|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Legality of county meeting questioned
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – Despite questions regarding the legality of their meeting’s agenda, Trinity County Commissioners formally adopted a 65 cent per $100 in assessed value tax rate last week. During the special meeting held Friday, Sept. 30, Trinity County Clerk Diane McCrory warned that due to an error in the posted agenda, any action by the commissioners could be voided. In a prepared statement read at the start of the meeting, McCrory said the location listed on the agenda was inaccurate in that it listed the street address for the Trinity County Courthouse but then named the courthouse “annex” as the location. Friday’s meeting was the first to be held in the new commissioners’ courtroom in the Trinity County Courthouse. The commissioners had been meeting in the annex building across the street for the past two years while the courthouse was undergoing a $5.3 million renovation. While most of the county departments moved back into the courthouse back in August, problems with the audio recording system in the new commissioners’ courtroom delayed its use until Friday. McCrory told commissioners she contacted the Texas Attorney General’s office in Austin about the agenda error and was told by two attorneys that it was a major error and violated the Texas Open Meetings act. That law requires government agencies to provide the public with 72 hours of notice of the time, date and location of regular and special meetings, as well as a list of all items to be discussed. Based on information obtained from the AG’s office, the clerk advised commissioners to cancel Friday’s meeting, repost a corrected agenda, and postpone planned action for the three days required under the law. “In fact, I was even advised not to come to this meeting,” McCrory said, adding that commissioners “should proceed with caution.” Trinity County Judge Doug Page, who is in charge of the agenda, apologized for the error and said he has been in contact with both the county attorney and the Texas Association of Counties. To correct the agenda error, Page said he posted a notice on the door of the annex and stationed a member of his staff there to redirect any member of the public to the correct location. Trinity County Attorney Joe W. Bell subsequently agreed that those actions were enough to correct the error. During the meeting, commissioners held a final hearing on the fiscal year 2012 budget, which went into effect on Oct. 1. Under the budget, the county’s general fund is expected to have both revenue and expenses of just over $4.5 million. The total is about $6,500 less than was budgeted in FY 2011. In addition, the county road and bridge fund ‘s income and expenses are both listed at $991,435 for the coming year, which is down by about $39,000. While the 65-cent tax rate approved last week is the same as the rate used in FY 2011, increases in taxable values mean it will generate about $170,000 more in income. However, due to cuts in state grants and federal forest payments, the overall amount of income for both the general and road and bridge funds will be down. During the hearing on the budget, the only speaker to appear was Assistant District Attorney Bennie Schiro, who asked commissioners to consider adding $10,000 more to the DA’s budget. During the budget process earlier this summer, it was noted that the DA’s funds were severely impacted by cuts in state funds. While the commissioners had previously added $10,000 in local money to the DA’s budget, the available funds listed in the FY 2012 budget were only $130,866 – down from the $155,541 received in FY 2011. Schiro told commissioners unless another $10,000 could be found, District Attorney Joe Ned Dean planned to lay off his only investigator. The assistant DA noted that Dean and his staff had been working to try to come up with additional grants but failed to located any funding. Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham said he “hated” to see the DA have to layoff anyone, but said there was no additional funds available. “We can amend the budget at any time, especially if we can come up with more money,” Worsham said. He noted there was enough money in the DA’s budget to cover the investigator’s salary for part of the year and suggested that Dean postpone the layoff to see if additional funds could be found over the coming months. Following the public hearing, the commissioners formally adopted the budget without change and then approved the 65-cent tax rate. Under the order approved Friday, 63.15 cents of the rate will be earmarked for the general fund and 1.85 cents will go toward the road and bridge fund.