Sunday, August 30, 2009

     

 

 

 

  Volunteer fire departments challenge budget cuts
Kaufman County reduces support to VFDs by 20 percent
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–Approximately 30 volunteer firefighters showed up at the Kaufman County Commissioners meeting Monday to challenge a 20 percent cut proposed in the fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget.
Kaufman County has 13 volunteer fire departments. Monday’s group included representatives from the Mabank, Kemp, Scurry, Terrell, the city of Kaufman and Precinct 1 departments.
Speakers chosen to represent the group each stressed the need for the county funds, pointing out the cost of trucks, individual equipment and training all were escalating.
“We use the money to maintain our vehicles,” Kaufman firefighter Eddie Brown said, adding a lack of communication did not give the departments time to present their needs.
“We did not get a notice, just a letter informing us of the 20 percent cut,” Brown noted. “If the county money goes away, we will only have $897 left to run the department.”
Precinct 1 firefighter Jeff Davis emphasized the departments are all non-paid groups.
“You are looking at a volunteer organization – one of the largest. If you have to cut it (funding), we will have to reduce (services),” he declared.
The number of calls in the Terrell area increased to approximately 800 over the past year, commissioners were told.
“That means the costs for fuel, insurance, equipment for volunteers and other needs has also increased,” Terrell firefighter Casey Vance said.
“Our money is limited. The last thing we want to do is cut services,” Vance added.
Most departments have purchased their fire trucks on payment plans, leaving them dependent on specified funding from the county.
“The money we get goes to our bank note,” Scurry VFD spokesman Keith Higginbotham explained.
“We still need help on training, equipment upkeep,” Higginbotham added.
The various county VFDs often depend on each other when the calls for help come in.
“We depend on Kaufman County and Kemp. We all depend on that money to maintain our equipment,” Higginbotham said.
The firefighters were not on the agenda, so commissioners were limited in their response.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jerry Rowden, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Judge Wayne Gent, suggested they put the matter on the Monday, Aug. 31, agenda, which would allow for a two-way discussion.
“Everybody’s budget got cut, but probably none as much as yours,” Rowden said.
In other business, commissioners:
• heard a petition for a local option election to legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption in the Justice of the Peace 1 district failed.
Approximately 1,400 valid voter signatures were needed, but the petition contained only about 1,000 qualified voters, Rowden said. No election will be called.
• following a public hearing on the creation of the Ledbetter Fresh Water Supply District No. 2 (Forney area), approved its creation and appointed temporary supervisors.
• approved the creation of Ledbetter FWSD No. 1, and appointed its temporary supervisors.
• heard a report on a recycling dropoff grant, along with a request to apply for a new grant, from Environmental Co-op director Marilyn May.
• accepted the treasurer’s monthly report.
• agreed to advertise for bids on an annual contract for inmate prescription medication for the Sheriff’s Department.
• accepted the 2009 appraisal roll as the 2009 tax roll.
• approved an easement and right-of-way agreement with Trinity Valley Electric Co-op on County Road 4068.
• approved the appointment of Child Welfare Board members Tina Beard, Luana Johnson, Susie Kimberling, David Morgan, Cindy McKinney, Lynette Nadeau, Bonnie Nichols and Lisa Gray Smith.
• proclaimed Aug. 26 as Laurren Smith Day in Kaufman County.
District Attorney Rick Harrison awarded her the Medal of Courage.a
• approved requests from Embarq to install buried communication drop wire under and across Brooks Lane in Precinct 1, and Woodruff Circle in Precinct 4.
• paid bills totaling $322,203.57.
 

Electronic poll book promises accuracy
Commissioners approve purchasing 10 netbooks and software
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–Henderson County is hoping electronic poll books will be the answer to program glitches that have prevented accurate voter lists from printing out for use at polling places.
When a voter’s name is missing, a poll worker has to put in a call to the Voter Registrar for the name to be looked up in the system. This can take up to five minutes to complete, county voting official Denise Hernandez said.
By making the electronic list available at polling places, poll workers can quickly tell if a voter is at the correct polling place in less than 45 seconds, she said.
The system is also very simple to operate, and only requires typing in the voter’s name from approved forms of identification. It even comes with an electronic swipe to scan the information in from a driver’s license.
But what appealed most to commissioners was that instead of hiring three people to qualify voters, just one will be needed, potentially saving the county $30,000 a year and ease the burden of finding enough poll workers.
Two options were presented – purchasing 10 to be used in the upcoming constitutional amendment election in November, or buying the 32 needed for each polling place.
Purchasing either option, qualifies the county for a reimbursable $8,000 grant from the state, which is encouraging counties to make the switch, Hernandez said.
The cost of 10 notebooks totals $8,416.80.
“However, the purchase of 32 notebooks will pay for itself in just one year,” she added.
Both major political party chairs, along with the commissioners, had an opportunity to demo the product, and both party chairs urged purchasing the system.
Republican chairman Don Geddy urged the county to purchase books for all 32 boxes.
“I think if you get the 10, you’ll wish that you had gotten the rest,” he said.
Democratic Party chair Marsha Head advised a more cautious approach, buying 10 for use in the busiest polling places to see how it goes in the November general election.
Head said other counties using similar systems have had some problems. She also said that 11 of her poll workers don’t have e-mail addresses and may find using the notebook computer difficult.
Hernandez answered Head’s objections, saying with just very little training, everyone can be made to feel comfortable using the electronic poll book.
Hernandez explained changes to voter addresses or registering new voters will still be controlled by her office, and would not be added into the system from the polling places through the electronic poll book.
Commissioners – though ready to buy big – were restrained by the tight budget they are soon to adopt.
Judge David Holstein suggested he could find the funds in capital improvements, which Precinct 3 Commissioner Ronnie Lawrence called his “honey hole.”
Hernandez was given the go-ahead to purchase 10 notebooks, along with the needed software licenses, for an addition $2,000.
Staff informed commissioners that once purchased, the turn around on the reimbursable grant is two weeks.


City adopts rules for home wind-energy installations
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

GUN BARREL CITY–The Gun Barrel City Council adopted rules to govern the installation of small wind-energy generation plants within the city Tuesday.
The 10-page ordinance was developed in response to several requests from residents asking what was required before they could put in a system to generate electricity for home use.
City manager Gerry Boren responded to such requests with a council-approved moratorium on installs until he could research the issue and present a suitable ordinance back to the council for approval.
Permits for wind-energy generation are now available from the city on a special-use basis.
Besides having at least one acre with required setbacks and platting, a wind tower must have clearance a distance of 110 percent of the total height and blades must be no less than 15 feet above the ground.
The sound generated from such a plant must not exceed the noise level of a lawn mower idling at the property line (50 decibels), Boren explained.
Also, the plant cannot be built unless a primary structure is already on the property.
Besides meeting all state and federal standards, the system application must also get the input of neighbors within 200 feet of the intended location. After a public hearing, the Planning and Zoning Commission will make a recommendation to the city council, who will also hold a public hearing before taking action on the request for the special use permit.
In this way, the council hopes to judge whether the particular installation under discussion might be considered unsightly or a neighborhood nuisance.
If granted, a special use permit for wind generation will cost $250.
In other business, council members:
• approved an interlocal agreement for mutual aid with Mabank Volunteer Fire Department.
• revised its Depository Services Contract, allowing the consideration of banks, credit unions or savings associations not located within the city, but are within the state, to respond to bids for services.
• approved spending up to $7,000 from the Contingency Fund for a watering apparatus and lawn tractor for the Parks Department.
• received a report and presentation of the traffic counts recently taken at specific points within the city to further the city’s goal of developing a thoroughfare plan.
• agreed to continue to participate in the TML Employee Benefit Pool for medical, dental, vision and life benefits. “Our costs actually went down, due to strenuous training programs offered from TML,” Boren commented.
 


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