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BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS/Correspondent
GILMER–Upshur County Commissioners Court on Monday took no action on establishing the office of county fire marshal, deciding to take some time to consider the potential financing of the post.
Besides creating the office, the court was scheduled to consider setting a combined salary for it and the already-existing office of county emergency management coordinator. The court was also to consider appointing coordinator Marc Nichols to the fire marshal’s post and establish office space for that position.
But when Nichols asked his salary be raised $3,500 to offset money he would lose from having certain deductions taken from his paycheck, some commissioners replied those funds were not in the county budget.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry said the court had not budgeted for retirement or insurance for the fire marshal post. With the county only 30 days into its new fiscal year, she said, she could not see amending what was already a “very, very tight budget” and that she would rather see what the court could do next year.
After the meeting, County Judge Dean Fowler explained that fire marshal is a statutory position under state law, meaning the county must deduct Medicare and Social Security from Nichols’ check if he holds that position. Nichols has been earning $18,000 annually as emergency management coordinator–a contract labor post–and adding the $6,000 which was budgeted for the fire marshal post would make the total salary $24,000, Fowler explained.
But now that county officials know they would have to withhold deductions, the judge explained, Nichols’ salary would have to be $27,500 for him to take home $24,000.
Fowler told Nichols the court was saying the salary would be $22,550 although $24,000 is budgeted. Asked by the judge if he would accept the $22,550 for the dual posts, Nichols replied that he would in order to get the fire marshal office started, but said he would like the salary addressed next year.
Nichols, who is also an East Mountain police officer and Gilmer volunteer firefighter, told the court that Upshur residents are “losing out” by not receiving a credit on their homeowners’ insurance premiums because there is no county fire marshal.
When Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka pointed out that the Pritchett community’s fire insurance rating improved without a fire marshal (thus lowering premiums), Nichols replied that having a marshal would give citizens more help.
As the discussion ended, Fowler told Nichols the court was saying it needed “more time to figure it out.”
In other business Monday, the court authorized renovations at the Upshur County Library which will result in its being closed from Nov. 9-27.
The court approved constructing a “Family Place Area,” to be financed by The Friends of the Upshur County Library organization. Commissioners also approved paint colors for the children’s area, new large print area and new family place area, and approved closing the facility during the project.
After Monday’s meeting, County Librarian Cynthia King said the Friends organization is paying $7,200 of the project cost while the county is paying $1,250. She told the court the library staff would do the painting and reconfiguring.
Also on Monday, the court approved switching its phone service for jail inmates to NCIC of Longview, effective Jan. 1.
The court had recently heard representatives of that firm and the county’s current provider, a Dallas firm called Securis. Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer said it appeared switching to NCIC would generate more revenue for the county.
In other action Monday, the court approved an approximately $450,000 contract to pay Tyler Technologies for Eagle Recorder Land Record Software. The funds, to be paid over five years, will come from Records Management Fund fees, not tax revenue, Fowler said after the meeting.
Commissioners also approved County Road Administrator Andy Jordan’s request to authorize him to purchase one or two reclaimer machines from Ritchie Brothers Auction at an estimated cost of $45,000-55,000 each.
Jordan said state law allows bypassing the bid process if the county purchases the machinery from a state-licensed auction firm. Buying such equipment would reduce time for mixing and pulverizing, and he will sell the Road and Bridge Department’s oldest piece of equipment to recoup the cost, he told the court.
Also on Monday, the court:
–approved spending an estimated $500-600 yearly for jail extermination services.
–named Spencer to execute all necessary paperwork for the county employee health insurance plan throughout the plan year. Fowler, who would normally sign the papers, proposed the action because his wife, Nan, has joined the insurance firm which is the county’s carrier. After the meeting, he said he absent himself from the court’s discussion of workers’ health insurance when commissioners discuss the matter next year.
–heard Joyce Raabe of the Upshur County Texas Extension Education Association report that her organization had spent 4,382 volunteer hours supporting community activities or organizations in 2016 at a value of $103,875.54. They ranged from school backpack programs and 4-H programs to the Hannah House maternity home and The Clothes Closet, among others.