Sunday, August 27, 2006

220 acres scorched
Texas Forest Service, 9 fire departments respond

A blaze started around 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Tolosa area along Kaufman County Road 4303, and quickly spread on both sides of the road. The smoke was thick as more and more dry grasslands caught sparks carried on the shifting winds.

Drought reaches historic measure
Special to The Monitor
COLLEGE STATION–This summer has climbed into the top 3 percent of the historic average drought readings for the state.
“This does not bode well for agricultural interests or firefighters in the state,” Texas Forest Service fire risk assessment coordinator Tom Spencer said.
“As hot and dry as it is, it doesn’t take much of a spark to start a wildfire, and it doesn’t take much wind to increase the risk of home and property losses, or the danger to firefighters and residents alike,” wildfire prevention chief Gary Lacox said.
“It is absolutely imperative that everyone – and I do mean everyone – takes every possible precaution to prevent wildfires from occurring,” Lacox emphasized.
He urges strict compliance with outdoor burning bans and proper disposal of smoking materials.
He added the use of welding and grinding equipment around dry vegetation should be avoided if possible, and closely monitored for accidental fire starts.
Even driving through tall, dry grass and weeds should be avoided, as hot catalytic converters could ignite wildfires.
In recent history, there have been only two other years the Keetch-Byram Drought Index has registered averages at this extreme dryness – 1998 and 2000.
“In both years, Texas experienced severe summer fire sieges,” Spencer said.
Wildfire responses in the state since June number near 600, burning an estimated 101,774 acres across the state. Additionally, fire departments have reported responding to 2,884 fires burning about 70,600 acres over the same period.
Despite heavy rains in the Texas Panhandle and Trans-Pecos regions, the average drought index value has continued to climb, showing how extremely dry the rest of the state is getting, Spencer said.

County revamps budget
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–A second time around on the county budget did see some cuts.
Kaufman County commissioners met Aug. 18 to review the proposed budget they had approved before County Judge Wayne Gent left for a business trip to Chicago.
Gent opened the meeting by reminding commissioners they were asked to bring lists of proposed budget cuts.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Ken Leonard said he was concerned there might be a downturn in the economy
He referred to a story in the Dallas Morning News that looked at an increasing number of real estate foreclosures.
“To borrow money will bail us out temporarily, but not long term,” he said.
Leonard was referring to the $510,000 in tax notes commissioners approved Aug. 14.
Commissioners looked at budgeted car allowances for various departments.
Leonard suggested paying employees for actual miles, instead of an allowance. That would require employees to turn in sheets with their recorded milage.
Extra employees would be needed to verify the milage and to calculate the payment, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Jerry Rowden said he was not sure there would be an actual dollar savings.
“My point is, after I looked at it, I wasn’t sure the savings would be worth the work,” Rowden said.
Leonard made a motion to take away the car allowance and substitute the milage system at the federal rate of 44 cents a mile.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ken Schoen seconded the motion.
“I would like to see constables and commissioners in county cars,” he said.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Deller said the discussion was “fuzzy logic,” as far as he was concerned.
His precinct covers more than 300 miles of roads, from Mabank to Combine.
He said the fuzzy logic didn’t tell the whole story.
“For one thing, we are committed to give them a choice – either a county car or their personal vehicle,” Deller said.
“We (also) are committed to keeping Kaufman County wages up to where an employee can afford to live,” Gent explained.
Leonard and Schoen voted for the motion and Deller, Rowden and Gent voted no.
Constables Kenneth Garvin and Shelley Featherstone said they didn’t mind having a county vehicle, but they needed more time to change over from their commitments to personal vehicles to county-owned cars.
Money budgeted for constable schooling in Precinct 1 was considered for slashing, but Shelley said he wanted it left in the budget, as new officers are required by state law to take training.
Commissioners had budgeted an extra $2,000 for the Historical Society. That amount was reduced, and the budget was left the same as last year ($6,000).
Leonard proposed a motion keeping the Environmental Co-op budget the same as last year ($45,000).
Deller said Co-op manager Marilyn May and her staff had worked very hard.
“She has brought in a lot of money (grants),” Deller said.
That motion was approved.
Leonard also moved to cut $2,000 from Emergency Services, saying the Red Cross provided those services.
However, Public Works Director Kathy Paget spoke up.
“The Red Cross does not come out to provide sandwiches or cold drinks to emergency personnel,” she said.
“I don’t want to cut anything to our first responders,” Deller said, and the item was not cut.
No motion was necessary to cut visiting judges’ pay, as they voluntarily gave up any increase, commissioners were told.
Several other items were not increased. They included cell phone allotments for commissioners, and miles, meals and lodging for the justices of the peace.
Training and related travel expenses were provided for the two new JPs in Precincts 2 and 4.
The hiring of a deputy fire marshal was also approved.
ITT director George York also asked for more help.
York said he was the officer trained and certified to work with the district attorney and commissioned with the sheriff’s department to keep pedophile and child pornographers off the street.
Leonard said he believed this cost should be assigned to the sheriff’s department, and made a motion to move the item.
The motion died for lack of a second.
Leonard proposed leaving the Road & Bridge fund the same and putting any increase into the general fund.
“The extreme heat has really destroyed the roads. Costs of repairs have gone up,” Deller reminded the group.
Rowden, Schoen and Deller voted against the motion, while Leonard voted for the proposal.