Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler said Friday he plans to research charges which a citizen made to the County Commissioners Court that day that the county’s lease to a Lubbock firm on the county’s “school land” in West Texas violates the Texas Constitution.
After hearing the complaint from Glenn Leach, the court informally postponed until January advertising for bids on leasing the 17,700 acres in Baylor and Throckmorton Counties.
The agreement with the current lessee, Spade Ranches, Ltd., of Lubbock, expires May 1, and gives Spade only grazing, farming and hunting rights.
Leach charged that the state Constitution and several Texas Attorney General opinions bar using revenue from the land for anything except schools, but that part of the current lease involves “conservation improvements.”
He said the 5-year lease which the county granted Spade in 2007 “was not the highest bid,” but was offered at a discount with the provision of improving property.
Part of the lease reads that Spade “will conduct visible management practices to improve the land. . . at a cost to Lessee of at least $3 per acre per annum. These practices may include fencing or fencing repair, soil erosion control, weed and brush control, water impoundments, and other improvements. . .”
Leach also cited a surface- use agreement on the land between McCabe Petroleum Corp. of Midland and Spade. He complained that money from it was “diverted” rather than placed in the county’s Permanent School Fund.
Court members offered little comment on Leach’s remarks, but Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer said the court needed “to fine-tune the current lease.” He also said he had had two people who are interested in leasing the property ask for a packet.
Fowler told commissioners he would work on the matter next week and “get a packet to you.” He said he would probably recommend opening bids March 15.
Fowler told The Mirror after the meeting he appreciated Leach “pointing those things out and I’m going to do some research on those.”
In other action at its final meeting of 2011 Friday, the court approved a change in the policy on personnel holidays which will now require workers to use their compensation time for working on holidays within six months.
Fowler told The Mirror the change was to “stop the accumulation of holiday time” and “lessen the liability on the county.” Under the old policy, he said, an employee could accumulate several hundred hours of holiday time and collect a large payment upon leaving the county’s employ.
That created a problem in planning the county’s budget, Fowler added, noting “We’ve had some pretty large payments, and it’s required amendments to the budget.”
County workers now will lose any such compensatory days they don’t use within six months. “They need to use them, not save them up for a retirement package,” Fowler said.
In other major business Friday, the court approved purchases of $800 for a computer and $700 for a projector for Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Laura Lee Norred’s office.
Commissioners also took no action on a proposal to place Heritage Bend, a road in the Serenity Estates subdivision, on the 2-year waiting period before becoming county-maintained. After County Engineer Eric Fisher said a surety bond was required, Fowler suggested the court handle the issue in January.