|Trinity Standard - Local News
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County preparing to move back into courthouse
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – With work on the restoration of the almost 100-year-old Trinity County Courthouse nearing an end, county officials began drafting plans Monday to move back into the building. During the meeting of the Trinity County Commissioners Court, officials approved the hiring of Galaxy Movers of Lufkin to move the county’s various departments back into the building. While no start date for the move has been set, project architect Michael Gaertner of Galveston confirmed Monday that the date of “substantial completion” is now scheduled for July 11. Substantial completion means that while some minor work will still be underway, the courthouse will be ready for the county to reoccupy it. The rededication ceremony for the building is now being planned with the help of the Trinity County Historical Commission and is set for 10 a.m. on Friday, July 22. In voting to hire the Lufkin moving company, the commissioners accepted a recommendation from the county’s building committee, which received a number of price quotes from area companies. County Auditor Sheila Johnson, a member of the committee, told commissioners they were recommending Galaxy because of the company’s prior experience in moving government offices and the flexibility they offered in scheduling the move. Under the plan, the offices will be moved back into the courthouse from their temporary home across the street one by one. Galaxy has indicated it will have two trucks and six men on hand to assist with the move. “We want to try to make these moves as seamless as possible because we don’t want to leave the telephones unanswered for any length of time,” Johnson said. She noted that Galaxy has indicated it would be available to move offices over weekends, but Johnson said that would not be the most desirable situation because the county also would have to have its people on hand to direct the movers. While most of the offices now housed in the courthouse annex on the south side of First Street in Groveton will be moved back into the courthouse, some of them will remain where they are. The Trinity County tax assessor-collector’s office, for instance, will remain in the annex. Much of the space it formally occupied on the first floor of the courthouse has been taken over by the new elevator that was installed as part of the renovation work. Completed in 1914, the courthouse has been undergoing a major restoration for almost the past two years. In addition to installing an elevator, the entire building will, for the first time, have a central air conditioning and heating system. The plumbing and electrical systems also have been replaced and the exterior has been restored as close as possible to its original appearance. In addition, the office spaces have been returned to their original colors, although they have been modernized with Internet and a new telephone system. The second floor district courtroom also has been returned to its original appearance with the judge’s bench and spectator seating rearranged in an east-west configuration. During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also approved two additional expense items for the restoration work, both involving items on the outside of the building. Gaertner said one change was to install handicapped accessible sidewalks to the southeast of the courthouse, which will serve both the courthouse and the Rock Building. Cost of this work was listed at $6,500. In addition, commissioners approved spending $8,250 to have the courthouse parking lot resealed. A proposal to spend $9,700 to patch the parking space was rejected. Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham noted the county has some experience with patching roads and could handle the parking lot repairs in-house at a much lower cost. The two changes to the contract boosted the renovation work’s current price tag to just under $5.3 million. The original bid on the project came in at $4.7 million but almost $600,000 in additional work has been approved over the past two years. Money to pay for the work is coming from a $5 million Texas Historical Commission courthouse preservation grant and $1.6 million in local funds obtained through the sale of Certificates of Obligation. In his report to commissioners, Gaertner said the irrigation system for the courthouse, jail and Rock Building complex is in the process of being installed and that grass sod would be laid around the courthouse next week. Once the sod is down, the architect said the final painting work on the building’s exterior will be completed. “Right now its far to dusty to paint,” he explained. Inside the building, painting is underway and door hardware is being installed. He noted that while the air conditioning and heating systems are all working, the permanent, wall mounted controls are not yet in place. “We’re in the home stretch. Things are really taking shape over there and its looking very impressive,” he said. Audit report In other business, commissioners were warned by outside auditor Tom Ramey of Trinity that they need to gain control of what could be a dangerous cycle of borrowing. In his audit report on the 2010 fiscal year, Ramey caution commissioners there is a growing problem with borrowing money to fund the county’s operation at the end of the fiscal year. “What’s happening is that you’re borrowing against the next year’s revenue to pay for this year’s expenses at the end of your fiscal year,” Ramey said. This “cycle of borrowing” resulted in short term debt totaling $485,000 when the 2010 fiscal year ended in September. “This is a process that has being going on for several years but it has been growing. I just want you to know that you really need to break out of this cycle,” he said. In his report, Ramey noted that in the 2010 budget year, the county’s general fund ended up with a deficit of $180,000 while the road and bridge fund overspent its budget by $118,000. Worsham noted one of the big ticket items that hurt the general fund budget last year was the money the county spent to house jail inmates in facilities outside Trinity County. He noted that in 2010, the cost of “contract jail space” went over budget by $179,000. “That’s almost all of the general fund deficit right there,” the commmissioner said. Ramey agreed that the inmate expense was a major problem, but noted that it was not the only one. In addition to contract jail costs, he noted there were major overruns in the cost of inmate medical care and county employee health insurance. Other business During the meeting, commissioners also: • Approved a proclamation designating June 19 as “Juneteenth” in Trinity County. Groveton Mayor Byron Richards also was on hand to read a similar proclamation for the City of Groveton. Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865 as the date that a Union army force lead by General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston and formally ended slavery in Texas. • Accepted two price quotes from Windstream Communications on the installation of cable communication lines. One quote was for $587.99 on connect the courthouse and Rock Building telephone systems and the other, for $9,160, would tie the courthouse, jail and courthouse annex into a single system. The connection with the Rock Building would be new but the county is currently leasing a cable connection between the jail and the annex at a cost of $346 per month or $4,152 per year. The new cable line will be owned by the county. • Approved changing the per diem meal allowance for officials who are traveling from $45 per day up to the new IRS allowable rate of $46 per day. • Accepted a $5,000 donation from the Friends of the Trinity County Historical Commission. The money will be used to cover the cost of the July 22 courthouse rededication ceremony. Any money not used for the ceremony will be returned. • Approved an agreement with Houston County that will allow Sheriff Ralph Montemayor to house local inmates in the new jail in Crockett at a cost of $38 per inmate per day. The county has been using the new San Jacinto County Jail in Coldspring to house inmates at a cost of $40 per day. Sheriff Ralph Montemayor told commissioners that San Jacinto County may lower its daily rate to $38 in order to compete for Trinity County’s business. He also noted that Polk County is building a new jail in Livingston that also may soon be in the running for the business. • Authorized Montemayor to accept a $56,500 grant from the Texas Department of Public Safety/Office of the Governor to take part in a remotely hosted records management system. Under the system, the sheriff’s department computerized arrest and jail records would be stored in an out-of-state facility and would be accessed through user-friendly software that would eliminate a great deal of duplicated effort on the part of local deputies and jailers. The sheriff said the software used by the system was developed by former law enforcement officers and is designed to force officers to enter required information needed by prosecutors. He noted this is the same system now in use by the Trinity Police Department and the Houston County Sheriff’s Department. • Approved the appointment of Kenneth Wright as a deputy constable for Precinct 4. • Authorized County Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Warren to hire a part-time clerk to help fill in during the absence of her chief deputy clerk, who is scheduled to undergo knee replacement surgery. • Approved the sale of a 1972 water tank truck to KL Ranch for a bid of $600. The old tank truck was owned by the Precinct 2 road and bridge department and has not been used for a number of years. • Discussed but took no action on the possible relocation of the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace’s office. County Judge Doug Page noted that Pct. 2 JP Bernie Beard and Pct. 3 JP Bobby Nicholds are located in the same building in Trinity and “aren’t getting along.” Pct. 2 Commissioner Rich Chamberlin noted the county currently does not have the money to rent an additional office and said the two JPs need to work out their differences. The other commissioners agreed. • Received a report from Larry Grant, chairman of Trinity County Crimestoppers, Inc., which offers cash rewards for anonymous tips that result in the arrest of criminal suspects. He noted that although the tip hotline, 642-2334, has a Groveton telephone prefix, it is actually answered by a company in Canada, which help insure that those receiving the tips cannot recognize the voice of the tipster. If the tip involves something that requires an immediate response, the Canadian company will contact the appropriate law enforcement agency directly. Otherwise, the tip information is written down and then emailed to the local Crimestoppers group. If the tip involved a crime that occurred within the cities of Trinity or Groveton, the email is passed along to the police in those cities. All tips involving crimes outside the city limits are passed directly to the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department. Grant noted that other interested agencies, such as constables, would have to receive the tip information from either the sheriff’s or police departments.