Upshur County Commissioners Court approved 3-1 Monday a 5-year, $1.2 million surface lease of its West Texas “school land” to Calthan Cattle Co., LLC of Seymour.
The $1,213,332 lease, to be paid out in annual installments, is about $50,000 more than the county received from the current lessee, Spade Ranch, Ltd., according to County Judge Dean Fowler. The new lease is effective June 1.
It was approved over the protests of Pct. 1 Commissioner James Crittenden, who voted against it, and citizen Glenn Leach.
Leach told the court that firms besides Calthan who submitted proposals for the lease hadn’t requested to seek surface damages, but that the proposed contract with the Seymour firm would give it such damages from oil and gas activity.
He accused the court of not protecting the fiduciary interest of Upshur County school districts, which derive revenue from the more than 17,000 acres of land in Baylor and Throckmorton Counties.
Pct. 4 Comm Mike Spencer replied the provision only covered “personal crop damage,” and that the county would receive other damages.
Crittenden protested a portion of the contract that he said would require Calthan’s approval for the county to use its own land.
But Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said the county “can’t just come in there,” sell all coal and lignite on the property, excavate 300 acres, and tell Calthan that’s “tough.”
Fowler pointed out the contract’s provision that Calthan’s consent is not to be “unreasonably withheld” nor delayed.
Crittenden also objected that the contract should ban the cattle company from having the right to sell mesquite on the property to a barbecue dealer or another party. He said those proceeds should go to Upshur schools.
“I’ve never heard of mesquite being a crop,” Hefner responded. He, Spencer, and Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree voted for the lease.
Although one or more other members of the court disagree, Crittenden said Tuesday that mesquite is considered a form of timber in the area where the school lands are located. He cited a Texas Attorney General’s opinion that timber proceeds must go to schools, and said he had “wanted to get everything that the schools are rightfully owed.”
In another 3-1 vote Monday, with Crittenden opposing, the court approved an updated emergency management plan for Upshur County and the Cities of Gilmer, Big Sandy, Ore City, and East Mountain. He objected that the City of Union Grove was left off the list of cities on the meeting agenda.
Fowler told him that city was approved in the plan, and that the Union Grove city government will approve the proposal on its own since “each of the cities sign off on it.” He said that under the Texas Open Meetings Act, the court could not vote to add Union Grove to the list of cities on Monday’s agenda.
When Crittenden continued protesting, Fowler said, “We can argue about semantics. We’re doing it (approving the plan) for Upshur County.”
Fire Marshal Paul Steelman said the plan contained no changes from the past.
Also Monday, commissioners approved letting County Engineer Eric Fisher put proceeds from a recent auction of surplus equipment into the county Road and Bridge Fund.
Fisher said that, excluding sale of sheriff’s vehicles, the auction raised more than $186,000 when expected revenue was only $89,000. After the auctioner’s commission fee is paid, he said, he expected the county’s actual revenue to total $173,000.
He cited several equipment needs for his department, noting among other things that county roads have about 100 stop signs which don’t meet nighttime “reflectivity requrements.”
In supporting putting the auction proceeds into the Road and Bridge Fund, Spencer said the county was “way, way behind” in road maintenance and Hefner said funding for that department was “dragging way behind.”
The court also amended the county’s travel policy by stopping reimbursement for meals for employees on business trips unless they are away overnight.
The Internal Revenue Service had declared that reimbursement for meals on purely daytime trips is taxable, said Fowler.
“It’s silly, but they want to collect income tax on a meal. . . if the employee didn’t stay overnight,” Fowler said.
In other business Monday, the court:
• Approved a matter related to the employment of new Assistant District Attorney Natalie Miller.
• Opened, and tabled for Fisher’s study, two bids on a tractor/boom mower unit.
• Authorized the Information Technology Dept. to gather and organize all compact discs, computer programs and files in the 911 mapping building.
• Approved the $2,182 purchase of two computers for Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Rhonda Welch’s office.
• Approved a maintenance contract for an on-site sewage treatment system to be located at the Road and Bridge Department headquarters.
• Authorized Enon Baptist Church to use the 911 office parking lot for a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 21.
• Approved formal documents related to a state grant the county has approved for renovating the courthouse.
• Purchased an office chair for an employee in County Treasurer Myra Harris’s office for $119, plus shipping.
• Approved repairing a bus turnaround area on Giraffe Road.
• Authorized the Road and Bridge Department to take a load of ditch dirt to the Kelsey Cemetery.