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Jasper County Commissioners Court February 6, 2024

The Jasper County Commissioners Court met in a somber Special Session on Tuesday, February 6, 2024 and covered the following agenda items:

Retired Precinct 4 Commissioner Vance Moss led the Court and audience in prayer and the Court then recognized the recent losses of Jasper County Tax Assessor/Collector Bobby Biscamp and retired Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Judy Richbourg of Buna.

The Court then discussed the requirements for an immediate selection of an interim appointee for the Tax Assessor/Collector position and noted that Mr. Joe Hawthorn of Jasper was currently the sole candidate for the position in the Primary and General Elections.

After a brief discussion, Mr. Hawthorn was asked if he would accept the interim appointment for the term ending December 31, 2024, to which he agreed, and the Court then voted to appoint him to fulfill that role as well as approving his bonds that are required by law.

I then administered the oath of office to Joe Hawthorn to allow him to begin performing his duties.

Following this, the Court discussed an upcoming Fire Act Grant, which would allow local volunteer fire departments to apply for a regional radio communication project for up to one million dollars, enabling them to upgrade mobile and handheld radio equipment in each department.

The Court heard from Jasper County Emergency Management Coordinator Billy Smith and Beech Grove Fire Chief Jamie Gunter who advised that they had attended a webinar with a representative of the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission regarding the requirements of the Fire Act Grant.

They further related that the grant required a ten percent match and that if the ten volunteer fire departments each contributed $10,000 as a match, they would each receive $100,000 in additional funds for radio equipment.

Smith and Gunter also advised that counties could not be an eligible applicant in the process and for it to be a regional type of application, one VFD would be required to make the application with all other VFD's committing to the funding match under interlocal agreements.

The Court then voted to assist in the administration, procurement and coordination of the grant process to help the VFD's accomplish this grant project.

Next, the Court voted to approve resolutions on behalf of Criminal District Attorney Anne Pickle, who was applying through the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission and the Governor's Office for two grants under the Violence Against Women Act Special Prosecutor grant and the Victim Assistance Coordinator grant through the Criminal Justice program.

Concluding business, the Court discussed a resolution that was presented by the Big Thicket to support a proposed federal expansion in Jasper, Hardin, Tyler, Orange, Liberty and Polk Counties and further noted that the expansion involved taking in 48,625 acres of land in Jasper County south of the B.A. Steinhagen (Dam B) Reservoir running down to the Evadale area, taking in large areas west of Kirbyville and Buna, which would have to be approved and funded by the U.S. Congress.

The Court noted that the proposed expansion maps appeared to contain several private properties owned by farmers, ranchers and homeowners and had concerns regarding the effects of removing this much acreage off the tax rolls which would shift an added burden to homeowners and businesses outside of the expansion area, as well as stifling growth and freedom of access and travel in the rural communities.

The Court received a lot of questions on the effects on the timber industry, which Jasper County relies upon heavily, as well as effects on hunting and fishing activities on hunting leases and private property, including the operation of motorized vehicles, ATV's and tractor equipment to access and maintain hunting leases if the expansion is authorized by Congress.

The Court heard from several individuals in the audience that had concerns about what would happen in the future after the expanded boundaries were established, as well as discussion regarding taking on more property, although some federally owned parks already in Jasper County were not repaired or upgraded due to the lack of federal funding.

The Court discussed that a fraction of the costs of having federal property within a county were paid by the federal government through the Pay in Lieu of Taxes program, but noted it was a very small amount and that it did not reimburse Emergency Services Districts, which would in effect reduce funding to local volunteer fire departments.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the Court opted not to adopt the resolution and to table the matter indefinitely until proper public outreach could be made to ensure that every single property owner, as well as those property owners adjacent to the proposed expansion, were contacted and provided an opportunity to provide input and to opt out of the expansion.  The Court also added that the effects on Jasper County's timber industry and its ability to thrive in a global market where industry often moves to areas with lower costs for timber and resources were of high importance and wanted written assurance from the WestRock paper mill, Louisiana Pacific and other local mills and logging operations that this expansion would not hinder their ability to operate and thrive in Jasper County.

That covers it for this Court meeting.  Please keep the families of Mr. Bobby Biscamp and Judge Judy Richbourg in your prayers.  Have a peaceful week and as always, feel free to give me a call if you need anything my way.

Mark Allen, County Judge

Jasper County, Texas


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