Thursday, December 31, 2009







  The Top 10 reasons to read The Monitor
Editor’s note: This humorous pictorial review is meant to recall the lighter moments of 2009.

#10 We tell you how to get cash for your clunker

#9 We tell you how to get around the thickest traffic jams

See more pictures in the Thursday, Dec. 31 edition of The Monitor in newsstands.

Leaving ’09 behind
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

CEDAR CREEK LAKE–While the national news told of impending financial disaster, and saw the loss of trillions of dollars in investment capital, we here at Cedar Creek Lake have been holding our breath, restricting our spending and helping our less fortunate neighbors.
Businesses with prosperous plans checked and rechecked their figures, and a few carried forward, such as the new Comfort Suites in Mabank, due to open Jan. 15.
Others took a wait-and-see attitude before committing dollars to building projects, such as the Holiday Express motel, still slated for construction on West Main Street in Gun Barrel City.
Local banks held their own, but one of the new big players, Houston-based Franklin Bank (which bought the former Cedar Creek Bank’s four lake-area locations) was closed by federal regulators and purchased by Prosperity Bank, part of the near-trillion-dollar bank bailout authorized by the federal government.
No one locally lost appreciably in that change, as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) covered depositors.
Prosperity Bank closed two of the four local outlets, successfully selling a large property – the GBC location, across from city hall – to Gun Barrel City, which plans a new city hall there.
The city council agreed to spend up to $2 million on the former bank building purchase and refurbishing.
Though some local businesses closed or went into bankruptcy – such as the Gaters nightclub and Fuddrucker’s – others opened or expanded – Beall’s, WRB Military Surplus and Main Street Grill.
The downturn affected the lake area mostly in the local real estate market and automobile sales, both acknowledged economic drivers.
The auto industry “fell off a cliff” during ’09, according to Tri-County Ford owner Andrea Pickens. That said, Tri-County Ford marked its 75th year in business Oct. 29, and looked to be (ahem) chugging right along.
Few of us, if any, saw pay raises this year, as business after business, as well as city governments, cut back spending as much as possible to weather the economic storm.
Despite the return of frugality, important state highway infrastructure projects were completed.
In Mabank, a $7 million drainage and road-widening project for State Highway 198 (Third Street) saw completion eight months ahead of schedule and well below budget.
The long-awaited State Highway 334 widening project through Seven Points also was completed, and commercial properties up and down the parkway were available and waiting for brave entrepreneurs.
Likewise, the new State Highway 274 bridge across King’s Creek south of Kemp was completed this year, and the widely reviled three-way stop there removed.
Business momentum has been building in Mabank with the above-mentioned new hotel, the opening of the Bluestone Apartments complex and the Fiesta Grill, and construction starting on a new Subway restaurant across from Tri-County Ford and a donut shop next to the Fiesta Grill.
The city has authorized a bold marketing campaign in conjunction with the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce to coincide with the opening of the new hotel, which promises to boost interest in area businesses and attractions.
Gun Barrel City also moved forward, spending $750,000 on two new properties, one of which may provide access for a second major east-west road by Southside Elementary.
The city is also anticipating the opening of a Denny’s (with construction beginning in mid-December) and CiCi’s restaurants (next to the newly expanded Beall’s location), and an eight-plex theater in the Heritage Cove complex during the new year.
Whether the area can support a theater of that size is yet to be seen. Many are concerned the GBC theater will pull traffic away from the well-established Main Place Cinema four-plex in Seven Points, forcing it to close, and then itself go out of business, leaving the area without any theater at all.
So, perhaps the most community-minded thing we can all do this year is “Let’s Go To The Movies” (from the musical “Annie”).
On the public safety front, new Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt, along with new District Attorney Scott McKee, have sent a strong message to drug dealers in the area: “Get out or go to jail.”
Citing a mandate from voters, the sheriff’s office has closed down 10 alleged drug labs and taken down a handful of reported major players in the lake-area drug trade.
McKee has let it be known that whether you are caught with a little or a lot of methamphetamine, jail time is a certainty. While McKee is recalled to active military duty Jan. 5, his second, Mark Hall, will continue McKee’s mandate.
Jail space is now available after Henderson County opened its newly expanded jail. Those new beds are also bringing in some revenue by hosting out-of-county inmates.
That extra revenue, coupled with years of careful planning and some new construction in the county, helped the commissioners again lower the ad valorem tax rate by a penny on every $100 worth of taxable property.
However, the economic downturn put the kibosh on plans to expand county facilities, which has been moved to the back burner, but is sure to be revisited in the future, as overcrowded offices continue to become even more crowded.
Schools in the area showed their muscle with increased Texas Education Agency accountability ratings. Nearly all the primary and elementary schools saw their ratings shift to the highest levels, while the harder-to-maintain high school ratings held their own.
A sign of the investment the community is making in education can be seen in the opening of the new Kemp High School this year, the renovation of the Malakoff Middle School and the opening of the new E.L. Kirk Gymnasium at Eustace High School.
Eustace ISD also provided each of its 430-odd high school students with their own netbook computer this year.
Mabank ISD, which completed renovation of the old high school into its junior high, following the completion of its new high school, continues to strive for excellence.
Kemp band students this year made school history by bringing home a top UIL award in competition, rallying much school spirit and pride in its student body.
In the cities, there were a number of embarrassing moments for public officials and one exoneration, as Eustace mayor Laura Ward was found not guilty at trial on a charge of aggravated assault stemming from a late-night altercation in the parking lot of Gaters nightclub.
Also, the mayors of Tool and Seven Points were arrested in unrelated incidents. The police chief of Log Cabin was also arrested and later indicted for Theft by a Public Servant.
The Seven Points police chief was fired for “lack of confidence.” The Payne Springs mayor and one councilman resigned, and Kaufman County DA Rick Harrison apologized for his DWI arrest in Seagoville.
The arrests in Seven Points are perhaps the most disturbing, and have many tongues wagging.
Mayor Gerald Taylor and city judge Monica Corker were arrested after a lengthy investigation by the FBI for abusing their position.
The charges stem from Taylor cashing two-party checks through the court, and court bookkeeping that doesn’t tally correctly.
On the upside, authorities in Kaufman County rescued 600 dogs from a puppy mill north of Mabank. The mill was being operated by a 70-year-old woman.
Kaufman County installed a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall at its Veterans Memorial Park, and the city of Kemp unveiled a new city logo and is on the hunt for a new city administrator.
Gun Barrel City was certified as an official retirement community and received the Texas Hard-Working Community Award.
Mabank initiated the sale of nearly 1,000 water customers to East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District, but Gun Barrel City is trying to intervene and establish itself as a water provider, in order to gain control of utility customer accounts in the city.
The new year will show the outcome of that contest of wills and finance, with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as the final arbitrator – unless, of course, the entire matter goes to district court.
In 2009, we lost some community notables to death. These included:
• Jesse Prestridge, who was the beloved Santa Claus at most local events.
• longtime Eustace educator Elbert L. Kirk, for whom the new EHS gymnasium was named for just weeks before his death.
• Dub McCarty, insurance business owner and long-time chair of the Henderson County Democratic party.
• hospitable and charitable Dorothy Groom, wife of Groom & Sons’ Hardware founder Estle Groom.
• veteran lawman, respected police instructor and highly regarded guardian of abused women and children Ron Shields.
As the old year dies and the new one is born, we each look forward to greater health and prosperity, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
From the staff of The Monitor, we wish you a Happy New Year in 2010.

Commissioners apply for last grant funding of 2009
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–With the end of the year fast approaching, Henderson County Commissioners authorized grant applications for two grants that expire the end of the year.
Elections officer Denise Hernandez asked commissioners Dec. 22 to allow her to apply for two grants – a $6,481.38 HAVA grant and a second for $2,499.67.
The HAVA (Helping Americans Vote Act) grants will pay for the additions of doorbell-type ringing device, so disabled Americans don’t have to have to bring a second person with them to alert poll staffers of the need for curbside service.
“This way, the disabled voter can drive up to the buzzer, which will be on a portable pole, and just ring the bell,” Hernandez explained. “Staff inside the polling place will know that someone in the parking lot is requesting assistance.”
Hernandez said she hoped knowing that they don’t need any additional assistance will bring more handicapped voters to the polls on election day.
The county maintenance department has worked out a portable stand and wiring, which will be easy to install, for each of the 31 polling sites, she explained.
Hernandez added she also learned HAVA grant money can be used to replace headphones and purchase magnifying sheets for those voters who forgot to bring their reading glasses with them to the poll.
“It’s money that would be lost to the county, if it is not applied for by the end of this year,” she said.
Part of the grant funding would also go to purchasing 10 adjustable-height tables and chairs, she added.
In other business, commissioners:
• announced certain upcoming appointments. Anyone interested in serving should contact their county commissioner or the county judge. The appointments will be made Tuesday, Jan. 5, during the regular meeting of the county commissioners. They are:
– two for the Emergency Service District No. 4 Board of Commissioners. Seats held by Carol Harrison and Gary Hash are up for reappointment.
– two on the ESD No. 5 board. Dr. Dan Scott has indicated his desire to retire from the board, and Ben Beardon is up for reappointment. Lloyd Massey, a retired prison warden, has expressed interest in the post.
– one member of the Fair Park Board of Directors to fill an unexpired term left by Leroy Burch, and
– three members to the Hospital Authority Board.
• nominated three new candidates for consideration to the Hospital Board of Managers and retained the three nominees already serving. The three currently serving are Scott Confer of Mabank and David Holdredge and Derek Daniels of Athens.
The three new nominees for consideration are Gun Barrel City mayor Paul Eaton, John Bechton of Murchison and Danny Smith of Poyner.
• increased the Indigent Legal Services fee, a part of court costs for civil and probate cases filed in Justice of the Peace Courts, from $5 to $6 after Jan. 1, as mandated by HB 3637.
• accepted a $1,300 bid for two lots in Log Cabin Estates, located in Precinct 1, which covers court costs and back taxes owed to the county and school district.
• rejected a $200 bid on a lot in the Meadows Subdivision in Precinct 2, valued at $2,000.
• accepted a plat for a lot in Pinnacle Club for recording purposes.
• declared an emergency to increase the 2009 Road and Bridge Waste Management fund by $30,000 to cover an $18,229.11 November trash hauling bill and, hopefully, the December bill, as well.
“This (shortfall) was reasonably unforeseen in the budget a year and a half ago,” County Judge David Holstein said.
“We really need to look at increasing dumping fees for 2011,” assistant county auditor Holly Sparks said. “They haven’t been raised in a decade. We need to look at increasing fees to be competitive with today’s rising fuel prices and cost of service.”
• paid bills in three increments of $18,229.11 for trash hauling from precincts; $21,215 for a vehicle for the Precinct 2 Constable, and $246,850.46.

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