|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Final hearing slated on pct. line changes
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – After no one turned out Monday for their first public hearing, a second and final chance to comment on proposed changes to Trinity County’s precinct lines will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, in the courthouse annex in Groveton. At that special meeting, county commissioners also are set to adopt a $4.6 million FY 2012 budget, which goes into effect on Oct. 1. A preliminary vote on the tax rate also will be made and a hearing date will be set for the new tax rate. During Monday’s hearing on the redistricting plan, it was noted that while minor changes are being proposed to the Precinct 2 and 3 lines in the southern end of the county, the only major changes now on the table all occur within the city limits of Groveton. Groveton is currently split between precincts 1 and 4 and the question facing commissioners is how much and which areas of the city will be transferred from Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham to Pct. 4 Commissioner Jimmy Brown. During Monday’s hearing, commissioners examined a “primary plan” prepared by County Attorney Joe W. Bell. While noting the plan is acceptable, Worsham indicated he would prefer some adjustments. Brown, whose precinct already includes almost half of the county’s roads, has requested that no change be made that would add additional miles for his crews to maintain. Bell noted that making the adjustments within Groveton would not change the number of road-miles because the city is responsible for maintaining its streets. Currently, Groveton contracts with Worsham to maintain their streets but that contract is set to expire at the end of the year and the city will begin its own road program. To give Worsham and Brown more choices regarding the areas of the city that will be transferred, Bell came up with three alternate plans which will be reviewed during the special meeting on Tuesday. Anyone who wishes to comment on the redistricting plans under consideration may speak during the hearing. Commissioners are scheduled to select one of the plans after public comments have ended. Under state and federal law, the four commissioner precincts are adjusted after each federal census to balance the population. In order to meet the requirements of the law, Precinct 1 must lose at least 173 people while Precinct 4 must gain a minimum of 230. During Monday’s hearing, Bell noted that some minor adjustments will be made to the precinct lines in other areas but would not impact any other residents, He noted currently some of the precinct lines run down the middle of Highway 94 in both the north and south ends of the county. “That’s not a problem for commissioners, but it has become an issue for the justices of the peace,” Bell said. He noted that under the law, when a person is charged with a traffic offense, he is supposed to be tried in the precinct where the offense occurred. In the past, because the line has been in the middle of the highway, it sometimes has become unclear as to which precinct the violation occurred. To solve the problem, the line will be moved over to the edge of the highway’s right-of-way making the road totally within a single precinct. A similar adjustment will be made to the Trinity Cove/Lloyd Bell Road off FM 356 east of Trinity. The road is the dividing line between precincts 1 and 2 and at present is being maintained by Precinct 1. Because most of the people who use it – including all of the residents of the Trinity Cove subdivision – are in Precinct 2, commissioners agreed to move the line over a few feet so that the right-of-way is totally in Precinct 2. Another change given tentative approval on Monday will be the division of Voting Box 17 in Precinct 2. The box now includes the area of Precinct 2 west of the Pinecrest Road, including part of southern Trinity as well as the Pinecrest Estates, Trinity Plantation and Sportsmans Retreat subdivisions. Pct. 2 Commissioners Rich Chamberlin agreed to split the box, creating a new Box 21. Bell said he would present a plan on Tuesday showing where the division would occur but noted before such a change can be made, they would have to verify a voting location is available in that area. Currently, Box 17 uses the Trinity Community Center as its polling place. Bell said he would contact the River of Life Church located south of Trinity on Highway 19 to see if it could be used for the proposed Box 21. At present, Precinct 2 has only two voting boxes, a situation that has caused problems in the past when a precinct candidate in the general election died prior to the election. When situations like that arise, the vacancy on the ballot can be filled by an appointment from the election judges who serve the voting boxes in that precinct. However, if there are less than three voting boxes, the appointment is made by the election judges from the entire county. Budget work underway During Monday’s meeting, commissioners held another budget workshop and will hold a final one on Friday at 9 a.m. before next week’s scheduled adoption. During the session Monday, commissioners indicated their plan to keep the tax rate at 65 cents per $100 in assessed value. And while that tax rate is expected to generate more money than it did in FY 2011, commissioners noted that the new budget will be extremely tight, Worsham noted that during the coming year, the county will lose about $116,000 in federal forest service money. During FY 2011, the county received about $200,000 from the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act, which is designed to compensate counties and school district that have large, untaxable tracts of U.S. Forest Service land in their jurisdictions. That amount is expected to fall to just over $82,500 for FY 2012 and unless Congress reauthorizes the bill, it could fall to $25,000 or less by FY 2013. Worsham noted this money is allocated to the county’s road and bridge program and its loss would have to be covered by money from the general fund. In addition, the district attorney’s office and sheriff office also are losing state grants they used last year to fund positions and commissioners indicated the county is not in a position to cover that lost income without increasing taxes. “I don’t think we can go above the 65 cent rate at this time. People are hurting and I just don’t think we can justify it,” Worsham said. Chamberlin noted that he had hoped to really make a dent in the county’s debt during the coming year but said the money probably would not be available to make much of a reduction. During the workshop, Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Bobby Nichols appeared to make a request to provide the JP clerks with additional work hours each week. He noted that the clerks are now considered part-time help and are not eligible for county insurance. By allowing them to work an additional two hours per week, they would meet the requirements to be included in the benefit package. If the county could not make that change, Nichols asked that the clerks be granted an increase in salary. Although the commissioners took no action on the judge’s request on Monday, it was noted during the meeting that the budget being prepared for the coming year does not include pay raises for any county employee. It was also noted that it has been three years since salaries have been increased by the county.