Sunday, December 5, 2010

 

Info sought on arson, burglaries
Monitor Staff Reports
CANTON–In response to an arson that destroyed a family’s home, and a wave of five burglaries that occurred Nov. 27-28, Van Zandt County CrimeStoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons involved.
All of the crimes took place in an area a few miles south of Canton, along Farm-to-Market 1651, county roads 2304, 2314, 2322 and Bentwood Circle.
In addition to the home arson, the thief also stole a pickup truck and drove it a few miles away into a field, where it was set on fire.
While driving the 1997 gray/maroon, single-cab Ford truck away from the scene, the thief ran over several mailboxes, along with county and state road signs.
Items such as flat screen televisions, laptop computers and firearms were stolen during the burglaries.
The total value of the destroyed home and truck, plus the stolen items, amounts to far more than $200,000, according to staff in the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office.
To claim the reward, anyone with knowledge of the crime can make an anonymous call to CrimeStoppers at (903) 567-STOP (567-7867). Based on the information, once an arrest is made, the caller can collect their CrimeStoppers reward.
“Home burglaries are bad enough, but to burn down someone’s home and then destroy their pickup truck really makes this a despicable crime,” president of the VZ CrimeStoppers Andy Flowers said.
Van Zandt County CrimeStoppers always offers cash rewards for anonymous tips that lead to the arrest of a criminal offender, someone who has either committed a crime or who is wanted on a warrant.
CrimeStoppers callers never have to give their names or any identifying information.

 

Study says: water utility ‘too reliant on fees’
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

TOOL-West Cedar Creek Municipal Utility District directors agreed with the results of a district rate study, presented by Stephen Jenkins of Espey Consultants.
Jenkins recommended the board implement new water and sewer rates designed to recover the cost of service, through utility rates without relying on revenue from fees. He also suggested evaluating fees associated with taps, disconnects and reconnects to make sure they cover service costs.
And finally he favored preparing a detailed capital investment plan as part of the development of the 2011 budget.
Board president Clifton Smith said the entire report would be reviewed by the budget committee, with an expectation of specific recommendations for the 2011 budget and rate schedule.
Smith, and several other directors, agreed that fee revenue was an unknown quantity and shouldn’t be relied upon.
But while water rate payments composed 93 percent of revenue in 2009, the rest, or $174,168, came from other revenue sources, mostly from fees. On the sewer side, other revenue accounted for 11 percent of the total, or $102,487. Together, other revenue tops $277,000 to meet 2009 expenses, Jenkins pointed out.
On average, the utility services 5,697 water customers and 2,623 sewer customers and has seen slight growth over a five-year period going back to 2005. This service population is expected to grow steadily over the next 10 years, he said.
According to the cost analysis, it costs the district $34.50 per month for water and $24 per sewer connection. The rate study goes on to project this cost rising slightly over the next five years to $25.25 on the sewer side and $35.75 on the water side.
The district reports currently each water customer pays around $28 per month, based on 5,000 gallons usage, and each sewer customer pays on average $26 per month. Current cost and rate comparisons leave the district dependent upon fee revenue to make up the $6.50 difference on the water side.
“We’ve been too successful at selling water conservation,” director Jim Scrimshire said. “It’s good, but not good for our finances.”
Overall, expenses for both water and sewer totaled $2.3 million in 2009.
The study projects a growth in population from the current 17,099 to 22,567 by the year 2020, an increase of a little more than 5,000. It also forecasts an upward trend in expenses of electricity, chemicals, personnel and benefits. Expenses are projected to increase to $2.5 million in 2011 and $2.8 million by 2015, Jenkins added.
Cost breakdowns include a full 51 percent going toward operations and maintenance on the water side and on the wastewater side accounting for 67 percent of total costs.
The presentation at the board’s Nov. 29 meeting completes the commission directors gave to Espy Consultants July 26 to proceed with a rate study. The service includes a future model, both the board and utility manager can use as a tool. The study cost came to $36,230.
In other business, directors:
• awarded a bid to paint the elevated storage tank to Tank Pro, out of Alabama, with the lowest bid of $39,215. The utility itself came in with the highest bid of $75,000. Three other bids fell between the two bids, directors heard.
“This is really, really a good deal,” manager Tony Ciardo said. “I’m ecstatic, just ecstatic (at the low bid).”
• noted that cost of repairs and upgrades mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to both the Tolosa and Tool wastewater treatment plants total $243,500, which the district plans to complete over two budget years.
It was also noted that since the district switched to a cash basis, the budget has consistently set aside enough funds to meet the costs of repairs and upgrades without the need for seeking financing.
• heard construction of the ground water storage tank at Tolosa is ready to start the first of January and will take about six weeks on complete, depending on weather conditions.

 

Study says, ‘No fixed bus route for Henderson County’
By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff

CEDAR CREEK LAKE-Results from a research study on public transportation needs of Henderson County are in.
The Texas Transportation Institute determined that fixed-route transit, such as a set bus route, “is not appropriate anywhere in Henderson County,” since population is so spread out and because the roadways are often narrow and lack sidewalks.
Instead, the study offers eight possible “flexible transit” services, which include buses that run a regular route, but with leeway to leave the route to pick up other passengers within an allotted time frame.
Three transit need centers exist in the county: Athens, Gun Barrel City and Malakoff.
The majority of county residents who took part in the study, which began in June, also thought public transportation was important for the elderly and people with disabilities, residents who cannot afford a car, and residents who choose not to drive.
Those are important points, considering Henderson County has a higher population of senior citizens and disabled than other East Texas counties, according to the study.
The study was funded by the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG), which also functions as a Rural Transportation District for a 14-county area, and was conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), a member of the Texas A&M University System and the largest participant in the Texas Department of Transportation research program.
The methodology included:
• reviewing current ETCOG transportation services.
• conducting two surveys in the county.
• hosting public meetings.
• reviewing physical characteristics of the county (population, demographics, etc.)
Currently, ETCOG provides public transportation in the county through its GOBUS program. Residents can get a ride any place in the county from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with 24-hour notice. The buses also run to Tyler on Tuesdays. Cost for a round trip is $4 (or $2 one way). To schedule a trip, call 1-800-590-3371 by 2 p.m. for next day service.
The eight areas suggested for a flexible-route system include: Athens local, Gun Barrel City local, Cedar Creek circulator, Cedar Creek to Athens, Chandler to Tyler, Lake Palestine circulator, Athens to Tyler, South Lake Palestine to Athens.
According to the study, the most feasible of the alternatives is the Athens local, a flexible-schedule bus loop around Athens, because it is “the most cost-efficient, service-effective, and therefore cost-effective of the eight alternatives.”
The study concludes, “Henderson County has many rural, growing communities with residents that expressed interest and needs concerning public transit service that increases mobility and provides a transportation alternative to enhance independence and quality of life.
“The next step is public involvement and information. Prior to any new service operation in Henderson County, residents and government officials must collaborate to determine community goals and objectives for public transit.”
As of presstime, the results of the study have not been officially presented to Henderson County Commissioners.
One resident who is unhappy with the study’s conclusions is James Crowhurst of Mabank, who has been working for more than three years to get public transportation on Cedar Creek Lake.
In 2009, The Monitor did a story on Crowhurst’s efforts, which included speaking to officials from the cities around the lake, State Rep. Betty Brown’s office, State Sen. Chris Harris’ office, TxDOT, and the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG).
He said the study was “not good at all.”
“There’s nothing that shows anything about what is really going on,” he said. “I expected more about what the people needed, not about what ETCOG is doing.”
He also wasn’t happy with the conclusion that the Athens flexible route was the best alternative.
“That’s in Athens,” he said. “That’s not helping those of us in this part of the county that need public transportation.”
Despite what he sees as a setback, Crowhurst vowed he would not give up on his quest to see public transportation in the Cedar Creek Lake area.



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