Thursday, September 3, 2009

     

 

 

 

 

 

  State dignitaries honor Gun Barrel City
Texas Ag Commissioner Todd Staples presents 2009 Hard-working Community award; Certified Retirement Community designation
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

GUN BARREL CITY–Gun Barrel City was doubly honored Monday with visits from state dignitaries.
Texas Department of Agriculture commissioner Todd Staples and State Rep. Betty Brown joined city officials for a dessert reception at Vetoni’s to officially recognize the city as the 22nd community to gain the Certified Retirement Community designation.
The 18-month process was initiated by Economic Development Corporation director Richard Wendel.
Staples also awarded the city the 2009 Hard-working Community grant of $1,500, saying the award recognizes community leadership in civic government and economic development.
Mayor Paul Eaton mentioned that the city’s awards made the noon newscast of a Dallas television station.
Brown told how the CRC program was started in 1982 and to date 30 communities have qualified for the designation, with two of them (Athens and Gun Barrel City) in her district (House District 4).
“Gaining the designation doesn’t just happen,” she said. “It takes vision, planning and perseverance to complete the lengthy process. I congratulate Gun Barrel City.”
“I’m delighted to see the progress you’ve made,” Staples said.
He added that Texas ranks the second most popular tourist destination in the United States, hosting 200 million visitors last year. “Being on Dallas 8 News, you know viewers are looking for a place to escape to and you want them to look here,” Staples said. “When we launched Retire in Texas.org, we got hits from 76 countries and 22 states. And now, you’ll be showcased among them,” he said.
“With the double recognition, you’ve achieved a level of success that puts you in the top tier of Texas communities,” he added.
Eaton recognized Richard Wendel for his leadership in getting the CRC designation.
City manager Gerry Boren recognized members of the Beautification Committee for their work in planting 50 crepe myrtle trees downtown.He also pointed out that volunteerism is one of the city’s strength.
When Wendel was working to get the designation, he pointed out the benefits of bringing more retirees to the area.
Retirees have a breadth of experience and wisdom that could be used by the city in the form of volunteers to serve on the many city advisory boards, he said. Wendel and his wife, Helene, are just two such examples.

New state laws in effect
Monitor Staff Reports
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Preventing serious injury in car accidents, especially to children, motivated Texas lawmakers to pass several new traffic safety laws which went into effect Sept. 1.
However, some parents may find it an uphill battle to put their 4,5,6, or 7-year-old back into a car safety seat.
That’s why though the new law went into effect Tuesday, drivers whose underage and under-height passengers are not in a car safety seat will only get a warning. That is until June, 2010, when citations, costing $25 will be the norm. However, repeated citations could result in $250 fines.
The new law says children under 8 years of age, or under 4 feet 9 inches tall will have to ride in a booster safety seat in order to raise them to the right height for a standard car shoulder strap safety belt. Previously, children under 5 and shorter than 3 feet were required to sit in car safety seats.
“I’d rather listen to my child complain about sitting in a booster seat than face the consequences if they weren’t,” a Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman said.
The Texas Safe Riders program will direct low-income residents in getting a free car seat, if they attend a one-hour safety program in their community. Last year, the program distributed 10,000 car seats statewide, program manager Johnny Humphreys told a Dallas Morning News reporter. The program can be reached by calling 1 (800) 252-8255.
School zones have become no-cel-phone-use zones for motorists. However, the new law cannot be enforced unless there are signs announcing the ban posted at the beginning of each school zone. Exceptions include cell phone use if a hands-free device is present, the vehicle is stopped, or an emergency call is being placed.
Other laws effect new and teen drivers. Teens who want a driver’s license must complete 34 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, compared to 14 hours previously, and take a driving skills test in addition to a written test. Teens getting their licenses will be restricted from driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., and may not drive a car with more than one unrelated passenger younger than 21 for the first year after getting the license.
In addition, no one younger than 18 is permitted to use a cell phone while driving – no talking and especially no texting. Fines go up to $200.
Researcher from the Texas Transportation Institute says a 16-year-old driver is five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than any other age group. The study also pointed to the most dangerous teen driving activities as involving night driving and speeding.
All passengers in vehicles are required to be strapped in or face fines up to $200. To drive a motorcycle, the driver must prove completion of a certified training course in order to get a license, and no passengers on a motorcycle younger than 5.
Fines to those caught driving with a suspended license or without insurance also went up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000. Should an uninsured driver without a valid license get in an accident resulting in injury or death, the penalties are up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.
Also, if a driver has a previous DWI offense on his record and is pulled over by the police, he or she cannot refuse a blood-alcohol test.
Other new laws going into effect include:
• a tax increase on smokeless tobacco products.
• concealed handgun license holders will no longer face suspension for refusing to display their weapons to a peace officer on demand.
• a new defense against a Class A misdemeanor of carrying a concealed handgun into a bar is that the business does not clearly state 51 percent of its income comes from the sale of alcohol.
• defaulting on a student loan no longer disqualifies one for a concealed handgun license.

Budget back into workshop over fire department cuts
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–The Kaufman County 2010 budget has been recalled due to fire cuts.
Kaufman County Commissioners agreed to re-examine the proposed 2010 county budget, which effectively reduced funding to county fire departments by 20 percent.
Firefighters from all over the county have crammed the courthouse during the last two commissioners’ meetings to voice their objections for the budget shortfalls to their departments.
Monday, after once again hearing how serious the departments would be affected, commissioners decided to schedule another workshop and revisit the problem.
“I will say this – we (commissioners) worked hard on this budget. But I don’t think anyone had their total budget cut by 20 percent,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Jerry Rowden said.
County Judge Wayne Gent reminded Rowden the District Attorney’s office was also cut by 20 percent.
(Falling property values in Kaufman County has reduced expected revenue by about 5 percent for the 2010 budget. Commissioners decided to reduce the budget rather than significantly raise the tax rate.)
A suggestion of turning to the Emergency Service District (ESD) for extra money was quickly nixed, once it was seen not to be feasible.
“When you cut a department that belongs to a large ESD, the budget cut is a small percent, but for the smaller ESDs, the percent is a large amount and hurts the smaller fire departments. I promise we will take a look into this,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Deller said.
And for Combine Volunteer Fire Department, which is not financed by an ESD, the loss of county funding will nearly put it out of business.
“I don’t think this commissioners court is going to do anything like that,” Gent said.
Before the firefighters expressed their concerns, Gent defended the county-wide budget cuts, saying the reason was simple.
“We came up $3 million short on the overall budget,” he said.
Shortages in fire departments, plus cuts in county funds, were insurmountable problems, several firefighters said, starting with Eddie Brown of Kaufman Volunteer Fire Department.
“We serve 8,866 people in 110 square miles,” he said.
The department receives approximately $57,000 per year in various funds with a debt of $49,000 owed for equipment, he explained.
“That leaves us only $800 for the year for fuel and supplies,” he said.
“We have only contracted for fire service. Without the county funds, we will have to go back and look at the services we provide,” he added.
“If it is written in stone, we will have to go back and look at the services (to cut),” he said.
Other firefighters made similar declarations.
“If we lose county money, we will cut services,” Terrell firefighter Casey Vance of Terrell said.
Scurry firefighter Keith Higgenbotham said he represented a lot of firefighters – all unpaid volunteers. Workman’s Compensation is one of the items his department would have to cut, if the present budget remains unchanged, he said.
“I am the sole breadwinner in my family, and I have five children. Without Workman’s Comp, I can’t afford to volunteer,” he said, adding that would be the same for many of the other volunteers.
Tightening the belts of the fire departments is nearly impossible, he added.
“They can’t cut salaries because the departments are made up of volunteers,” Higgenbotham said.
“And, they can’t cut personal equipment costs, because everything is already in need of replacement or repair; and they can’t cut heavy equipment costs for the same reasons,” he added.
In other business, commissioners:
• approved the computer license agreement with Computer Information Concepts, Inc, for the tax office at no additional cost.
The software will work with other programs in use.
• approved phone bill audit and phone traffic study.
• took no action on the creation of Kaufman County Parks District.
• approved installing a culvert for in Scurry.
• proclaimed the week of Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week in Kaufman County.
• renewed a contract with Marion Porter to perform repair, maintenance of county property through September, 2010.
• accepted a renewal credit of $221,055 from Texas Association of Counties Health and Employee Benefits Pool for 2009-2010. The pool provides healthcare insurance coverage to county employees.
• approved fund transfers as presented.
• paid bills totaling $289,678,29.
 


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