During last week’s commissioners court, precinct 4 commissioner Ken Cates and assistant DA Rebecca Lundberg introduced a number of drafts for various policy changes that would affect all of Kaufman County.
One policy change would impact the county’s culvert policy which has previously been largely undefined and unenforced and, according to Cates, has resulted in avoidable flooding issues and affecting various homeowners and even led to the deterioration of county roads.
“A continuing problem that we have that really impacts our road maintenance is handling the culvert installation and maintenance,” Cates said. “It's a huge undertaking in my precinct, and I think I can speak for the other precincts as well. Our culvert policy is either nonexistent or very unclear, and since we are approaching our ongoing final phase of subdivision regulations, I thought it prudent to speak to our attorneys about revising and updating our culvert policy. In many instances, we have landowners that choose not to install a culvert in their property access. When a culvert's not there, then water backs up into neighboring properties. We have lots of complaints about that.
“In addition, there are many more culverts that are old and inadequate. They're rotted at the bottom and are just dysfunctional. As we invest more and more money in these roads, we want to have a modern and enforceable culvert policy."
Previously, culvert policy has largely been independent for each precinct. Precinct 4, for instance, does have a policy that allows the precinct to sell culvert permits to private citizens, but it isn’t required. Assistant DA Rebecca Lundberg put together a draft for culvert policy and enforcement to be implemented universally across the county and is working with Kaufman County Deputy Clerk Monique Hunter and Cates and the other commissioners to finalize it and put it to a vote at a future meeting. Judge Richards is tentatively aiming for a vote on the first commissioners court meeting of July.
Cates and Lundberg also introduced a draft for an adjustment to the county’s public nuisance abatement policy to address the prevalence of derelict vehicles in precinct 4.
“We have properties where a number of vehicles are parked and become inoperable and are there for years,” Cates said. “Fluids leak. Rubber hoses rot. Oil and chemicals wind up on the ground. They become home for vermin and rodents. So we just wanted to take a look at the potential of updating our abatement policy to specifically address abandoned vehicles.”
The new policy would update the old one, which was drafted in 2004, to include statutory updates from the last 15 years. Once it is passed, those in violation of the policy could face civil as well as criminal charges depending on the nature of the case.
“I don’t know why people collect these things and why that happens, but the goal is to stop it and rectify it before it comes to out of control that they can’t afford to fix it,” Richards said.
The commissioners aim to vote on the policy by the end of July.
Elsewhere in the June 5 meeting of the commissioners court, the commissioners approved an interlocal agreement between Kemp and the county involving the exchange of two small roads in front of a county maintenance facility and storage lot traded for one of Kaufman County’s surplus gradeall machines. The measure passed unanimously.
“By the county taking ownership of the entire area, it will allow us to restructure and replat how we are able to store material and really improve efficiency,” Cates said.
The commissioners also accepted a $201,000 settlement from Garney Construction after one of their pipeline projects in the Crandall area resulted in the destruction of county roads. According to Cates, that settlement money will pay for contract construction to restore the roads.
The commissioners also discussed an upcoming project in precinct 4 that will involve the reconstruction of two dams that Kaufman County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Howie says are “in dire need of repair.”
Howie met with the National Resource Conservation Service who will be handling and, in large part, funding the dam repairs at dam sites 9 and 10 in Warsaw. The construction is slated to begin in late 2020, but could slip to early 2021.
Although the federal and state government will pay for the majority of the project, however, Kaufman County will be required to pay for 1.75 percent of the total project’s $1.8 million budget. Howie estimates that the total impact on Kaufman County will be around $100,000, but that the county would be able to spread that cost across two to three fiscal years depending on the length of the project, which has not yet been finalized.
“This will impact our road and bridge budget, but there’s really no alternative,” Cates said. “These things have to be done or these dams are going to fail.”
In an unrelated but similar issue, the commissioners also addressed a request from Bragg Smith, the president of Kaufman County Levee Improvement District Six, for partial reimbursement for a levee repair that he personally funded back in 2015.
Although the total cost of the repairs was $162,567.25, Smith only requested $69,000 which had been designated for the levee district but had laid dormant in the budget for years. According to Smith, the district is largely dormant though it is still in compliance with TCEQ. But since the district doesn’t have a checking account, he asked that the funds be transferred to his personal ranch. Assistant DA Rebecca Lundberg stepped in and advised against the move.
“I think that presents a problem for you guys as far as tracking and making sure that’s going back to levee improvement,” Lundberg said. “I know you're the only owner and I know you can prove that, but you can see the appearance of it going to a private property owner. And then we have no ability to track where those funds have come from, so a person with a right to those funds other than you would be anyone who had paid into that account previously. It's my opinion would be to open up that board and make sure the three members are appointed and it actually has a bank account and is doing the correct auditing and fiscal reporting that you're supposed to if you're asking for funds from the court."
“If it’s a public function and you and the court think it’s a valid entity, then I think I agree you should follow the terms of your bylaws,” Cates agreed. “You should establish a district bank account and let those generally accepted accounting principles flow with those funds to the levee district."
Judge Richards advised Bragg to open a checking account for the levee district, to find and adhere to the district’s missing bylaws, and to work with Lundberg and the county auditor to ensure that he was in full compliance with the law before the county approved his request.
“It’s public money, so we have to make sure we’re dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s,” Richards said.
The commissioners also approved the commissioners court meeting minutes for may 29, 2019, approved moving Gorge York’s salary schedule to Forensic Investigator from CID Investigator because of classification of position, salary schedule under the Texas Local Government Code, accepted the 2018 Kaufman County annual financial report, and approved line item transfers and claims for payment.