Thursday, July 20, 2006

Prairieville fire forces evacuations
Monitor Staff Reports
PRAIRIEVILLE–More than 30 firefighters from four different departments battled a massive grass fire that forced the evacuation of two homes north of Mabank Tuesday.
Five residents along Kaufman County Road 114 were forced from their homes by the wind-whipped fire, which charred approximately 100 acres between Farm-to-Market 1836 and the county road northwest of the Prairieville Store.
A Texas Forest Service helicopter, accompanied by a spotter aircraft, dropped approximately 40 loads of water during the afternoon-long battle.
On the ground, two Forest Service bulldozers were joined by a maintainer and a third bulldozer provided by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Deller, Kaufman County Deputy Fire Marshal Don Lindsey reported.
Deller’s equipment “provided a tremendous service to us,” Lindsey said.
Firefighters from the Mabank, Kemp, Kaufman and Scurry departments and 12 pieces of equipment responded to the fire, which threatened 10 structures – all of which were saved.
The alarm went out at 12:27 p.m., and firefighters had the fire pretty much contained by 5 p.m., Lindsey reported.
“We’ve got a lot of mop-up and clean-up, so we’ll be here several more hours,” he added.
The cause of the fire was under investigation late Tuesday.

HC seeks grant to upgrade water lines
ECCFWSD to increase capacity to meet growing need in Bonita Point, Oak Ridge
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District and Henderson County are hoping the third time is a charm as they apply for yet another Texas Community Development Program grant.
ECCFWSD would like to use grant funds to improve water pressure to the Bonita Point and Oak Ridge subdivisions, east of Gun Barrel City.
There are approximately 200 hookups in these subdivisions on an existing six-inch water line.
The district would like to connect to it and augment with a parallel eight-inch line, Chris Weeks of Velvin and Weeks explained.
Of course, since applications in the past have been granted, this one may be denied, since the fund tries to dole out grants in an evenhanded manner among counties and cities throughout the state, Precinct 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney said.
“All you can do is try to get it. If you don’t get it this time, it will be a higher chance of getting it next time,” project manager Wanda Vance of Traylor and Associates pointed out.
“Counties continue to have a little better edge over cities,” Vance added.
The fund allows entities to apply every two years for grants. The last grant awarded to Henderson County was the self-help sewer project grant that’s getting underway in Southwood Shores. Payne Springs is the applicant for similar project in Cedar Branch Park.
In the same meeting, commissioners held public hearings to set speed limits in Sundrift II and Three Harbors subdivisions as well as on Lakeland Road, all located in Precinct 2.
By state statute, all roads are automatically set at 60 mph. Counties and cities may set their own speed limits within their jurisdiction between 30 and 55 mph.
Speed limits set for lower than 30 mph cannot be done until an engineering survey has been done to justify the lower rates of speed.
Engineering studies are very expensive.
“They’re just not feasible right now,” Presiding Commissioner Precinct 4 Jerry West explained, when one considers there are 150 subdivisions in the county at present, and the recent doubled cost of road materials.
McKinney agreed. The best that can be done now to slow traffic in residential areas is to set speeds to 30 mph, as requested, McKinney said
However Texas statutes stipulate these are limits only, and motorists are responsible for traveling at “safe and prudent speeds” at all times, West said.
Roads in Three Harbors amount to about two miles total, with each road about two-tenths of a mile, McKinney said.
Commissioners agreed to set limits at 30 mph for all roads within Three Harbors and on Scott Lane in Sundrift II, as requested.
Lakeland Road falls within the county and the city of Payne Springs. A speed limit of 40 mph was set to match existing city speed limits on that road to lessen confusion among motorists.
In other business, the commissioners:
• accepted a $500 donation for road materials in Precinct 1, from Ross Smith, who recently built a house and suspected heavy trucks at his housesite may have ddamaged the road, though nothing could be proven, Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Hall said.
• accepted payroll changes as presented.
• extended a maintenance contract witBM for another two-year period for $5,707.44.
• granted a request by Velvin and Weeks to bore two roads relating to the City of Log Cabin sewer project.
• approved a second contract to upgrade software for court system, 3-1, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Ronny Lawrence opposed.
• set public hearings for setting 30 mph speed limits on county roads 4912 and 4913 9:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 7.
• paid bills totaling $195,046.96..

2005 county salary survey released
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Salaries paid to county officials in Henderson, Kaufman and Van Zandt counties, like all Texas counties, are based on the taxes paid into the county general fund.
The larger the residential and commercial tax base, the more substantial the general fund is.
The more lucrative the fund is, the larger the salaries are, and the more responsibility the county officials must carry.
Kaufman and Henderson counties both reported populations just under 75,000 in 2000.
This was according to information recently released by the “Texas Association of Counties (TAC), 2005 Salary Survey.”
The survey used the 2000 U.S. Census report.
However, the U.S. Census Bureau said estimated population increases in 2005 show that all three counties have grown since 2000.
Kaufman County now has approximately 89,129 residents, an increase of 25 percent since the year 2000.
Henderson County’s estimated population is now at 80,017 and Van Zandt County has grown to 52,491 residents. Both counties are within a 9 percent population increase.
Salaries are keeping up with county growth.
The report shows county judges in the Tri-County area are being paid a yearly salary of: Henderson – $71,376, Kaufman – $71,106 and Van Zandt – $38,000.
The three local counties are in the mid-range population size of the 254 counties in the state.
There are more than 3.5 million people in Harris County (Houston), Texas’ most populated county.
Loving County, in far West Texas, near the southeast tip of New Mexico, on the other hand, for 2005, has only 62 residents.
A county judge in Harris County collects a year’s wages of $137,405, according to the TAC Salary Survey.
In Loving, the same officeholder receives approximately $36,000.
One can only hope the county is in oil country as the county’s annual budget is $1,473,346.
Other local county positions and their salaries are compared in graph above.

Burn ban continuesBy Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
ATHENS–A burn ban remains in effect for Kaufman, Van Zandt and Henderson counties.
Conditions are extremely dry in half the counties of Texas it was noted during the Henderson County commissioners meeting Monday.
Commissioners unanimously approved extending the burn ban, as the parched county is now approaching 600-700 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index.
The KBDI goes from 0 to 800, indicating the amount of moisture missing and relating this condition to degree of threat for fire and fire fighting.
Zero means no moisture is missing and potential fuel (growing plants) will not readily burn. The top of the scale is 800, meaning area is devoid of all moisture, and fires will burn to mineral soil with high intensity.
In an e-mail message, county fire marshal Stacy Glover recommended re-instating the burn ban. Commissioners decided to leave it in place, reviewing it week to week, without expectations of cancelling it while the summer heat and lack of rain continues.
Some exemptions do apply. The precincts will be able to do supervised burns of brush material cleared from county lands along roadways and such, with water tankers standing by, and in most instances, with supervision from a fire department.
The same applies to construction sites and certain burns for agricultural purposes.
Home burning, including trash barrel burns, are strictly prohibed during the current dry conditions.
Everyone is admonished to be very careful with all smoking materials.