Editor: Shannon Cottongame
September 22, 2021
The Hill County Commissioners Court heard concerns from a citizen about the use of biosolids on area farms, made appointments to local boards and considered other agenda items during a regular session held Tuesday, September 14.
In open forum, Barbara Jenkins, who lives between Peoria and Vaughan, spoke to the court about the use of biosolids on farms near her house.
This fertilizer used by some local farmers is a byproduct of the City of Fort Worth’s wastewater treatment process. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported earlier this year that the vast majority of Fort Worth’s biosolid sites—43 properties—are in Hill County.
The City of Fort Worth calls biosolids a valuable resource that can be recycled by farmers and ranchers as a nutrient rich soil amendment, but the practice has been met with resistance from many rural residents living near the sites.
“‘Biosolids’ is a term created by a government agency to describe recycled human waste that’s being put on farms,” Jenkins said. “I know firsthand the downside of it. We live right across the street from a site.”
In addition to concerns Jenkins laid out about the safety of the practice, she said that the smell has kept her from being able to spend time outdoors and will negatively impact property values in the area if residents try to sell their homes to get away from the situation.
“The smell was so bad on one particular day that I had to leave my home just to get over the nausea and headache from breathing this stuff,” she said. “What a person does on his or her property is their business as long as it does not affect anyone else. There is no one in that area who is not affected.”
She also said that the flies attracted by the fertilizer are another constant nuisance to residents.
“I’m asking my elected officials to put my (health) and my neighbors’ health above a few farmers who want to save a buck,” Jenkins said.
County Judge Justin Lewis and Commissioner Larry Crumpton both said that they had visited the area and agreed that the smell was terrible, but Lewis said that he does not believe the county has any legal authority to ban the practice.
“I can find no county in the state that has banned it because counties don’t have authority to ban it,” Lewis said. He explained that some counties have passed resolutions saying that they are against the use of biosolids, but that does not prohibit the practice.
“I’m not just hearing this from you,” Lewis told Jenkins. “I’m hearing it from a lot of people.”
Responding to a question from Crumpton about what the county’s options might be, Lewis said that additional legal counsel would be needed on the matter.
In regular agenda items, commissioners accepted the resignation of Kent Smith from the Prairielands Groundwater Conservation District Board and appointed his replacement. Brad Daniels, General Manager of the Aquilla Water Supply District, will represent the county on the board.
The board consists of eight members who are appointed by the county commissioners courts for four-year terms. Each of the four counties in the district—Ellis, Hill, Johnson and Somervell—appoints two directors.
The four-year term now filled by Daniels began September 1.
Hill County Judge Justin Lewis said that Smith had served the county well during his time on the board.
The court also appointed Donna Neal to serve on the Hill County Child Protective Services (CPS) Board. Lewis said that Neal will be a welcome addition to a very strong board.
Commissioners voted to nominate current members of the Hill County Appraisal District (HCAD) Board of Directors as candidates to serve again in 2022-23. Local entities will elect directors in November. The county previously voted to place Eugene Fulton on the board, and other directors include Don Ford, placed on the board by Whitney ISD; Edith Omberg, placed on the board by the City of Hillsboro and Hillsboro ISD; Roberta Skelton, placed on the board by Hillsboro ISD; and Scot Kelley, placed on the board by smaller school districts in the county.
The court also passed a resolution of respect for Billye Demerson, who was a longtime, distinguished member of the Hill County Historical Commission (HCHC). The Honorable F.B. (Bob) McGregor, Jr., chair of HCHC, submitted the document for approval.
Demerson passed away on June 15 and was raised in Hillsboro by her paternal grandparents, the late Lee and Ora Baker Reed. She graduated as valedictorian from Peabody High School, and after attending Paul Quinn College to study music, she started the first kindergarten for black students in the community.
The resolution outlines her many contributions, including teaching piano and serving as musician for her church and providing leadership in the community through job fairs, food and clothing giveaways, holiday dinners, social work and the New Beginnings for Peabody organization.
She also negotiated with the City of Hillsboro to get the site of the former Peabody School donated to the community to preserve history and worked to bring the annual community parade and Hillsboro homecoming event to the community each July.
Commissioners also voted to close, abandon and vacate HCR 4357 to allow a property owner to put up a fence in the area. Only one other property owner was impacted, and she attended the meeting to ask questions about her address but had no objection to the action.
The court approved the purchase of a property at 119 Bois D’arc Street in Hillsboro, which will be used to provide additional parking at the county annex on Covington Street.
The county will seek bids on construction of the new Extension Office at the Hill County Fairgrounds after the court approved the prepared request for proposals (RFP). The county had been awaiting final drawings from MRB Group to put the project out for bid. Extension Agent Zach Davis said that the office is excited to move forward with the project.
Commissioners also voted to seek bids on holding pens for estray livestock. Lewis said that quotes received were close to the $50,000 cap at which the county must seek bids on a purchase, and he felt that it would be best to go out for bids.
The court approved the annual interlocal agreement between the Heart of Texas Council of Governments (HOTCOG) and Hill County for the county’s emergency notification system and observed and recorded the treasurer’s report for the CPS board.
Lewis reported that work continues to move along on the courthouse repairs, shelving installation is wrapping up at the Support Services Building with records scheduled to be moved in October and conversations continue about locating property for a county annex on the west side of the county.
Sheriff Rodney Watson reported that jail staffing continues to be an issue due to the state of the workforce and the fact that his department has been hit hard by COVID-19.
Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hemrick said that the county is working to get the word out about the free COVID-19 testing center that has returned to the Hill County Fairgrounds and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
There is no cost to any patient for the test, which is offered in a drive-thru format.
Lewis said that the testing site will operate through October 17 due to early voting beginning October 18, but he said that it can be moved to another location at that time if the county finds an available spot.
The court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, September 28, at the Hill County Courthouse.