Sunday, September 12, 2010

 

Trinidad gets 15 minutes of fame
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

TRINIDAD–Hollywood landed in Henderson County Tuesday morning.
The cast and crew of the new NBC series “Chase” was in Trinidad this week to film scenes at Trinidad ISD and the State Highway 31 bridge over the Trinity River for an upcoming episode.
“There’s not a whole lot of TV shows being shot in Henderson County, and especially not in Trinidad,” said TISD Superintendent David Atkeisson. “This was a way to generate some good, positive things for Trinidad.”
“Chase” is a police drama that follows a Texas-based U.S. Marshal team tracking down violent criminals, and stars Kelli Giddish, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, Rose Rollins, and Jesse Metcalf.
“Chase” is produced by Emmy Award-winning Jerry Bruckheimer (“CSI,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Jennifer Johnson (“Cold Case,” “Lost”).
The show is slated to premier at 9 p.m. CST Monday, Sept. 20. The episode shot in Trinidad is scheduled for Oct. 25.
The storyline for the scenes shot in Trinidad includes a small girl who has been kidnapped by a fugitive, and a daring rescue by helicopter on the bridge, said Hauser, who plays East Texas cowboy Jimmy Godfrey.
Several students from Trinidad ISD were used as extras during the filming, which was the main reason for allowing the crew on campus to begin with, according to Atkeisson.
“Obviously our focus is on books, but we also want to expose our students to experiences that might spur them on to future endeavors,” he said.
Pointing out that as a grown man he had never witnessed anything like the scene in Trinidad Tuesday, he said, “I think it was a very positive experience.”
Atkeisson said Wednesday morning that he wasn’t sure how many students were involved as extras, but said several were chosen ahead of time and more were picked up Tuesday. Even some parents who came to watch ended up in the filming, he said.
The production crew targeted Trinidad ISD in August, Atkeisson said.
“The thing I was most impressed with was the professionalism and patience of the cast and crew working with our kids,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
While major network television cameras will probably never be a common sight in Henderson County, there is a chance this won’t be the last time we see them. “Chase” is just one of three shows calling Texas home.
Along with “Chase,” Fox’s “Lonestar” will be based out of Dallas. An ABC show, “My Generation,” will be set in Austin.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dallas is also the location for the Fox summer show “The Good Guys.”

 

School tax rate election explained
Mabank’s TRE is Sept. 14; Kemp voters poll Sept. 18
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Reports

KEMP–The Kemp Independent School District, like most other school districts, is looking for additional funding.
Non-funded state mandates for teacher salaries and rising operational costs are driving the tax ratification election (TRE) to procure more funding.
“There’s two ways to increase funding for the Kemp School District,” superintendent Dr. Peter Running told members and guests of the El Presidente Club Tuesday. “We either register 100 more kids, or pass a TRE.”
Kemp ISD is holding an election Saturday, Sept. 18, with early voting continuing until Thursday, Sept. 14 at the sub-courthouse in Kemp.
(Mabank ISD is holding the same tax rate election Tuesday, Sept. 14, as are Scurry-Rosser and Kaufman ISDs. Trinidad ISD already approved such a TRE.)
The ballot asks residents in the district to vote for or against a 13-cent increase in their property taxes to support the schools.
Kemp ISD trustees have already approved a resolution that should voters approve the tax hike; a corresponding 13-cent reduction will go into effect – causing the present $1.435 tax rate to remain the same.
If voters deny the tax hike, the tax rate will remain at $1.435 per $100 value of property, Running explained.
The crucial difference and reason the district is holding a TRE is to maximize the amount of funding received from the state.
Voter approval of the tax rate of $1.56 will result in the district receiving an additional $957,000 this year, with similar amounts each year through 2015, and hopefully through 2017, he said.
The school district tax rate is divided between payments made to service a debt (I&S) and payments made to operate the schools (M&O).
Currently, the operations rate is at $1.04 and the debt service rate is 39.5 cents, adding up to $1.435.
Under current rules, the state rewards (with more funding) school districts whose M&O is set at the highest allowable, which is $1.17.
School districts have been allowed to raise the M&O to $1.04 without voter approval, However, voters get to decide whether or not to raise it to the cap of $1.17, Running explained.
Now, while any surpluses on the operation side may be used to pay down debt; surplus on the I&S side cannot be used to maintain and operate the schools, Running said.
So the strategy many school districts, including Kemp, are employing is a 13-cent swap between the two rates – increasing the M&O and decreasing the I&S to maintain the current rate.
Kemp is able to do this because it is counting on the additional state funding of nearly $1 million and a small surplus to meet its mortgage payment on the new high school next school year.
However, if the voters deny the tax rate change, the district will have to meet its mortgage payment without the additional state funds.
“The district is not going to go broke. It’s not going to close,” Running said. “There could be cutbacks of non-mandated programs, services and personnel if the TRE fails.”
As examples, Running said some school districts have sold their fleet of buses and no longer offer transportation.
At Kemp, perhaps modified bus routes could go into affect, with fewer central stops instead of door-to-door service.
“Parents could become responsible for getting their students to the bus stop and picking them up,” he said.
Cutbacks could affect the schools’ various sports and band programs, and could mean a reduction in teaching positions and staff, translating into 30-35 students per class, instead of 20-25 students per class.
Salaries account for 81 percent of the budget, Running said.
TaxElection.jpg (251553 bytes)
Monitor Photo/Pearl Cantrell
Dr. Peter Running lays out the financial facts of the Kemp ISD tax rate election to members and guests of the El Presidente Club in Kemp Tuesday.

Looking to the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers most likely will not consider any changes in education funding, he said.
The legislature doesn’t meet again until the 2013-14 school year. Should severe changes in school funding be legislated, its effects on the districts wouldn’t be felt until the 2015-16 school year.
So, Running said, school districts that are holding TREs this year are fairly certain of being able to count on the additional state funding under current rules through 2015, and perhaps even until 2017.
With that, Kemp ISD is projecting receiving from the state an additional $4,935,177 over the next seven years for operations and another $1.7 million to apply to debt service.
But even with the additional state funding and tax credits, the district will need to raise the current overall $1.435 tax rate by 2.5 cents a year, starting in 2012 and continuing through 2017, under the proposed plan.
Property owners 65 years old or older will continue at the frozen rate they have now – only new additions to their property will be taxable at any new rate (and refrozen), he explained.
The owner of property valued at $100,000 would see a $25 increase from the 2.5-cent rise in tax rate each year, he said.
Now, if property values should rise, the 2.5-cent increase could be adjusted downward, he added.
Whether you’re for the TRE or against it, the important thing is to vote,” Running said. “Know the facts and vote your conviction.”

 

Commissioners face hard budget choices
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–A handful of residents told Henderson County Commissioners they oppose increasing the tax rate.
It was the second of two public hearings on the proposed tax rate, and its first public hearing on the proposed budget last Tuesday morning in Athens.
The proposed tax rate for 2011 is 47.1859 cents per $100 valuation. The current tax rate is 46.60160 cents.
The nearly half-cent increase would bring the county about $258,000 in additional funds, according to County Judge David Holstein.
“You’re elected officials,” Delbert Yelsma said. “Let’s do what’s got to be done.”
During a recess, several other residents cornered commissioners to add their opposing voices.
Residents aren’t the only ones opposed to the increase. Holstein and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry West voted against the proposed tax rate when it was approved two weeks ago.
Under the vagaries of state law, the proposed tax rate is actually just the highest rate commissioners can use when they officially set the rate Tuesday, Sept. 14.
The rate could go lower, depending on the budget.
There are two things at issue, according to Holstein:
• paying the county’s debt, and
• the amount of money set aside for each commissioner’s Road & Bridge fund, given the rising cost of road building material.
This year, the county needs to raise about $250,000 more than last year for debt service on the jail construction bond.
In the original budget he proposed, Holstein cut $15,000 from each commissioner’s Road & Bridge fund, totaling $60,000, and subtracted another $190,000 from the general fund to pay the debt service.
In 2010, commissioners were budgeted $1.143 million for Road & Bridge; in 2011 that figure drops to $1.128 million.
The Road & Bridge funds, however, have been relatively unchanged for six years, while the cost of repair material has skyrocketed. Each precinct’s buying power has been reduced over the years.
Add a budget cut to that, and you have what Holstein called “a double whammy.”
That has commissioners seriously considering the tax increase to cover the debt service without depleting the Road & Bridge funds.
“I believe that is the intent,” said Holstein, while reiterating that he voted against the tax increase.



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