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Commissioners vent during debate on bridge repairs
Polk County Enterprise - September 2008
BY James Baugh
Staff Reporter

LIVINGSTON – Tensions ran high during Polk County Commissioners Court Tuesday as Pct. 3 Commisioner Buddy Purvis fought a losing battle for funds to make repairs to four bridges. The court met at 9:30 a.m. for a public hearing on the proposed tax rate – which remains unchanged from the previous year – for fi scal year 2009. During that meeting Pct. 1 Commisioner Bob Willis and Purvis both voted against leaving the tax rate unchanged and opposed the budget for fi scal year 2009. When the court considered the agenda item proposing action on bids received for the repair of four bridges in Pct. 3, things began simply and quickly devolved into a heated argument with swearing and raised voices.

The bids received for the work under normal circumstances were to be opened at the auditor’s offi ce, Thursday, Sept. 18 but Purvis’ secretary, Dinah, told the court that after speaking with both Marcia Cook in Judge Thompson’s offi ce and Stephanie in the auditor’s offi ce she decided not to leave the sealed bids because County Auditor Ray Stelly was not there to open them. Instead she placed them on the dashboard of her vehicle where they remained until Tuesday, unopened. A brief discussion began as to whether or not the bids could be opened after the publicly stated date and in commissioner’s court rather than at the auditor’s offi ce. Judge Thompson halted the discussion and said that the decision was the auditor’s and asked him what he wanted to do. Stelly expressed some discomfort about opening the bids given the circumstances but was promptly cut off with an expletive from Purvis.

Stelly began again, “I don’t want anybody to come back later and say they weren’t able to get here or there was...” At which point he was again interrupted by Purvis who said, “They didn’t have plenty of notice before?” Willis asked if anyone had received calls about bids that hadn’t been received for some reason and Thompson and Stelly both said they hadn’t. “Well then why don’t you just open it if that’s what he (Purvis) wants to do and let the court ratify it and get it off your shoulders?” said Willis. Stelly then opened the single bid that had been received and read it aloud to the court. The sole bid was from Davis and Brown Construction in Blanchard and was for $432,000 – $155,150 for the bridge on East Clamon County Road, $63,192 for the bridge on Upper Leggett Road, $41,250 for the bridge on Hook Road and $171,750 for the bridge in Indian Springs. Thompson said to Purvis, “I would recommend if you want to go ahead with these bridges that we’ve got reserved $270,000 out of your $1 million that we’re talking about for next year...” Purvis interupted

Thompson, telling him “that ain’t gonna fl y, John, because that money we borrowed – we voted once to put those bridges back around the county and this other money that ain’t no...” at which point he was interrupted by Thompson. “How are you going to pay that money back, Commissioner?” Purvis asked how any of it is going to be paid back and Thompson explained that the county can borrow up to $2 million for next year’s budget without raising taxes at which point Willis jumped in and said, “Well, now you don’t know that to be a fact.” Thompson said that those numbers were projected by the county’s bond counsel in Houston and Willis shot back, “No, sir, that’s projected by you! You don’t have any idea what the valuation is going to be or any other emergency or catastrophe that comes up.”

Thompson asked if he wants to have things open-ended and Willis told him that he wants to go back to the way things were, “you’re putting the bridges on these poor commisioners.” Willis then suggested that if the bridges were to actually fail Purvis would have no options and that the court had changed things previously to prevent that from happening. “I’m trying to provide $1 million for Road & Bridge that you did not have,” said Thompson, at which point he asked Marcia Cook to bring him the budget. “We’ll tell you how more that Road & Bridge has got in it this year than last,” said Thompson. Willis claimed the numbers were only based on the tax rate and Thompson argued that he is talking about actual dollars.

“Well, I’m talking about the tax rate that has been adjusted down do that you can build this building over here that the voters said ‘no’ to,” said Willis, referring to the judicial center on which construction will soon begin. Thompson defended, “That’s being paid for by IAH and you know it.” With the budget in front of him, Thompson told the court that the tax rate was actually shifted to debt service to pay off Road & Bridge, the judicial center and other items. Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet then entered the fray and told Willis, “The voters also voted down a Road & Bridge tax, too, that would’ve helped us, so we can go on forever about who done what.”

To which Willis said, “What they decided was we had plenty of money, we just needed an attitude adjustment.” Thompson regained control of the meeting by reminding the court that he needed a motion on the original item. Purvis made a motion to accept the bid and Overstreet asks about the method of funding. Thompson asked Purvis what his method of funding would be, to which Purvis replied, “Like it’s always been.” “Borrow the money?” asked Thompson. “We ain’t had to borrow no money the last two or three years, John,” said Purvis. “Bullsh**,” said Thompson. “Bull?” said Purvis. “Bull, that is incorrect. That is not correct. We have borrowed money every...,” began Thompson. “Why do you want to put it all on a man that’s got 58 bridges on the north end of this county?” Thompson told him that is not what is happening, that the court is asking Purvis to budget like everyone else. “There is not a bottomless pit.”

“Well, I understand that, John,” said Purvis. Overstreet brings up the fact that Purvis will be leaving office in January and asks if that affects any of the decisions being made. Thomspon told the court that as of Oct. 1 – when the new fiscal year begins – Purvis will be limited to onetwelfth of his budget per month by law, according to District Attorney Lee Hon, to prevent him from leaving his successor without operating funds. There was a long pause in the courtroom before anyone spoke again and Willis posed a hypothetical question concerning the method of funding should the tax building burn down. Thompson told him that the court woud convene an emergency meeting and determine that if it happened and then pushed the meeting forward, calling for a motion on the item, once again.

Purvis made the same motion as before and was seconded by Willis but the motion failed to carry as Overstreet, Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent and Thompson voted against the motion. When Thompson tried to move to the next item Purvis interrupted again and asked what was going to be done about the bridges.

Thompson told him that he could put something on the agenda for the next meeting of the court. “How many months you got to put these bridges on the thing when these people up yonder done told us the bridge is unsafe to cross? Let Tommy figure it out over there. Hell, he knows it all,” said Purvis. “Why are you going to point the finger at me? I got as many as you and I make-do,” snapped Overstreet. Willis replied, “No you ain’t, sh**, you got...,” before he was interrupted byThompson reminding the court that they were moving on to the next item. During the nearly hour-long meeting the court also approved an emergency extension of contracts which expired during the disaster declaration for Hurricane Ike and adopted an order setting the 2009 tax rate at the same level as last year, .6277 percent which includes .3237 for maintenance and operations, .1541 for roads. and bridges and .1499 for debt service.

Commissioners also approved overtime pay in lieu of compensation time for county employees who worked during the period from Sept. 12 to Sept. 18 and for those who are still working overtime due to Hurricane Ike. Employees who were off-duty during that time will LIVINGSTON – The U.S. Army be paid as usual.

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