At its first meeting of 2012 Friday, Upshur County Commissioners Court approved seeking bids for a surface lease on the county-owned “school lands” in West Texas after hearing citizen Glenn Leach raise more questions about the lease between the county and a current tenant on the property.
At issue is about 17,700 acres of land in Baylor and Throckmorton Counties. Leach complained at the court’s Dec. 30 meeting that its grazing, farming and hunting lease with Spade Ranches Ltd. of Lubbock on the property violated the Texas Constitution.
The Constitution bars using revenue from the land for anything but schools, but part of the current lease gave Spade a discount with the provision it improve the property, Leach had objected.
On Friday, he asked the court whether Spade had provided any cash receipts or documentation of charges to prove the firm had spent money on improving the property.
Leach also made various other complaints concerning the school land.
Another citizen, John Melvin Dodd, asked the court to make certain it followed Texas Constitutional law and court decisions in granting a lease. He also asked the court to come up with answers to Leach’s questions, but no court member directly addressed Leach’s inquiry about proof of expenditures.
However, Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden said, “Whether there’s a problem there or not, there’s a lot of clarification that needs to be made.”
In other business Friday, the court voted 3-1 to let County Auditor Janice Tucker make adjustments to comply with Internal Revenue Service regulations on vehicles which county employees take home.
County Judge Dean Fowler said she had discovered that five employees weren’t being taxed, as the IRS requires, on vehicles they drive back and forth from home to work. Others were being taxed as required.
Crittenden, who voted against the motion, said “the employee should absorb the small expense of using the vehicle.” County Treasurer Myra Harris said such workers are on 24-hour call.
Crittenden said they should not be compensated for driving the vehicle.
Fowler told Crittenden, “You are correct in a way. We are paying the tax for the employee.” But Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree added that the county was offsetting the tax so the employees’ take-home pay would remain the same. Crabtree said their take-home pay is not increasing.
And County Engineer Eric Fisher addressed Crittenden’s complaint by saying, “That’s not a benefit to get called out at 11 o’clock at night.”
Crittenden replied some workers needed to take home vehicles, but others don’t. He said he wasn’t sure that everyone in the Sheriff’s Office who is taking home vehicles needs to (those employees reportedly have a different tax arrangement from the type that was discussed Friday).
After Ms. Tucker said the net payroll wouldn’t change by making adjustments, Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer successfully moved, with Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner and Crabtree supporting, to make them.
After some discussion, the court also approved revising specifications for subdivision roads. The action affects all plats filed after last Friday, while a maintenance bond was required effective immediately.
In presenting the proposed revisions, Fisher said they would require a final plat be accepted before construction begins, that the subdivider provide and pay for road testing, and a 2-year maintenance bond after construction is completed.
The bond would guarantee against defective materials or workmanship for a certain period, he said.
Crabtree did not vote against the changes, but complained that they provide for “a bigger government. . .It’s just regulations.” Hefner said he disagreed.
The court had discussed using the changes to protect homeowners in subdivisions if a developer goes bankrupt, leaving roads in poor condition.
“It’s not our responsibility to do that,” Crabtree argued. But Hefner said citizens in such circumstances would get no road work for their property taxes, and Crittenden said people “purchasing lots are going to be a lot more confident” with the changes.
In other business Friday, the court:
• Approved recording a letter of preclearance in which the U.S. Justice Department approved the county’s plan for redistricting commissioners’ precinct lines.
• Approved advertising for bids on numerous items for the Road and Bridge Department, including gasoline, diesel fuel, culverts, asphalt, rental equipment, etc.
• Accepted bids on four properties foreclosed for delinquent taxes, and rejected a bid on another.
• Accepted Heritage Bend, a road in the Serenity Estates subdivision, for the 2-year waiting period before the county will maintain it.
• Approved naming a private road in Raintree Lakes “Gray Fox Road” so a citizen could receive utilities. The county won’t maintain the road.
• Approved assigning a 2004 model truck from the Sheriff’s Office to County Fire Marshal Paul Steelman. A tree fell on his previous vehicle.
• Approved the Upshur County Community Fund’s request to put the tally board for its March fund drive on the courthouse lawn, and/or permission to use the courthouse sidewalk April 7 for a bake sale in conjunction with the annual Easter Egg hunt. In addition, the court approved the Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce’s request to use the lawn for the 11 a.m. hunt.