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Lee Library may get funding from Upshur County - after being cut out two years ago

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS

Correspondent

GILMER--The Upshur County Commissioners Court appears poised to restore some funding for the Lee Public Library in the Gregg County part of Gladewater, as a majority of the court indicated support for it during a work session last Wednesday on the 2013-14 budget.

In a controversial cost-cutting move, the court eliminated funding for the library about two years ago, and support for restoring it is not unanimous since the county has faced major financial difficulties since then.  Meantime, supporters of funding the library in the past argued that although it was in Gregg County, many Upshur Countians used it.

Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler expressed support for restoring funding Wednesday after the court's two newest members, Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry and Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka, said they wanted it. Gentry proposed giving $1,000, and Berka proposed awarding $2,000.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer objected that "We don't have the money to do that," and Pct. 2 Commissioner Cole Hefner pointed out the court had cut the budget in the past for the Upshur County Library in Gilmer. (No increase is proposed in the county library's funding so far in this year's county budget).

But Fowler told Spencer and Hefner, "I'm going (along) with them" (Berka and Gentry) on favoring restoration of Lee's funding.

Gentry proposed using savings from the vacancy of the county fire marshal's office for the library donation. The court has not replaced Paul Steelman, who resigned that position earlier this year.

While running for commissioner in 2012, Berka made a personal donation to the library after the court eliminated funding for it.

During Wednesday's discussion, Hefner addressed complaints from Gladewater area residents about their county services, asking what services that such areas as Ore City and Simpsonville receive that Gladewater doesn't.

Berka, who represents much of the Gladewater vicinity, pointed to the large amount of tax revenue which comes from the area, and said Gladeites "rarely see patrol (by the sheriff's office)" and don't receive much county road work.

Fowler meantime announced the court will consider raises for all county employees as he and commissioners spent nearly four hours Wednesday discussing and revising his proposed $10.9 million budget for the coming 2013-14 fiscal year.

The court has not yet finalized the budget nor tax rate, but any raises would be the first given county workers in about seven years. There was no discussion of the level of any potential raise to take effect Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

Near the special session's end, Fowler also said his proposed budget was "basically exactly the same" as the current one, although $300,000 lower because the current budget contained that amount of funding for courthouse renovations required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Fowler additionally said near meeting's end that the proposed budget is based on a tax rate of 52.23 cents per $100 valuation, (compared to the current 51.22 cents), but he added it was a "little premature" to disuss the tax rate. 

He said 52.23 cents is the "effective" tax rate--the level required to raise the same amount of revenue as the current rate, but using new valuations established by the Upshur County Appraisal District.

Last year, the court voted 3-2 to approve a 4.21-cent hike in the tax rate, and Fowler said at the time that would pay off the county's debts and the hike would only be for the current 2012-13 fiscal year. 

Hefner pointed out at Wednesday's meeting it was understood when the county paid off a loan, a 3-cent portion of the hike would "fall off the rate." Then Hefner added, "And this (proposed rate of 52.23) is making it (the rate hike) permanent (instead). Right?" 

"Yes," Fowler acknowledged.

Several months after approving the supposed temporary tax hike, county officials discovered that a nearly $1 million shortfall in county funds was projected, so the commissioners court slashed the current budget by about that level in mid-fiscal year. In addition, two of the court's current members, Berka and Gentry, were not in office when the court approved the tax hike last year.

Hefner voted against the tax increase, which Fowler and Spencer supported. Then-Pct. 3 Commissioner. Lloyd Crabtree cast the other vote for the tax hike, while then-Pct. 1 Commissioner James Crittenden opposed it before both left office at year's end.

As the court Wednesday went over Fowler's proposed budget department-by-department, the judge recommended only relatively small portions of the controversial major increases Sheriff Anthony Betterton requested in the separate budgets for the county jail and sheriff's office.

Hefner said Betterton sought $537,500 more, $282,500 of it for the jail budget and $255,000 for the sheriff's office budget.

Fowler said he approved a $34,000 increase for the jail--$20,000 for prisoners' food, $6,000 in employee retirement matching funds, $5,000 for inmates' prescription drugs, and $2,000 for transporting prisoners. The judge said the jail population has increased.

He said he also recommended a $115,000 hike in the sheriff's office budget--but since that included $90,000 for two new school resource officers at New Diana ISD and $20,000 in retirement match, "basically, I increased his (Betterton's) budget (for the office) $5,000."

Said Hefner, "The way you proposed it is okay with me, tentatively." But Berka expressed concern the proposed gasoline budget for the sheriff's office was inadequate, and Fowler agreed to check into that.

On the matter of inmate food, however, Berka said, "I've been told those people are eating like kings down there." And Hefner said he didn't understand "why we can't get it (food costs) down."

Fowler replied the jail population was up.

In another major part of Wednesday's budget session, Road and Bridge Administrator Andy Jordan asked to add two full-time employees and give $1 hourly raises to his workers to bring their pay in line with other counties. 

He said they are among the lowest-paid county employees, although they pick up fallen trees in rain and work in 100-degree temperatures. He also said one worker with five children is taking home only about $6 hourly despite his certification in dealing with hazardous materials.

Despite seeking more workers and the raises, Jordan said his proposed budget was $92 lower than the original proposed budget for his department last fiscal year (before he took office).

Hefner and Spencer expressed support for increasing the Road and Bridge budget, and Berka said he didn't want it decreased. Hefner said the R&B budget is $400,000 lower than it was a decade ago.

In other aspects of the budget discussion Wednesday:

--Gentry proposed a pay raise for herself, saying she should earn as much as a Justice of the Peace. (Between the time she won the Republican nomination for her office last May, and the time she took office Jan. 1, the court reduced commissioners' pay by about $10,000 annually in the 2012-13 budget.)

--After hearing appeals from several residents of Pct. 1, and from that precinct's constable, Gene Dolle, for a $4,600 increase in his budget, all four commissioners approved his request by consensus.

"I don't have the money to put gasoline in my car. . .If I'm not mobile, I can't accomplish much of anything," Dolle said. He also cited his work on behalf ot the county, and several residents cited how active he has been.

Several other elected officials also appeared before the court to discuss their proposed budgets.

 

 

 

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Lee appointed Upshur County auditor

 

 

 

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS

GILMER--Upshur County Clerk Brandy Lee was appointed County Auditor on July 30 by 115th District Judge Lauren Parish after Janice Tucker resigned the Auditor's position effective the previous day.

The County Commissioners Court will consider appointing an interim County Clerk, and discuss the forthcoming 2013-14 budget, at a special meeting at 9 a.m. today (Wednesday, Aug. 7), said County Judge Dean Fowler. Those will be the only items on the agenda for the meeting on the third floor of the Upshur County Courthouse.

In the wake of Lee's resignation as County Clerk, that office's chief deputy, Kaye Cain, was placed in charge of it. She has worked there for more than 30 years.

Tucker had come under fire from some county officials--although not Judge Parish--after a nearly $1 million shortfall in county funds surfaced earlier this year. Tucker and Fowler essentially blamed each other for the deficit, and she defended her performance in a July 30 phone interview with this newspaper.

Her resignation and Lee's appointment were announced in a brief press release from Judge Parish on July 30. The judge, who expressed regret over Tucker's departure, swore in Lee that day.

Lee, 33, has been county clerk for the past 2 1/2 years and had recently announced she planned to seek re-election in 2014. Before her election in 2010, she was a clerk for Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Rhonda Welch's office in Gladewater.

The county clerk-turned-auditor and her husband, J.D. Lee, have two sons, Jaxon, 7, and Dylan, 5.

Lee told this newspaper the night of July 30 she took the auditing post because "I have an accounting degree" from the University of Texas at Tyler, and accounting is her foremost interest. "I'm also working on my master's (degree) in Public Administration" at that university, she noted.

She additionally expressed appreciation to voters for electing her County Clerk.

In the press release, Parish noted Lee's degree in accounting, and called her "highly qualified" to be auditor. The judge said the new auditor "will be a great asset to Upshur County taxpayers."

The appointment also won praise from all five members of the commissioners court.

"I am really excited about Brandy Lee (being named)," Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka said on the day of the appointment. "She is efficient and she is not afraid of anybody. . .She's a bulldog," said Berka, who was among Tucker's critics.

Added Fowler on that same day, "I think that Brandy will be a fine County Auditor."

Last Wednesday, Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry, Pct. 2 Commissioner Cole Hefner and Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer also lauded the appointment in comments to this newspaper.

"I think Brandy will do a really good job," said Gentry, adding that Lee's accounting degree will be an asset to the county.

"She is a very smart cookie," the Pct. 1 commissioner said. "And I wish Janice well."

Said Hefner, "I'm pleased. Brandy's done us a really good job. . .I'm confident she will do a good job as county auditor." 

He also predicted her appointment will greatly benefit taxpayers.

Spencer, who had been among Tucker's critics, said, "I think the district judge made a wise choice. . .It's a step moving forward for the county with our financial situation."

In the news release, Judge Parish said, "I want to publicly thank Ms. Tucker for the work she has done for the County. I hate to see her leave and wish her the very best." 

Tucker had defended herself from criticism by Fowler when he brought the deficit to public light last spring. She had also been at odds with Sheriff Anthony Betterton over matters involving his office.

The projected deficit forced the commissioners court to slice the county's budget by nearly $1 million in mid-fiscal year in order to avoid the shortfall.

Berka speculated Thursday Tucker resigned because "there was enough pressure put on her" over the deficit, and "she thought it best to just go on down the road."

Tucker, who became auditor in January 2010, told this newspaper July 30  that "I think that (my resignation) probably is the best thing for myself and the county."

"I lay blame on no one" for her decision, she added. When told of Berka's statement about her, she declined further comment on why she stepped down.

"I did an excellent job under the circumstances," asserted Tucker, who said she has not taken a new job. "I don't have anything to do with the county deficit," she added, saying an auditor has no role in that.

Tucker also said Lee was an "excellent" choice to succeed her, and will 'be able to take up where I left off. . .She would have been my choice, too."

 

 

 

 

Upshur commissioners veto appraisal district's budget

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Correspondent
GILMER--Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday apparently became 
the first of the county’s taxing entities to “veto” the Upshur County 
Appraisal District’s proposed 2014 budget--a move which will negate the 
budget only if several other such entities follow suit.
At least nine of the 17 taxing entities which elect the district’s 
board of directors must pass a resolution vetoing the $790,755 budget 
in order to kill its controversial five percent proposed pay raise for 
district employees. The board authorized the increase in a 3-1 vote to 
approve the budget June 10.
Any entity which doesn’t specifically veto the budget by July 10 
automatically accepts it, according to county Chief Appraiser Sarah 
Curtis, who recommended the pay increase. She said Friday she was 
unaware of any other entity having acted so far, and that she had 
expected the commissioners’ veto.
The commissioners court voted 4-0 to reject the budget, with all four 
commissioners--Paula Gentry, Cole Hefner, Frank Berka and Mike 
Spencer--approving the veto resolution. (The court’s only other member, 
County Judge Dean Fowler, normally votes only to break ties).
In the resolution introduced by Pct. 3 Commissioner Berka, the court 
said approving the pay raise might require a tax increase, and that the 
appraisal district has included pay raises in five of the past six 
years’ budgets.
Commissioners have also objected to the pay hike on grounds that county 
workers have not received a raise in almost seven years, and that the 
county cannot afford one for them in the wake of a major budget 
shortfall that recently surfaced. The commissioners court cut the 
current county budget by almost $1 million to prevent the shortfall..
David Clay, chairman of the appraisal district’s board of directors, 
has said the pay hike was needed in order to compete with other 
appraisal districts for appraisers, and that bringing in a new 
appraiser rather than keeping a current one would cost $10,000.
Mrs. Curtis meanwhile has said the district is “not up to average” in 
paying its employees, compared with other counties’ appraisal districts.
But at Friday’s meeting, Pct. 2 Commissioner Hefner cited the “current 
financial situation of the county” in opposing the measure. Hefner also 
noted the county government pays nearly 27 percent of the appraisal 
district’s annual budget--more than any of 18 other funding entities, 
except the Gilmer Independent School District.
Hefner also said the county would have to pay about $4,500 of the total 
$18,000 proposed for pay raises. Gentry meantime said commissioners had 
no legal authority to reject only part of the budget.
The 17 taxing entities (not all of which are centrally located in 
Upshur County) which have a say on the budget include nine school 
districts (including Gladewater, Harmony, Union Grove, and Big Sandy); 
seven cities (including Gladewater, Big Sandy, Clarksville City and 
Warren City); and the county government, which is a separate entity 
from the appraisal district.
Under law, two of the 19 taxing entities which financially support the 
district, the Kilgore College district and the Upshur County Emergency 
Services District, have no vote on the budget nor on electing the 
district’s board. Mrs. Curtis said she did not know why they don’t.
The city of Union Grove also has no vote because it levies no property 
taxes, she said.
Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway said she asked 
the Big Sandy school board on June 10 to disapprove the proposed budget.

 

New Judge Assigned for Crabtree Case

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS

 

GILMER--Former state District Judge William (Bill) Porter has been assigned to hear five felony cases against ex-Upshur County Pct. 3 Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree after the original judge in the cases recused herself.

Porter, onetime judge of the 276th District Court in Morris and Titus Counties, was named by administrative judge John Ovard of Dallas, Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd said last week.

115th District Judge Lauren Parish recused herself June 24 on grounds that her court coordinator, Teena Henson, was a potential witness in the cases. Judge Parish is still the judge in three related felony cases against Crabtree's adult son, charges which stem from an allegation that the Crabtrees held a state game warden at gunpoint in a confrontation last Oct. 6.

No trial date or hearing date has been set for the cases, Byrd said.

Lloyd Crabtree, 52, and Todd Allen Crabtree, 29, were indicted last January by an Upshur County grand jury.

In a three-count indictment for "aggravated assault (by) threaten(ing) with deadly weapon against public servant," the elder Crabtree is accused of threatening Game Warden Shane Bailey, Big Sandy Police Officer Gary Pettis and Upshur County Sheriff's Deputy Anthony Brasher while armed with a .22 rifle during the confrontation.

Todd Crabtree was indicted on one count of aggravated assault on a peace officer, and both Crabtrees were indicted on one count each of taking a weapon from a peace officer and unlawful restraint with a deadly weapon, said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The department said two armed men disarmed and detained Bailey as he made a routine check for hunting law violations on private property. No shots were fired in the purported incident.

Crabtree was still a sitting commissioner when the confrontation occurred, but left office at year's end, having been defeated for reelection by Frank Berka in the May 2012 Republican primary.

 

 

FSA County Committee Nomination Period Began June 17

(Tyler, TX), June 18, 2013 – Smith-Upshur-Gregg County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director Chris Lynn, announced that county committee election nominations began on June 17, 2013. Farmers, ranchers and landowners are encouraged to nominate candidates to serve on their local FSA county committee by the August 1, 2013 deadline.  

Elected county committee members serve a three-year term and are responsible for making decisions on FSA disaster, conservation, commodity and price support programs, as well as other important federal farm program issues. County committees are comprised of three to 11 members.

"County Committees are unique to FSA and are instrumental in all aspects of federal farm program implementation at the local level," said Lynn. 

Producers may nominate themselves or others as candidates. Organizations that represent minority and women farmers and ranchers may also nominate candidates. Nominees must participate or cooperate in a program administered by FSA, be eligible to vote in a county committee election and reside in the local administrative area (LAA) in which the person is a candidate. To become a nominee, eligible individuals must sign form FSA-669A. The form and more information about county committee elections are available online at:  www.fsa.usda.gov/elections. 

"It is important that county committees are comprised of members who fairly represent the diverse demographics of production agriculture for their community," said Lynn. "All producers, including women, minority and beginning farmers and ranchers are encouraged to participate in the nomination and election process." 

Nomination forms must be postmarked or received in the local USDA Service Center by close of business on August 1, 2013. 

FSA will mail ballots to eligible voters beginning Nov. 4. The ballots are due back in the local county office by mail or in person no later than Dec. 2. All newly elected county committee members and alternates will take office January 1, 2014.  

For more information about county committees, please contact the Smith-Upshur-Gregg County FSA office at 903 561-2050 X2 or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

 

Sentences handed down

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Correspondent
GILMER--115th District Judge Lauren Parish sentenced 12 persons for 
felony offenses and one on a misdemeanor charge after all pled guilty 
between June 4 and 11, said Upshur County District Attorney Billy 
Byrd’s office.
Details of the felony sentencings were as follows, the office reported:
Glen Edward Bishop, 37, of Gilmer, received 18 months in state jail 
June 4 for delivery of a controlled substance--heroin.
The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office investigated the March 24, 2012 
offense. Byrd represented the state at sentencing, while Gilmer 
attorney Dwight Brannon represented Bishop.
Ted Demarcus McDonald, 27, of Gilmer, drew 16 months in state jail June 
4 for delivery of a controlled substance--methamphetamine.
The sheriff’s office investigated the April 12, 2012 crime. Assistant 
District Attorney Natalie Miller represented the state in the case; 
Gilmer attorney Matthew Patton represented McDonald.
William Gene Butler, 54, of Diana, was placed on five years “deferred 
adjudication” probation June 4 for possession of marijuana.
“Deferred adjudication” means no final conviction appears on the 
records of defendants who successfully complete such probation. 
However, if such probation is revoked, the defendant can receive a 
sentence of up to the maximum punishment for the crime under state law.
The sheriff’s office investigated Butler’s March 5 offense. (Butler is 
not the Bill Butler who once worked for the Gilmer Police Department 
and Upshur County Sheriff’s Office).
Some terms of Butler’s probation included a $3,500 fine and 400 hours 
of community service.
Assistant District Attorney A. Camille Henson represented the state. 
Brannon represented Butler.
Shirley Dotson Finley, 41, of Gilmer, was placed on five years 
probation of a 2-year state jail term June 4 for possession of 
methamphetamine. However, she must serve 30 days in county jail as one 
term of probation.
She was also fined $1,500 and ordered to perform 400 hours of community 
service.
The sheriff’s office probed Finley’s April 18, 2012 offense. Henson 
represented the state in the case; Gladewater attorney Barry Wallace 
represented Finley.
Richard Allen Baxter, 23, of Gilmer, drew four years in prison June 10 
for assault against public servant. The sheriff’s office investigated 
the Feb. 23 offense.
Byrd represented the state. Gilmer attorney Tim Cone represented 
Baxter.
Zachary Alexander Lowe, 23, of Euless, was placed on five years 
deferred adjudication probation June 10 for fraudulent use or 
possession of identifying information.
Gilmer police probed the Dec. 1, 2011 crime. Lowe was fined $1,500, 
ordered to pay $1,203.61 restitution to the victim, and ordered to 
perform 400 hours of community service.
Miller represented the state. Longview attorney John Moore represented 
Lowe.
Chasity Lenora Davis, 34, of Gilmer, was placed on 10 years deferred 
adjudication probation June 10 for sexual assault of a child.
Gilmer police investigated the July 1, 2012 crime. Among Davis’s terms 
of probation are a $1,000 fine, 400 hours of community service, 
registering as a sex offender, and “counseling as needed,” among others.
Byrd and Moore handled the sentencing.
James Neal Wood, 53, of Daingerfield, received nine years in prison 
June 11 for driving while intoxicated--subsequent offense.
Ore City police dealt with the Dec. 20, 2012 crime. Miller represented 
the state; Gilmer attorney Brandon Winn represented Wood.
Philip Lee Arrington, 46, of Gilmer, was placed on five years deferred 
adjudication probation June 11 for possession of marijuana.
The Texas Department of Public Safety investigated the Dec. 9, 2012, 
crime. Some terms of Arrington’s probation include a $3,000 fine, 400 
hours of community service, and a school for DWI repeat offenders.
Miller and Cone handled the sentencing.
Eric Cornelius Johnson, 32, of Diana, was placed on 10 years deferred 
adjudication probation June 11 for tampering with physical evidence.
Some terms of his probation include a $2,000 fine and 600 hours of 
community service. The sheriff’s office investigated the Nov. 15, 2012 
offense.
Miller and Cone handled the sentencing.
George Lancey Hubbard, Jr., 25, of Tyler, was placed on eight years 
probation of a 10-year prison term June 11 for evading arrest/detention 
with vehicle.
Some terms of his probation include a $2,500 fine, 600 hours of 
community service, and taking “anger management.” Big Sandy police 
worked his March 30 case.
Henson represented the state. Longview attorney Charles Van Cleef 
represented Hubbard.
Heather Lanae New, 28, of Longview, received three years probation of a 
2-year state jail term June 11 for theft of property of the value of 
$1,500 or more but less than $20,000.
Gilmer police investigated her Jan. 13 offense. Some conditions of 
probation include a $1,000 fine, $1,729 restitution to the victim, 400 
hours of community service, an alcohol/drug evaluation, and going to 
the Bowie County Treatment Center.
Byrd and Cone handled the case.
In the misdemeanor case, said Byrd’s office, a Gilmer man who turned 18 
on Thursday drew one year in county jail June 6 for criminal trespass 
of a habitation.

 

Gladewater man indicted on indecency with a child charge

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS

GILMER--The Upshur County Grand Jury on Thursday returned 17 indictments, four of them sealed, and no-billed three cases, said District Attorney Billy Byrd.

Defendants, charges and bond information in the open indictments was as follows, Byrd's office reported:

Patrick David Thompson, 18, of Gladewater, indecency with a child on July 23, 2012, $35,000 surety bond  

James Mitchell Roland, Jr., 44, of Big Sandy, possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) with intent to deliver on April 30, $35,000 surety bond

Jeffery Mark Watson, 54, address unknown, burglary of habitation on April 15. He remained in county jail under $10,000 bond.

Richard Anderton, III, 46, of Gilmer, driving while intoxicated; subsequent offense--repeat offender on Feb. 16, $5,000 surety bond

Tony Michael Floyd, 60, of Mt. Pleasant, driving while intoxicated; subsequent offense on Jan. 28, $10,000 surety bond

Jose Carmen Aguilar, 54, of Hughes Springs, driving while intoxicated; subsequent offense on March 4, $10,000 surety bond

Jonathan Craig Strait, 31, of Gilmer, possession of methamphetamine on Aug. 23, 2012, $10,000 surety bond

Priscilla Darlene Pessink, 23, of Bullard, possession of cocaine on Aug. 6, 2012, $2,500 surety bond

David Bernard Hodge, 38, of Ore City, assault--family violence with previous conviction on March 20, $3,500 surety bond

Billy Lee Aultman, 34, of Gilmer, burglary of building on Feb. 23, $75,000 surety bond

Matthew Howard Baldwin, 52, of Pittsburg, burglary of building on Feb. 23. He remained in county jail under $75,000 bond

Glenn Earl Hamilton, 49, of Gilmer, possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver on Aug. 5, 2012, $35,000 surety bond

Phyllis Ann Ellis, 50, of Diana, posession of methamphetamine on July 18, 2012, $10,000 surety bond

The sealed indictments were for unlawful possession of a firearm by felon, possession of methamphetamine, retaliation: habitual offender, and aggravated sexual assault of a child, Byrd's office reported.