Commissioners enact 30-day county burn ban

Editor: shannon Cottongame

March 30, 2022

The Hill County Commissioners Court implemented a 30-day burn ban for unincorporated areas of Hill County and discussed other business during a meeting held Tuesday, March 22.

The county has recently had a sharp increase in grass fire calls, although the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which the Texas Forest Service uses to make a determination of drought, has not risen to the level that typically necessitates a burn ban. That determination is usually made when the number reaches 575 on a scale from 0-800, with zero being no moisture depletion and 800 being absolutely dry conditions. As of the date of the meeting, Hill County’s number had not risen above 493.

Absent a high drought index number, County Judge Justin Lewis explained that the county’s options to implement an enforceable burn ban are limited without declaring a state of disaster. Under the Texas Local Government Code, the court can enact a limited burn ban by finding that drought conditions exist and create a public safety hazard.

“Any time we put a burn ban on I’m infringing upon your property rights,” Lewis said. “I’m hesitant to do these things. I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for it, because there can be,” he added.

The judge said that he had only been contacted by one fire department and asked Emergency Services District (ESD) 1 President Ken Goins, who was in attendance, for his opinion. Goins said that burn bans can help prevent some fires, but there will always be some people who are not going to observe the rules.

Hill County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Scott Robinson said that the recent fires have put a strain on dispatchers.

After discussion, the court voted to implement a 30-day burn ban that can be lifted by the judge if conditions improve.

The court made selections regarding providers of county supplies and services over the next year after opening bids submitted by companies.

Commissioners accepted bids by Scott Oil for offsite fuel in Precinct 1, Big Czech for onsite fuel in Precinct 2, Independent Oil for offsite fuel in Precinct 2 and onsite fuel in Precinct 3, and Itasca Co-op for offsite fuel in Precinct 4.

Janek & Whitten Construction had the winning bid for hauling of materials in precincts 1, 3 and 4. Precinct 2 Commissioner Larry Crumpton expected to be under the $50,000 cap at which the county must accept bids for services and did not accept a bid.

Commissioners accepted a bid from Yoder Construction for bridge and concrete box culverts.

Other bids were accepted for supplies and services and companies will be utilized based on quantity, quality, availability and cost.

Lewis noted that no bids were received for scrap metal services, and the county will solicit bids again.

The new contracts will begin April 1 and continue through the end of March 2023.

Commissioners also observed and recorded the county’s three-month budget report. County Auditor Susan Swilling pointed out that the county continues to exceed the sales tax revenue estimate in the county budget.

Judge Lewis said that State Comptroller Glenn Hegar has reported that sales tax revenue is up throughout the state and attributed the increase to two main factors: the growth of the state; and action by the legislature a couple of years ago to return online sales tax proceeds to their point of origin.

The county estimated sales tax revenue for Fiscal Year 2022 at about $2.4 million. If the current trend continues, the county could end the year with an unprecedented $3 million in sales tax revenue.

Commissioners also made an appointment to the ESD 1 Board of Commissioners at last week’s meeting. Kris Watson, who lives near Blum and serves as a firefighter in Cleburne, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board.

The court voted to add First Street in Irene to the Hill County Road Maintenance Map. Judge Lewis said that the county has been working with other agencies to assist Irene with extensive flooding issues for some time. With the court’s action, the portion of First Street that serves the community’s post office will be added to the county’s maintenance map.

Commissioners also approved placing a stop sign at the intersection of HCR 3110 and HCR 3206 in the Abbott area.

The county will not seek bids for its insurance coverage this year after the court opted to negotiate with the Texas Association of Counties, the current insurance provider, to renew in in July.

Lewis said that the court sought bids from insurers two years ago and generally seeks bids every three to five years. Due to the claims the county has had recently, the judge recommended against going out for bids this year, noting that TAC has been reasonable and it is unlikely that the county would qualify for a better deal from another provider this year.

Commissioners approved an order calling the May 7 constitutional amendment election called by Governor Greg Abbott.

The court approved an amendment to the county’s credit card policy for emergencies that may come up in the jail. While the expenditures will still come before the court, the move will allow the sheriff’s office to address any unforeseen maintenance issues that arise and must be immediately repaired to keep the jail in compliance with state standards.

After considering agenda items related to property development, the court approved a preliminary plat for Ivy Ranch Estates located off of HCR 4434 and a minor plat for Thomas Stone Farms located off HCR 4358.

A minor plat was also approved for Thomas Estate Farms located at State Highway 171 and HCR 4205 to allow the property owner to sell a house and a small amount of property on the farm.

A replat of an individual’s property in White Bluff to combine a lot and a half was also approved by the court.

The court approved renewal of the Westlaw online legal research service that is available to courts and attorneys in the county at a cost of $1,064 per month for a 36-month term.

A contract was approved with Tyler Technologies for data management software that will save the county money compared to the previous software used across multiple offices.

Commissioners observed and recorded the Hill County Juvenile Probation Department’s financial audit, which the court noted looked good again this year, the Child Protective Services Board’s February treasurer’s report, which showed net income of $9,764.50.

In other comments at the meeting, Swilling and Judge Lewis reported that they met with a representative from the Texas Association of Counties regarding the county’s casualty and property insurance claims. “Safety is something we need to start stressing,” Lewis said. “We need to create a culture of safety here.”

The judge said that he plans to bring a safety policy before the court and expects other discussions about safety in the future.

The meeting concluded with an executive session for the court to consult with the county attorney and discuss economic development. When open court resumed, commissioners voted to have the county attorney terminate the county’s contract with Global Tel Link for services at the county jail. The court also voted to waive a deductible related to an auto accident last year.

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