Commissioners Approve Infrastructure Grant, Solar Reinvestment Zone, Mental Health Transport Agreement

Hopkins County Commissioners Court approved resolutions Monday agreeing to give the county judge authority to sign off on documents granting a reinvestment zone for Pine Forest Solar LLC and to move forward with a grant that would provide some funding for county road improvements. Health insurance and a multi-agency mental health transports agreement were also approved by the commissioners court during the July 13, 2020 session.

Hopkins County Commissioners wore face coverings during the July 13 court session; in keeping with the governor’s order, everyone is required to wear a face covering and enter the courthouse from the basement entrance, where a security officer is stationed to check temperatures.

TAC Health and Employee Benefit Pool Plan

County officials asked the court to consider a health and employee benefit pool plan through Texas Association of Counties for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Hopkins County Auditor Shannah Aulsbrook reported the plan being recommended is the exact same plan county employees have had for the past year, except that the rate will be a little bit lower. Instead of paying $682.76, the county would pay $675.92 per employee a month.

Employees are responsible for paying for insurance for spouse and children’s fees, if they choose to enroll them in the insurance plan., and the rate on that has gone down as well, Aulsbrook reported.

“You’re passing the rates for the 2020-21 year. So it does affect the 2020-21 budget but we have to pass it right now because is starts in 2020,” Aulsbrook said.

The Commissioners unanimously approved the TAC Health and Employee Benefits Pool Plan to provide the same level of employee health insurance at a marginally reduced rate.

Reinvestment Zone

During the public hearing for a proposed reinvestment zone for Pine Forest Solar LLC, Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Roger Feagley noted that the county was being asked to approve a reinvestment zone.

Feagley explained that hospitals and district can not do 381 agreements, so they have to do 312 agreements, which is a typical tax abatement.

“So what you are doing is establishing an area where the hospital district can in the future can do a tax abatement for Pine Forest Solar LLC,” Feagley told the commissioners. “All you’re doing is establishing a geographical boundary, nothing more than that.”

Como-Pickton Consolidated Independent School District, within which the reinvestment zone for the solar far is located, “has already done this” Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Anglin noted.

The reinvestment zone is located on an approximately 1,853.66-acre tract or tracts of land in the Lucy Ann Collum, John Fizer, WalterMatthew, Francis R. Turner, David Waggoner and BJ McLerin surveys, Abstract Nos.164, 328, 630, 972, 1116 and 1016. The zone is on or near County Road 2310 and FM 269 Hopkins County, and leased/owned by Pine Forest Solar, LLC, of Dallas.

The Commissioners approved the resolution for the proposed Reinvestment Zone with Pine Forest Solar LLC, as a means to “promote local economic growth and development and to stimulate business in the County.” The resolution gives Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom authority to sign documents related to the establishment of the reinvestment zone for Pine Forest Solar LLC, a $252 million project.

Roger Feagley addresses Hopkins County Commissioners Court regarding a proposed reinvestment zone for Pine Forest Solar LLC.

Mental Health Transports Agreement

Hopkins County Commissioners Court was asked to approve a memorandum of understanding between Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office, Hopkins County Commissioners Court, Hopkins County Attorney, Sulphur Springs Police Department, Hopkins County Emergency Medical Services and Lakes Regional Community Center regarding transportation in cases of apprehension by a peace officer without a warrant (APOWW) or a warrantless emergency detention.

Hopkins County Sheriff Lewis Tatum said the issues with the growing need for mental health transports date back at least to to Butch Adams terms as sheriff

“We just do not have the manpower to sit with these individuals or transport them unless they are combative, which 90 percent of these are not,” Hopkins County Sheriff Lewis Tatum told the commissioners court, noting that his staff racked up “$3,000 cost just in man hours just to sit with” the mental health patient “for no apparent reason.”

Tatum said based on last year, the county can expect to have 30-35 patients who need transports annually.

“If they have insurance, they are already transported by EMS. If they do not have insurance, we have to transport them,” Tatum said. “These people are in need of medical attention which we cannot provide. I think it takes the liability off of us. Also, it protects the individuals needing this care to be transported by medical personnel to where their destinations is other than having to be thrown in the back of a patrol car and driven to wherever they need to go without there being any monitoring of them whatsoever.”

Hopkins County Sheriff Lewis Tatum

The sheriff noted that he personally made the last two mental health transports. “I wasn’t going to put a deputy in that position so I went on the last 2 of them myself,” Tatum said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Wade Bartley asked if he understood correctly that it will cost the county $150 for EMS to transport a mental health patients.

“That was the agreement [Chief Deputy] Tanner [Crump] and them did work out with the county judge and everybody,” Tatum said.

The MOU has already been signed by all of the other entities involved, Tatum noted.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mickey Barker asked if the agreement is valid for 1 year contract or is an ongoing agreement. Tatum said it is his understanding the agreement is ongoing. Bartley pointed out the date on the draft states it became effective July 1 and he did not on first glance through the document see an end date.

Bartley made the motion to approve the 3-page MOU, which he noted will be less expensive for the county and safer. The commissioners unanimously approved the MOU regarding transportation of mental health patients.

County Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program

Hopkins County applied for grant funds under the County Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program and the Texas Department of Transportation awarded Hopkins County with a total eligible grant award of $137,172. Some counties opted not to participate in the program, so funds that would have gone to them will likely go back into the fund, which could mean additional funding for participating counties, according to Beth Wisenbaker, who helps the county with grants.

Before the Hopkins County can receive any reimbursements from the eligible grant amount, the Commissioner Court must enter into a grant agreement with TxDOT.

The funding will be divided among the four Precincts. County Roads listed for potential repairs include County Road 1158, along County Road 2339/2316, the north end of County Road 4763 and County Road 3332, according to Wisenbaker.

Hopkins County Commissioners Court approved the resolution authorizes the County Judge to sign all invoices, certifications, and any other necessary documentation related to the County Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program, in order to move those projects along more expediently.

Hopkins County Courthouse

Author: Faith Huffman

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