the assistant in Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Rhonda Welch’s office.
• Approved a resolution opposing expansion of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act.
Spencer said the Farm Bureau asked him to introduce the resolution. He said that organization told him that under the proposed expansion, the EPA could control where “two drops run together in a bar ditch.”
“We don’t want that,” Spencer said, adding that “it could be ditches, streams” that fall under the environmental agency’s control.
Said Hefner, “I think the EPA has choked us down enough.”
• Voted 3-0 with Berka abstaining to approve the payroll. Berka has voted against such approval in the past on the grounds that the employees have already been paid before the court votes.