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Stories Added - December 2009
Copyright 2009 - Polk County Publishing Company
IAH will generate $1.5 million in annual revenue to county
Polk County Enterprise - December 2009
LIVINGSTON – Polk County’s partnership in the creation of the IAH Detention Center has outperformed expectations of those that drafted the business plan and is generating “waterfall” of revenue, according to Herb Bristow, a Waco attorney who serves as legal counsel for the IAH Public Facility Corporation. He spoke at Tuesday’s session of the Polk County Commissioners’ Court. County revenue derived from the number of inmates housed at the facility each day as well as revenue from long distance calling cards purchased by inmates should amount to $1.5 million this year, according to County Judge John Thompson.
“This is going to spin off several hundreds of thousands of dollars more than was budgeted,” Thompson said. Bristow spoke to commissioners Tuesday as they considered approving a one-year extension of the agreement between Polk County and the private corrections firm Community Education Centers Inc., formerly CiviGenics. The IAH Public Facility Corporation was formed and included Polk County officials, Corplan Corrections, Municipal Capital Markets, builder Hale-Miles, and the private corrections firm CiviGenics. Polk County’s role has chiefly been to serve as a conduit and allow IAHPFC to qualify for tax-exempt bonds. Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet and County Judge John Thompson serve on the IAHPFC board in additional to Sheriff Kenneth Hammack, Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Darrell Longino and Melvin Joice. No county funds have been spent to develop or operate the facility.
The financing and operations contract – which was expanded in 2006 – was set to expire Dec. 21. Existing tax laws limit the term of the contract extension to one year. “This facility is working as good or better than originally predicted,” Bristow told commissioners. “The facility was rated as the top ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility in the nation.” Bristow said that rating is largely due to the facility having paperwork in order, but the “end result is the facility is a good facility.” Over the last one-and-a half to two years, ICE has made requests for additional services and staffing. The original agreement to build the $15.6 million facility was to house 525 inmates for several agencies, the U.S. Marshal Service, ICE, and secure 25 overflow beds for inmates being held by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Today, the facility generates average revenues of more than $100,000 a month.
“By the end of this (budget) year, those average revenues will be more like $125,000 a month and more like $1.5 million or $1.6 million in this current year,” Bristow said. Earlier Thursday, the IAHPFC board approved a contract with J.E. Kingham Construction Co. to add an inmate processing center to handle large numbers of detainees that ICE officers apprehend from time to time in single operations. Bristow added that ICE’s priority is that the facility “handles incarcerated immigrants appropriately. They constantly request new and better ways to do things.” IAH officials are currently working on requests to expand daily exercise facilities, add staff and implement federal wage rates. Those increased services will result in higher per diem fees IAH charges the agency leading to more revenue going into county coffers, and additional jobs and better wages for workers who predominately live in Polk County. The new processing center is designed so that it can be easily converted into additional inmate beds in the future if the ICE contract were to end. “If the processing center is not needed, you just put bunks in there,” he said.
On a motion by Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent, the court voted unanimously to extend the contract one year. Bridge repairs Commissioners also discussed a report from Nancy Smith, bridge engineer for the Lufkin District of the Texas Department of Transportation in an effort to maximize benefits from the TxDOT for off-system bridge replacement and expedite repairs to two Polk County bridges that failed the most recent TxDOT inspection. TxDOT inspects all bridges on public roadways in Texas that are not part of the state highway system, Smith told commissioners. She presented results of those inspections, made in July 2009, along with maps and what needs to be done to improve bridges to allow heavier trucks or school buses to use the bridge.
The report also updates commissioners on any signage that needs maintenance. Under the federal bridge replacement project, 80 percent of the cost is paid by federal highway funds, 10 percent by TxDOT and 10 percent by the county. That 10 percent match can be satisfied by work done to bridges, culverts or structural improvements performed throughout the county. Examples of eligible work cited by Smith included installing a culvert in a low-lying area of roadway and raising the level of the road or replacing deck boards in bridges. Grading or putting “rap” on roads would not qualify, according to Smith. Smith added that work done by private engineering firms under contract with the county would also qualify for the 10 percent match.
The county had already tasked James Flournoy with Klotz & Associates to design repairs for two bridges on county roads that did not pass TxDOT’s 2009 inspection. Those bridges are on Duff Road at Menard Creek in Pct. 4, and Carrington Cemetery Road near Seven Oaks in Pct. 3. Thompson told Smith that the county has traditionally applied to replace as many bridges as TxDOT would allow. “So what is that number,” Thompson asked. “Two or three,” Smith answered. Polk County does not have the worst bridges in the district, but it has about the highest number of bridges of any county in the Lufkin district, according to Smith. “You’re right up there with Shelby County with right around 100 bridges,” she said.
“You have more opportunities than other counties to participate in this.” Despite that increased opportunity, Overstreet pointed out that in his seven years on the court, only one bridge in his precinct has been replaced under the program. “I didn’t have anything to do with that bridge on the program, that was (former Commissioner Dick) Hubert.” That bridge was on Kelly Road. Overstreet also pointed out that one of the bridges that is eligible for the program is “not a critical piece of infrastructure.” Motorists using the bridge on Duff Road have access via alternative routes. Only a single property owner uses the Menard Creek bridge to reach their property, Overstreet added. “It’s a cut through. It’s not a bus route and everyone has access from each side,” Overstreet said. Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis pointed out the bridge in his precinct is not a vital route either.
“The only thing on the other side of the bridge is one house and a cemetery,” Purvis said. Smith said transportation officials in Austin largely based the qualification on the sufficiency rating reported after the inspection. After a short discussion on what could be done to shorten the two to three year delay from the time of the agreement between the county and TxDOT until actual work begins, Flournoy offered a possible shortcut. “What if we take two or three bridges off that list, we design them and they’re ready to let next summer, would you have the money available?” Flournoy asked Smith. “That’s hard to say,” Smith answered. “But we have to guarantee (Klotz’s fees),” Overstreet said. Smith then said the program would allow the county to get three bridges repaired and only have to pay a $50,000 design fee Klotz would charge.
Commissioners will continue to study the report Smith delivered during Tuesday’s meeting and consult with Flournoy and may draft a resolution to be considered at the next court session. Thompson described the plan commissioners usually follow for the off-system bridge program. Once the TxDOT report is delivered, commissioners make their own survey, consult with Klotz engineers and make a plan which is then presented during a Commissioners’ Court in the form of a resolution to participate in the bridge replacement program. Smith said her department can get all the paperwork re\ady, except for the work each Road and Bridge precinct agrees to perform as the 10 percent match. AgriLife Extension The three AgriLife extension agents assigned to Polk County delivered reports on programs they provide to residents here. Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Cassandra Coleman informed the court that she has accepted an opportunity with Smith County and will be leaving Polk County at the end of the month. “I will really miss Polk County. If it were not a move up, I wouldn’t consider leaving.”
“By ‘up’ don’t you mean north?” Thompson interjected. “Actually I prayed, so I looked up,” Coleman answered. She added that several doors have opened that gave her confidence the move was the best decision for her family. She spoke on three programs that have impacted quality of life issues for many Polk Countians – Walk Across Texas, Master of Memory, and a training program for staff at local child care centers. Walk Across Texas promotes physical activity and eating right in an eight-week program to improve participants’ overall health. Eight teams of 120 people logged their exercise and eating habits throughout the program. Of the 120 who entered, 100 completed the program. The lowest week reported was 69 miles walked. The highest was 100 miles walked. As a whole, participants logged 13,299 miles. “That’s a lot of work. I am really proud of them.”
As a measure of the program’s effectiveness, agents calculated cost avoidance by reduced absenteeism and reducing costs of health care per person which calculated savings at $661,000. Coleman also oversaw a Master of Memory program targeted to rebuke the misconception that aging only affects memory. Eighty percent of those over age 65 believe that things related to aging affects memory. Through the year, 143 participants attended sessions that discussed, “Am I losing my mind?”, memory strategies and medical conditions that impact memory. At the end of the multi-session program, 97 percent of participants said they realized memory loss was not a normal part aging; 93 percent realized negative effects from medication and nutrition were affecting their memory and 99 percent said they now recognized three learning styles on content or concepts we see, hear or touch. Coleman’s third program, a training program provided to staff at 26 different child care centers that serve more than 1,200 children. Participants in the training had an average age of 40, 70 percent had a high school diploma and most had about nine years of experience.
Those surveyed at the end of the workshop, 96 percent said they had learned information they planned to use at the present time and in the future. AgriLife Extension Agent Chad Arbuckle said participation in the 4-H Afterschool program has participation numbers soaring. During Arbuckle’s first year with Polk County, 228 were enrolled in 4-H clubs and another 622 participated in shorter term curriculum enrichment activities like Ag in the Classroom. This year, 378 are enrolled in 4- H and more than 1,000 in curriculum enrichment. 4-H After School programs are held at the Boys and Girls Club, the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation and the Montessori school. A Junior Master Gardener program, food show and other 4-H projects and events give youngsters who may not have the resources to show an animal the chance to reap the benefits of the 4-H program.
Another program that Arbuckle presented through a partnership with the Juvenile Probation department give participants a chance to learn to cook easy, nutritious meals and compete in a food show. Participants also learned other important life skills that were part of the curriculum. Mark Currie, AgriLife Extension Agent for Agriculture, told commissioners that one new program that is being developed in partnership with the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce is a Master Naturalist group. This corps of trained volunteers will work to develop ecotourism assets in the Lake Livingston and Big Thicket areas. “It’s going to bring a lot of tourists to the county. People are deeply interested in wildlife and not just to hunt and kill them, but just observing,” Currie said. “We hope to get this thing up and running after the first of the year,” Currie said. “We get them through the training and then they’ll start community service work.”
This program is a joint effort with Tyler and Trinity counties as well. Currie said his series of beef cattle workshops is continuing to grow. Producers who participated in the most recent workshop reported an 80 percent increase in knowledge. The desired outcome from the beef cattle workshops is increasing profitability and that’s hard to attain with input costs raising and market prices falling. “Beef is a higher-priced form of protein and we have to work hard to keep demand for beef high.”