Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006

     

 

  Reviewing 2006
at Cedar Creek Lake
Monitor Staff Reports
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–As drought continued to plague the Cedar Creek Lake area in 2006, the lake level continued to fall.
The war in Iraq continued to get bloodier by the day, and both situations prompted many Cedar Creek Lake families into prayer – praying for safe returns of sons, daughters, husbands and wives, and an improved economic outlook.
As with any other year, 2006 was marked by occasions to celebrate and mourn.
Mabank residents said good-bye to a part of the city’s history when four buildings on Market Street downtown burned July 31.
The largest area fire in 14 years prompted renewed appreciation of the service rendered by volunteer firefighters.
City officials were glad they had made an investment in a 100-foot extendable ladder truck able to deliver 1,200 gallons of water per minute down on the rooftops.
The same strategy enabled firefighters to contain a blaze at the Feed Store Restaurant on Kaufman’s historic city square Sept. 12.
An appreciation dinner for all area volunteer firefighters was sponsored by the Pacesetters Club during the annual Fire Prevention Week in early October.
In retrospect, the area managed to escape the blazing wildfires that charred hundreds of square miles of the state – but the continuing drought is worrying officials, who see Cedar Creek Lake and other lakes possibly being unable to meet fresh water demands if the drought continues in 2007.
Officials also took steps to ban fireworks for the Independence Day holiday, as well as the Christmas-New Year’s holiday.
Upsets
Final good-byes were said for former community leaders – former Gun Barrel City Mayor Marge Puck, former GBC Fire Chief Butch Grant, former Mabank athletic director Ray Dowdy and veteran community supporter and volunteer Dee Hale.
The biggest upset at the polls was the replacement of three of the four directors on the East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District’s board of directors in May.
Voters may have been prompted by a perceived threat that the long-planned Heritage Cove development might be denied sewer services in the heart of downtown Gun Barrel City.
Prior to the election, the ECCFWSD board asked for a hefty impact fee, in proportion to the project’s use of current sewer plant capacity to serve the project’s planned restaurants, a movie theater, motel, retail center and retirement community.
Consequently, the project was scaled back, as was the impact fee from $180,000 to $30,000.
Heritage Cove developer Ken Landers was one of the new directors sworn in, ending ECC board president Giles Farmer’s eight years of service to the district.
The sewer service controversy, in part, prompted members of the Gun Barrel City Council into taking actions aimed at taking over the ECCFWSD, in order to gain control over the city’s water/wastewater services.
Two neighboring communities, Payne Springs and Enchanted Oaks, both part of the ECCFWSD, each took official stands opposing any takeover of the utility by Gun Barrel City.
Not all GBC council members supported the takeover, and divisions on the council escalated to the point that the council could not approve a fiscal year 2007 budget by the time the new fiscal year started Oct. 1.
It was the first time the city, which incorporated in 1969, began a new year without an approved budget.
A new city attorney, hired by the mayor breaking a 2-2 tie, ruled a similar vote on the budget met requirements listed in the city charter, and the city began operating under the new budget in December.
County News
Faced with growing costs to house prisoners in other counties, Henderson County voters approved an $8.5 million bond issue to fund a major expansion of the county jail.
During the run-up to the election, county officials pointed out the cost to pay off the bond would be less than the $1.6 million the county was already paying other counties to house prisoners.
The county won a lower-than-expected interest rate over 10 years for its jail expansion project, which came in with an $11.7 million guaranteed maximum price, very close to the original $10 million estimate.
Construction began in July, and in December, the county commissioners heard their project would be paying off – the county will have jail beds available to rent to others, just as the lack of available beds is pushing the per-day housing costs sharply higher across the state.
This past summer, Kaufman County broke ground on a new convenience disposal center in Kemp, but it isn’t doing the same for a new courts building.
Voters defeated a bond issue intended to pay for a new courts building, and the commissioners have been hard pressed to come up with alterations to make the historic courthouse meet the growing county’s needs.
During the past year, voters in Kaufman chose a new district attorney, a judge for the new Court-at-Law No. 2, and picked longtime Mabank city councilman Johnny Adams to fill the Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace post being vacated by retiring judge Glenn Bates.
Federally mandated electronic voting machines made their debut across the state this past May. The novelty won strong support from voters, but actually using the machines is proving costly for the small cities, utility and school districts who have to purchase or rent them.
Kaufman County authorities had their hands full this year, investigating a double homicide at a Pizza Hut in Terrell, catching the suspect in a slaying/rape/kidnapping in Silverado Estates just outside Kaufman and the biggest drug bust ever.
In a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, Kaufman County authorities seized 569 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated value of $20 million. The bust went down Aug. 10 at a warehouse in the 5300 block of U.S. Highway 175.
The Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office also launched its first Citizens On Patrol program, training the Prairieville Crime Watch to take possession of a patrol car to monitor suspicious activity on the outskirts of Mabank.
“We will be watching, and we will drive them out of this community,” crime watch captain Terry Thomas said.
School News
The past year was a stellar one for the Mabank Independent School District.
Not only was Mabank High School rated among the top 15 best high schools in the state by Texas Monthly, its principal, Tommy Wallis, was named the state’s top principal by the Texas Education Agency.
The district’s superintendent was also named best in Region 10, and Mabank students raised $30,000 during spirit week for the American Diabetes Association.
That fund-raising effort also won the school the coveted Chevrolet Inside High School Sports Spirit Trophy.
The Panthers played their homecoming game against the Rockwall Heath Hawks (who raised an additional $10,000 in the Spirit Week challenge) on newly laid artificial turf at Panther stadium.
In addition, construction on the $29.6 million new high school is running two months ahead of schedule, and may also come in under budget.
The Malakoff and Eustace school districts also pursued a demanding construction program this year, each funded by bond issues approved by voters in 2005.
In Eustace, a $7.6 million project will provide renovations at all four campuses.
Two new classroom buildings are taking shape on the Primary School campus, while a third building is being constructed at the Intermediate School.
The gym and cafeteria serving both campuses is being renovated, while athletic facilities are also being upgraded at the Middle School Campus.
At Eustace High School, construction is underway on a major classroom addition, with a new competition gym set for future construction.
The same Uvalde-based company who did Mabank’s artificial turf got the bid to replace the field and track at Bulldog Stadium, and a new bus barn will also be constructed.
At Malakoff, voters approved a $10 million bond issue to build two new schools – one to replace the Malakoff Elementary School destroyed in a predawn fire March 9, 2005, and the second in Tool to address the needs of students on the western side of the sprawling district.
By year’s end, the Malakoff school is nearing completion, while steel is up at the Tool school site.
Both new schools are sized to handle up to 500 students each.
New superintendent Dr. Peter Runnings and assistant superintendent Sam Sweirc joined the Kemp ISD in May and July, respectively.
The new high school athletic center, providing a first-class weight facility with coaches’ offices, opened during the spring.
In addition to its homecoming celebration, held every four years, the Kemp ISD rejoiced in its hard-earned achievement of a Recognized rating, posting it on a billboard for all to see.
Still being played out is the property tax reforms that fund local public education, approved by the legislature during a summer emergency session.
At year’s end, many property owners are seeing sharply higher tax bills, which are due Jan. 31.
The worst and best
The worst car accident of the year sent three communities into mourning.
Canton schoolteacher and Mabank resident Rick Rike and his three children, including an infant son, were killed in a fiery head-on collision that also took the life of Kemp resident Justin Reller.
The late-afternoon wreck took place Oct. 13 in the middle of the infamous Phalba curve on State Highway 198.
The most heartwarming story of the year was of a tragedy survived.
A one-vehicle rollover accident the day before Easter along State Highway 198 sent three little girls flying from the vehicle.
Only the heroic efforts and coordination of emergency medical personnel, paramedics, advanced life support and the sustaining prayers of father and grandfather succeeded in stabilizing their condition, so they could be airlifted to Dallas hospitals.
Everyone working the scene, including bystanders, were consumed with worry over their fate. Two lay on the brink of death.
Only after weeks of ups and downs did their condition begin to steadily improve.
A victory celebration of life at the Liberty Missionary Baptist Church took place to thank God and the community for the redemptive work each performed in the lives of these three little girls.

Cigarettes jump a buck Jan. 1
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Beginning Monday, Jan.1, cigarette smokers will pay at least $1 per pack more for cigarettes and up to $12 more for a carton.
The tax hike is the result of two years of wrangling over school funding by Texas lawmakers, who finally passed the tax increase in May.
But now, smokers are faced with paying almost $5 per pack.
How many smokers are going to pay that much to fund Texas schools?
“I’m probably going to cut down or just quit,” Cathy Commons, administrative assistant to Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Deller, said.
“At least I’ll try to quit,” she added, concerned about the addictiveness of tobacco.
Commons said she smokes about half a pack a day.
“I can’t afford the increase,” Diana Clemmo, owner of Clemmo Feed and Tack in Kemp said.
She plans to try to quit, she said.
“I’ve already started cutting down. I am down to half a pack,” she said.
“Either that, or I will support the school system,” she quipped.
As an example of the hold tobacco can have, Clemmo said she once had a three-pack a day habit, but quit cold when she became pregnant, and stayed smoke-free for 20 years.
“I was pacing back and forth and noticed my mother had left her cigarettes on the table. I picked up one and that’s all it took to start back,” she explained.
But she intends to quit again, Clemmo said.
“And I wish everybody else good luck, too,” she said.
Another “quitter” is Pat Dingler in the customer service booth at Brookshires in Mabank.
Although she currently smokes from a half pack to three quarters of a pack a day, it’s time to quit, she said.
“I have been trying to quit or at least cut back,” she said.
Some smokers are trying to purchase what they can ahead of the tax implementation.
Angela Zabojnik with Brookshires in Mabank said they are not yet experiencing a heavy buying spurt.
“But, we have a five-carton limit for each person,” she said.
“They are buying up everything in sight,” Maggie Oliver, Seven Points Kidd-Jones manager, said.
Customers were reminded ahead of time that the final order for the year was being placed, she said.
“Our next order comes in tomorrow (Thursday), and by Friday, I am expecting to be sold out,” Oliver said.
Connie Shaw, assistant manager of the Seven Points Kidd Jones, is also worried about safety.
“It will make me afraid to go to work alone, because of the cigarette tax,” she explained.
“It will be just like prohibition. If they are going to tax something, let them tax beer and liquor,” Shaw said.
Shaw is a pack-a-day smoker who admits cost is a big problem.
“I cannot any longer afford to smoke,” she said, adding that she is planning to quit.
“I am going to try the patches first, and if they work I’ll be delighted,” she said.
“But if they don’t, I am going to try that One Shot guaranteed thing on the Internet called Quit Smoking.com.
“I am doing it because the cost has gone up, but I am also listening to my grandkids. They are begging me to quit,” Shaw explained.
Some smokers say they have been looking for an excuse to quit, and the tax hike is it.
“I really, really need to quit smoking, so I am going to try. Not just because of the tax hike but because I need to,” Wanda Sanders, office manager at West Cedar Creek Municipal Utility District, said.
“I have been planning to quit for a long time,” she said.
A new state business tax, plus the higher cigarette tax and a revised tax on car sales is expected to replace a cut in school property taxes.
The increase in cigarettetaxes is expected to raise approximately $680 million during the next year.
Texas had one of the lowest tobacco tax rates in the nation, but will now be in the top 10 highest, which includes New York.
Opposing the tax hike were the tobacco wholesalers and convenience stores.
Their arguments listed smuggling from both Mexico and other low-tax states as real possibilities.
That possibility became a fact in New York a few years ago when their tax hike, even though it was smaller, became a reality.
A story in the Dec. 25 issue of The Dallas Morning News recounts the events brought on by the tax increase in New York City.
Convenience store break-ins and smuggling created a huge black market, and forced the ATF (Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) to create a special task force to combat the problem, the story said.
The ATF is prepared to form a similar task force in Texas, should it become necessary.
But proponents of the tax hike pointed to the success of a tax levied in the state of Michigan.
Lawmakers there were facing a budget shortfall and did not hesitate to impose a $2 per pack tax rate on cigarettes, even greater than the $1 added in Texas.
The Michigan increase forced some smokers to quit.
In 2004, there were 681 million packs of cigarettes sold, down from 705 million sold in 2003.
But the tax increase did what it was supposed to do. Fewer smokers paid $993 million in revenue in 2004, compared to $892 million in 2003.
There are still nine low-tax states, which are considered the main source of smuggled cigarettes in the United States.
The low-tax southern states are Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.