HENDERSON COUNTY–Paula Ludtke was appointed as Henderson County Election Administrator during the July 13 Commissioners’ Court meeting, the county’s second attempt this year at filling the position permanently.
County Judge Wade McKinney said that the previous week, the county’s Election Commission met and interviewed five candidates for the position before choosing Ludtke. The Election Commission consists of McKinney, County Clerk Mary Margaret Wright, Tax Assessor/Collector Peggy Goodall, County Republican Party Chair Daniel Hunt and County Democratic Party Chair Kelley Townsend.
“Her (Ludtke’s) work ethic is outstanding and we look forward to working with her moving forward,” McKinney said. “We feel she is up to the challenge,” he added.
Ludtke's most recent job with Henderson County was as assistant treasurer in the County Treasurer's Office, she told The Monitor. She has lived 18 years in Henderson County and has worked in Henderson County government the past 16.5 years. Ludtke also served in the County Judge's Office, the County Attorney's Office as docket coordinator and victim assistance coordinator, and with the District Attorney's Office as office manager.
Commissioners’ Court originally voted May 4 to approve Jessica Rodriguez as the permanent election administrator, after Rodriguez served as the interim administrator following the March departure of her predecessor, Denise Hernandez.
That decision was later voided when county officials discovered legal requirements that election administrators must be U.S. citizens, Hunt said during June 7's Henderson County Republican Party Executive Committee meeting. Rodriguez (who still works for the County Election and Voter Registration Department) has a valid work permit, Hunt added.
The court also approved an interlocal agreement between the Commissioners’ Courts of Smith, Wood, Henderson, Van Zandt and Rains counties with the Andrews Center for fiscal year 2022.
The Andrews Center provides mental health assistance to the public and to the jail, McKinney said. McKinney said the agreement costs the county $44,700 annually and has been at that rate “for a number of years now.” McKinney estimated the county has used Andrews Center services since the early 1990s.
Sheriff Botie HIllhouse said his office “use(s) them (the Andrews Center) tremendously” inside the jail. The center also provides inmates with medications at no cost to the county; the jail also calls them if there’s a crisis inside the facility and helps get the inmate ready to go to the hospital, he added. “It’s truly a benefit to us at the jail,” Hillhouse said.
The court also voted to issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) in relation to hiring private consultants to guide the county on how to spend money distributed through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).
Henderson County has been allotted $16,070,692 through ARPA, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's website. McKinney said federal money previously given to the county through various legislation has helped cover some coronavirus-related expenses at the jail and “across the entire organization.”
The previous CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act had limited direct funding, McKinney said, with any entity with populations of less than 500,000 having to go through a reporting process to have money refunded. With ARPA, McKinney continued, entities with populations above 50,000 can receive direct deposits from the federal treasury.
According to McKinney, some ways the ARPA money can be used is to respond to the public health emergency and its effects, as well as to negative economic impacts, such as reduction of government revenue. It also allows for investment in water and sewer infrastructure, along with broadband internet service.
The act also allows up to 10% of the funding to be spent on hiring private consultants to guide how to spend and report the money, which has to be spent over a two-year period, McKinney added. Henderson County has already received its first payment, McKinney said, which is about half of the allotment.
“We have to define our objectives,” McKinney told the court, later adding that the county doesn’t have the staff or expertise to manage the program, as laid out by the federal government. County Auditor Ann Marie Lee said some entities are rejecting the money because it’s “too much trouble.”
The court also approved issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for Henderson County’s Section 125 cafeteria plan and other voluntary employee benefits. The county hasn’t visited the issue since the early 2000s, Lee said, explaining that health savings accounts, child care credits and other medical savings accounts are run through the plan.
In other business, commissioners:
• Approved a County Tax Assessor/Collector refund request for tax overpayment on an Athens ISD property, the valuation of which Van Zandt County changed (the district is located in both counties), for $2,922.27.
• Approved the Statement of Financial Income and Expenditures for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2021 for the Henderson County 9-1-1 Communication District, which had a budget of $730,000.
• Approved setting a July 27 public hearing on posting a 30 MPH speed limit and no thru truck ordinance on County Road 4616, located in Precinct 4 just south of the Athens Municipal Airport.
• Approved issuing a right-of-way permit in Precinct 1 to Crescent Heights Water Supply Corp. for activity on County Road 1219.
• Approved replats in Precinct 2 (The Pinnacle Club, combining two lots into one lot of nearly an acre) and Precinct 4 (Wagontree subdivision, dividing one lot into two; and Parkside Shores on Lake Palestine, combining four lots into one).
• Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $461,854.35.