Liberty County Commissioner’s Court – Synopsis of 2015 thru 2017, EDITORIAL

LIBERTY, February 19, 2018 - County Judge Jay Knight highlights the accomplishments of the Liberty County Commissioners Court for the last three years.

2015 Highlights
Finalized and executed the sale of the Old Wal-Mart Building.  It should be noted that the outgoing administration marketed and negotiated the sale of this property.  At the beginning of the new administration’s term in 2015, the contract for the sale of this property had already been agreed to, yet the previous administration would not complete the sale and forced the issue onto the new administration.  The new administration consulted with our County Legal Advisor, Tom Pollan at Bickertaff in Austin, as well as our County Attorney, to see if there were any legal ramifications to be considered should we call off the sale.  We were advised that litigation could be expected.  Therefore, with this in mind and the overall depleted condition of the property, the decision was made to finalize the sale and put the property back on the county tax roll.

Commissioner’s Court approved the upgrading of the phone and internet services in County Offices by switching providers and realizing a cost savings of over $300k per year to the County. 

Commissioner’s Court investigated and made changes at the Liberty County Housing Authority.  Appointed an all new membership to the board of directors, cleaned up prior questionable accounting practices.  Sold off properties that were of questionable resource and revenue and paid off outstanding bonds.

Worked closely with FEMA to recover county funds allocated to repair roads and infrastructure due to flooding conditions during the year.

Commissioner’s Court formed the Liberty County Development Review Committee to meet with and review new residential developments and developers as they are introduced to the Court and prior to preliminary plats being filed.  Members include:  County Judge, All County Commissioners, County Attorney, Sheriff, County Engineering Administrator, County Emergency Management Coordinator, County Tax Assessor-Collector, Central Appraisal Chief Appraiser, TXDOT Resident Engineer, County Fire Marshall and Superintendents of the Independent School Districts within the County.  This Committee is very important to the above mentioned members, and to all citizens of our County, so that they know exactly what type of new housing developments that will be coming to our County in the near future and may plan accordingly. 

Commissioner’s Court members worked positively towards agreements between the Commissioners to aid one another within and outside of their respective precincts for a cost saving realization by sharing equipment and operators.

Commissioner’s Court was informed that the prior outgoing Administration had failed to procure a new Liberty County Jail operating contract and that the contract had been allowed to lapse, therefore resulting in higher costs to the County for the daily jail operation that was beyond the budgeted allowance.  The new Commissioner’s Court Administration researched and produced a RFP to Re-negotiate the Liberty County Jail operating contract.  CEC/GEO, the current contract holder, was awarded a new contract for 3 years with a 2 year option that has saved the county over $1.3 million dollars in operating costs over the last two years and has recently been approved by Commissioner’s Court to continue into its 4th and 5th years per our agreement with CEC/GEO.

County Judge and District Judges approved the creation of a Liberty County Purchasing Department to oversee all purchases and contracts for the County.  This measure has saved the County thousands of dollars each year since its inception and has streamlined the purchasing process to better serve the county departments both fiscally and legally.

Commissioner’s Court approved the purchase of new computer software for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department Dispatch Office and Criminal Records Reporting Program to further help them with efforts of faster dispatching of officers, case management and reporting.

Commissioner’s Court approved funding for final installation of the Emergency Power Generator at the LCSO/Jail for use during power outages and natural disasters.  Note: This generator had been on-site at the Liberty County Jail since 2009 and had never been permanently installed nor used as needed during power outages.  (Note: As of 2-12-18, this project is complete).      

Commissioner’s Court stepped up the investigation and final settlements with Pipeline Companies operating in the county who were damaging county roads not listed in their road bonds or routing details for proper traffic routing.

Commissioner’s Court established a protocol for road use agreements with pipeline companies and Liberty County Engineering Department with enforcement to be handled by the Precinct 2 Constable’s office of Liberty County.

Commissioner’s Court approved the purchase of cameras and laptops for the Liberty County Constable Pct. 2 License and Weight Division to record roads prior to being used by Pipeline Companies so that damages can be recorded and detailed for payment back to the County on repairs.
 
Commissioner’s Court members formed a core group to expedite, plan and complete a Liberty County Economic Development Strategic Plan.  We worked with the office of Liberty County Texas Agri-Life and Texas A&M Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning along with Committee members from throughout the county including the County Judge.  The Texas Target Communities Group and the above mentioned members completed the Strategic Plan in 2016.  The plan is now listed on the County Website under Economic Development.   

Total Commissioner’s Court Workshops held in 2015….33.

2016 Highlights
County Commissioners established and had the first meeting of the County-Wide Economic Development Council.  Liberty EDC. Dayton DCDC and Cleveland EDC, along with these three major cities’ governing City Councils in the County have joined and sustained their membership and support.

Commissioner’s Court negotiated and completed Tax Abatement agreement with Sumiden Wire Company in Dayton.  A 5 year total abatement term sets a new precedence through Commissioner’s Court from the old suit of 10 year terms. 

Commissioner’s Court continues working with FEMA to recover funds to repair damaged Precinct roads due to flooding conditions throughout the County.

Commissioner’s Court approved the hiring of LJA Engineering to begin revising County Subdivision Rules and Regulations Manual.  This task had not been touched since 2004 and had barely been updated since 1976. 

 

Liberty County Purchasing produced a RFP to find and contract with a new Health Insurance provider for all County Employees, both active and retired, to cut county insurance costs.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas was selected through this process at a savings to the County of 14% below the previous provider with better overall coverage to the recipients.  

Commissioner’s Court selected a new provider for County Employee’s Health Clinic with savings to the County of over $75k per year.

Commissioner’s Court approved and executed a Warranty Deed with the City of Cleveland for a future fire station to be located at the corner of FM 1010 and the Cleveland By-Pass.

County Judge and Precinct 4 Commissioner formed a core group of Officials, led by the County Judge, and representatives from UP and BNSF Railroads, Liberty County Rural Rail District #1, Gulf Inland Development, our State Senator, State Representative and Congressman along TXDOT to discuss and work towards economic development potentials and solutions in the rail yard area of Dayton and Southwest Liberty County that will result in bringing industry, better jobs and a solution to traffic problems experienced in the City of Dayton.  
  
Passed a Resolution in Commissioner’s Court requesting the State Legislature to consider the creation of a second County Court at Law for Liberty County.

Commissioner’s Court adopted a new revised and updated version of the Employee’s Hand Book for all Liberty County Employees.  The previous manual was over 10 years old.

Commissioner’s Court appointed and approved Bill Hergemueller as the new Liberty County Fire Marshall to fill the position of the late Jim Wilson.   

Commissioner’s Court approved increasing the County Fire Department’s budget to $500k from $300k due to underfunding for several years and causing budgetary shortfalls.
Total Commissioner’s Court Workshops held in 2016….43.

2017 Highlights
Renegotiated the Westlaw Contract for the County Law Library with Judge Chambers acting as the agent for the County which resulted in a savings of over $35k per year.

Commissioner’s Court contracted with Houston El Norte POA for the POA to provide payment for an additional Law Enforcement Officer to the LCSO that will provide coverage solely in the Plum Grove new development area.

Commissioner’s Court approved the hiring of a new Grant Administrator to oversee all grants through the GLO and Public Management Company, etc.  David Douglas, retired Dayton City Manager, has filled this position quite well and has worked with the County Auditor and Assistant County Auditor to correct poor accounting practices and recover monies lost by the County due to “double paying” vendors per invoices received from our County Grant Administration Company. Mr. Douglas also acts as the Liberty County Engineering Administrator in addition to the above mentioned duties. 

Commissioner’s Court approved the county’s participation in Reinvestment Zone #1 in Cleveland area for the new housing and commercial development located at SH 321 and Cleveland By-Pass.

Commissioner’s Court approved the adoption of the county-wide “non-consent” towing fee schedule that pertains to Towing Companies located in Liberty County.

Commissioner’s Court approved a “Moratorium” on acceptance of Sub Division or Development applications until the new Development Manual is complete.  This moratorium started in June of 2017 and has been extended to February of 2018 and with no objections by the potential developers who are working together with the Commissioner’s Court, County Judge and the County Engineering Department to complete the manual. 

Commissioner’s Court approved and received a $50k grant from Southeast Texas Housing Corporation for Senior Citizens groups in Liberty County to receive additional funding to help provide for their respective groups.

Hurricane Harvey came to visit.  

Commissioner’s Court approved the hiring of outside Counsel to pursue claims against Arkema Chemicals due to their gas release episode resulting from flooding due to Hurricane Harvey.
Commissioner’s Court approved the hiring of outside Counsel to pursue claims against Opiate manufacturers.

Commissioner’s Court approved a new contract with Liberty County EMS which sets the funding for their services at $330k per year effective 10-1-18.

Commissioner’s Court approved increased the County Fire Department’s Budgets to $609,753k to continue helping these entities’ funding and providing better service to all Liberty County residents.  

The Liberty County Commissioner’s Court approved the new FY 2018 budget in September 2017 to include 6 new LCSO Deputies, along with $90k in additional capital outlay funding (total of $250k) to help the Sheriff’s Department in providing additional coverage to all of Liberty County. 

Total Commissioner’s Court Workshops held in 2017…30.  (This was down from previous years due to Hurricane Harvey).

*Additional notes: 
The Liberty County Commissioners have worked very well together in providing services to the Cities and Municipalities within Liberty County thru their use of Inter-local Agreements with these entities, providing road repairs, debris pickup and law enforcement services above what has transpired in previous administration’s years.  

In reviewing the previous Liberty County Budgets from the FYE’s ended 9-30-08 through 9-30-16, the following revenues and expenditures were noted along with the Net Changes in the General Fund Balance.

9-30-07 – Judge Fitzgerald
This was the first budget of Judge Fitzgerald’s administration.  It should be noted that this budget was written by the outgoing Judge, Lloyd Kirkham, and Judge Fitzgerald’s time in office started on 1-1-08.
Revenues:  $20,218,678
Expenditures:  $20,218,678
No final audit was reviewed concerning this budget, therefore, no Net Change in the General Fund Balance was available for review.

9-30-08 – Judge Fitzgerald
Revenues:  $21,930,748 
Expenditures:  $21,351,739
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  + $579,009
No final audit was reviewed concerning this budget, therefore, the Net Change in the General Fund Balance was derived from the actual budget filed by Commissioner’s Court on this date.

9-30-09 – Judge Fitzgerald
Revenues:  $24,615,884
Expenditures:  $23,257,776
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  + $1,358,108 (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $18,467,999

FYE 9-30-10 – Judge Fitzgerald
Revenues:  $24,647,708
Expenditures:  $25,875,879
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  {$1,291,636} (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $17,176,363

9-30-11 – Judge McNair  
This was the first budget of Judge McNair’s administration.  It should be noted that this budget was written by the outgoing Judge, Phil Fitzgerald, and Judge McNair’s time in office started on 1-1-11.
Revenues:  $25,112,068
Expenditures:  $26,720,710
Transfers:  $2,845,990 (From General Fund)
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  {$4,454,632} (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $12,721,731

9-30-12 – Judge McNair
Revenues:  $22,271,573
Expenditures:  $24,781,344
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  {$1,947,271} (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $10,814,460

9-30-13 – Judge McNair
Revenues:  $24,556,430
Expenditures:  $25,164,256
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  {$602,637} (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $10,211,823
Please also note that the County Tax Rate was raised from 0.5600 to 0.5788 for the budget beginning 10-1-13 as approved by the Liberty County Commissioners Court.

9-30-14 – Judge McNair
Revenues:  $26,216,543
Expenditures:  $27,519,317
Net Change in General Fund Balance:  {$349,774} (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $ 9,862,049

9-30-15 – Judge Knight
This was the first budget of Judge Knight’s administration.  It should be noted that this budget was written by the outgoing Judge, Craig McNair, and Judge Knight’s time in office started on 1-1-15.
Revenues:  $28,262,115
Expenditures:  $28,212,032
Net Change in General Fund Balance: + $23,385 (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $10,057,577

9-30-16 – Judge Knight
Revenues:  $29,620,308
Expenditures:  $28,296,646
Net Change in General Fund Balance: + $1,407,041 (from final audit)
Ending General Fund Balance:  $11,469,905

9-30-17 – Judge Knight
Final Audit is not complete until May of 2018

As of October 1, 2014 the outstanding debt obligations for Liberty County, including principal and interest was $18,326,891

As of October 1, 2017 the outstanding debt obligations for Liberty County, including principal and interest was $12,906,834. Therefore, that has been a reduction in our debt obligations of $5,420,057 since January of 2015.   

Also, in February of 2015, Standard and Poors dropped our County Bond Rating from AA to AA-. In February of 2017, Standard and Poors reviewed and raised our County Bond Rating back to AA.  This was due to a strong budgetary performance with balanced operating results in the general fund of 0.3 of expenditures and a break even result across all governmental funds.

Our Commissioner’s Court has consistently delivered a Liberty County Budget that has put your tax dollars back into our County fund balance each year since my taking office in 2015, while continuing to help all County Departments and Services with funding to better serve our residents.  Since 2015, we have returned over $1.4 million of your tax dollars to the General Fund and over $1 million to the Road and Bridge Fund for Liberty County.

 
 
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