|Trinity Standard - Local News
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County selects environmental officer
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – As of Monday, Trinity County officially had an environmental officer on staff to enforce state health and safety regulations. Funded under a $20,000 grant from the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG), Trinity County commissioners approved an agreement to use Walker County Environmental Investigator Richard Knight. Under the agreement, Knight will work part time in Trinity County for the next six months through the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department. Andy Isbell, the director of the Walker County Department of Planning and Development, noted his staff also will be handling the paper work involved in the enforcement of environmental laws in Trinity County. He said his office would provide the Trinity County officials with regular updates and reports concerning Knight’s activities. Isbell noted that data such as how many pounds of trash Knight manages to have cleaned up from illegal dump sites would help Trinity County obtain another DETCOG grant to continue the program. In meeting with commissioners during their meeting Monday, Knight said he has received specialized training in handling air, water and soil quality complaints as well as for illegal dumping investigations. Both Knight and Isbell said they plan to use surveillance cameras to help identify illegal dumpers. “That can sometimes be an issue so I wanted to make you aware of it up front in case you had any objections, or questions” Isbell told commissioners in reference to the cameras. None of the commissioners voiced any opposition, and instead offered words of encouragement for Knight to identify and catch as many illegal dumpers as possible. County Attorney Joe Bell noted that because the county now has an environmental officer on duty, commissioners could legally use county equipment to clean up residential sites once an order is obtained from a justice of the peace or other judge. Various property owner associations from Lake Livingston area subdivisions have approached commissioners in the past about having what essentially are abandoned mobile homes and other dilapidated structures removed from private property. Under state law, the county could only assist in the clean up if they had a trained environmental officer on the payroll. Because Knight will be working only part time in Trinity County, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department will be overseeing his work. Anyone wishing to file an environmental complaint or contact Knight is being asked to call the sheriff’s office at 642-1424 and the message will be passed to the officer. Sheriff Ralph Montemayor said that in addition to his current status as a peace officer in Walker County, Knight also would be commissioned as a Trinity County deputy sheriff. Fine collection study continues In other business Monday, commissioners met with Pct. 1 Constable Woody Wallace about plans to step up collections of fines assessed on Class C misdemeanors. During their January meeting, Wallace said there was about $2.5 million in unpaid fines owed to the county and that a plan was needed to try and collect the money. He noted that because the Class C misdemeanors constitute the most minor of criminal offenses, they do not carry jail time and many people simply refuse to pay. Wallace noted the many Class C offenders could be sentenced to jail for refusing to pay the fine but that local justices of the peace were reluctant to use that punishment due to the cost involved in housing inmates. At that time, commissioners indicated that if judges felt jail time was needed, they would not object to paying the cost of housing the additional prisoners, especially if it encouraged the offenders to pay their fines. Commissioners also asked Wallace to meet with other officials, including Bell and Pct. 1 Commissioner Rich Chamberlin to try to come up with a plan to address the problem. During Monday’s meeting, Wallace said that as part of the solution, they were trying to find a way to provide his deputy constables with gasoline in order to actively seek out those who owe fines and serve them with warrants. The constable explained that not only are his deputies not salaried, they provide their own vehicles, vehicle insurance and gasoline. “They are not asking for any compensation other than for the gasoline,” Wallace said. “We all know that’s getting expensive and that it’s only going to get worse.” While the deputy constables do receive a fee for serving civil papers, criminal warrants issued through the JP courts provide no service fees. Because the county does not have money budgeted to cover the cost of gasoline for the deputy constables, Chamberlin told his fellow commissioners they were trying to come up with a source of income that could be used for that expense. “It is imperative that we do it or we’ll be showing the bad guys that it’s possible to ignore the law,” he said. Wallace said they would continue to work on the issue and would report back to the commissioners at their March 14 meeting. Other business During the meeting, the commissioners also: • Approved a bid from Waters Construction Co. of Huntsville to extend the pavement on Pinecrest Road south of Trinity by 1,500 feet at a cost of $14,010. One mile of the road in Precinct 1 was paved late last year but the pavement ended on the slope of a hill. Chamberlin said that caused safety issues for the county equipment used to maintain the unpaved section. To make it safe for the county crews, it was decided to extend the new pavement by another $1,500 feet. • Agreed to appoint a Jury of View and schedule a public hearing for 10 a.m. Monday, March 21, on disputes arising from the new county road map. • Authorized the sheriff’s department to sell by auction a 2006 Crown Victoria which had been used as a patrol vehicle. The car will be sold through the Trinity Auction House and commissioners voted to set a minimum bid of $1,500. • Approved a one-year vehicle lease agreement between the sheriff’s department and Wiesner of Huntsville. • Authorized the sheriff to purchase three digital cameras for patrol vehicles at a cost of $10,320. Montemayor said he would use money from his seized funds account to make the purchase, which would allow him to upgrade the final three patrol cars in his seven-car fleet to digital equipment. • Accepted the donation of $1,543.99 from Larry Barak of Westwood Shores to purchase window barriers from all seven of the sheriff’s department patrol vehicles. Montemayor said at present, all seven of the vehicles have prisoner cages but only one has a window barrier which prevents suspects from kicking out back windows . • Authorized Montemayor to continue efforts to become part of a Sheriff’s Association of Texas pilot program involving jail and records management computer software. • Adopted a resolution allowing delinquent personal property accounts to be turned over to the tax collection attorneys on April 1. In the past, the accounts weren’t turned over to the attorney for collection until July 1. Tab Bell of the law firm of Perdue, Branden, Fielder, Collins and Mott LLC, said the personal property tax account primarily involve business inventories and that by allowing them to begin work on April 1, they hope to identify problems that business owners may be having earlier and get them on a payment plan. • Voted to return an erroneous tax payment of $666.38 to Charles B. Carter. The refund was sought after Carter’s mineral interests were re-evaluated. County Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Madden Warren said a number of smaller refunds were made to other mineral interest owners but that Carter’s was the only one that required action from commissioners. Under Texas law, any refund over $500 must be approved by the county commissioners. • Approved a proclamation designating February as Black History Month in Trinity County. • Approved a resolution asking the Texas Legislature not to created any unfunded mandates during their current budget crisis. Local officials are worried that the legislature may try to solve the state’s budget woes by passing on the cost of programs to local governments, which would require county governments to either raise taxes or cut services. • Voted to name Julie Schneider as the county’s website coordinator. Schneider currently works in County Judge Doug Page’s office.