Hopkins County Commissioner Court made short work of the Sept. 28 meeting agenda, working through the entire agenda in 17 minutes. Among the items considered were an OSSF fee amendment, an early voting location change for the Nov. 3 elections, an elections assistance grant, inmate housing agreement with Rockwall County and a down payment on vehicles for the sheriff’s office.
Early Voting Location Change
Hopkins County Commissioners Court approved County Clerk Tracy Smith‘s request for an early voting location change for the Nov. 3 elections. The early voting location over the last few years has been the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Courtroom at Hopkins County Courthouse Annex.
Smith asked the court to agree for early voting location change to First Baptist Church’s The ROC for this election only. Smith cited more equipment and ability for better social distancing among voters waiting to cast ballots as reasons for the change request.
County Judge Robert Newsom noted that a lawsuit has been filed regarding Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to add a week to the early voting period due to declared disasters in the state, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom said a decision on whether that decision will be held is expected to be made within the week. If upheld, early voting by personal appearance will be conducted on Oct. 13 as scheduled. If it is not, early voting by personal appearance will begin 1 week later.
Elections Assistance Grant
The County Clerk also asked the court to approve a grant which will provide additional funding to assist with this year’s election. Smith learned last week of the grant, which when approved provides a minimum of $5,000 to applicants.
“I had heard about it on our list-serve. The Center for Tech and Civic Life was offering grant money to help with elections, to get voter information out, help with PPE … to get voters interested and aware of the election,” Smith told the Commissioners Court.
Smith applied electronically Thursday afternoon and was notified by email Friday that the county has been approved to receive $19,952 to assist with the Nov. 3 elections. The grant does not require any county matching funds.
“Thank you, Tracy,” Newsom said. “She jumped right on this. Shannah and everybody was overwhelmed over here. She jumped in and got the grant in one day.”
The motion to accept the grant was unanimously approved by the court.
Hopkins County Auditor Shannah Aulsbrook asked to court to consider approving a budget amendment to make a $140,000 down payment required on the purchase on new sheriff’s office vehicles, approved by the court on Sept. 8 and financed through American National Leasing Company.
“Whenever ya’ll approved them to purchase the vehicles through American National Leasing, we did not realize that there was a down payment that was to be paid when we approved that contract,” Aulsbrook explained.
The purchase was factored into the 2020-21 budget, which begins on Oct. 1. However, Aulsbrook recommended giving the sheriff’s office the money now per the contract, which listed an August date.
“It’s due right now. American National Leasing was OK with us paying it in October with that money, but the whole contact that we signed in August states that we would pay it now. So, when outside auditors come in, they will be back it up to now. So, what I’m asking ya’ll to do is to go ahead and give them the $140,000 to pay this and it will come out of their 2020-21 budget. We won’t pay it. It’s the same money. It’s there. They would just be getting it a few days early. but I need to pay this bill now in this budget,” Aulsbrook said.
“The money is due now, but like she said, they could wait but it’s going to be hard on the books with the auditor,” Sheriff Lewis Tatum said.
“No matter what American National Leasing says, they’re going to pull it back to this year because of what we signed,” Aulsbrook said.
“But, the money is still there and will come out of 2020-21 budget?” Precinct 1 Commissioner Mickey Barker asked.
“I would be paying it in this year and then, removing it from his 2020-21 budget so he doesn’t have it to spend again,” Aulsbrook said.
Aulsbrook noted the sheriff’s office is already in possession of the vehicles, so legally, the down payment needs to be made. The bill, according to the contract documents, was due on Aug. 15. Thus, to make good on it and for accounting purposes, budget is to be amended include the $140,000 down payment at the end of the 2019-20 budget. The 2020-21 budget will need to be amended to reflect $140,000 less for the sheriff’s office for vehicle purchases.
The Commissioners Court gave unanimous approval to amend the budgets, moving the funds forward a few days early to make the down payment on the sheriff’s office vehicles.
Another special commissioners court meeting has also been called for 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 to make sure all items are accounted for in the budget through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Interlocal Agreement with Rockwall County
The sheriff asked the court to consider renewing an interlocal agreement with Rockwall County which would allow Hopkins County jail to house inmates for Rockwall County when needed and space permits. Tatum recommended the fee remaining $45 per day per inmate for housing for Rockwall County
Tatum said Hopkins County jail is not currently housing any inmates for Rockwall County. The only inmates currently being housed for other agencies are the federal inmates. While the county jail count reached 197 on Saturday and 202 on Sunday, Tatum said currently, the jail has 9 available beds. He said 15 inmates were transferred to Huntsville prison this morning, freeing up space.
OSSF Fee Amendment
Hopkins County Fire Chief Andy Ensley on Monday explained that after the court approved the proposed rate increases for residential and commercial on-site sewage facility permits last Monday to help with administrative costs associated with the 1-time permit, they learned the amount requested for the commercial fee was in excess of the amount allowed by the state.
The state has a $500 cap for OSSF permit fees. Thus, Endsley said, HCFD was asking that the amount for commercial OSSF permits be amended to match state statues regarding such fees. The court approved the amendment to match state requirements.
Power Distribution Request
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Price recommended that a request from Oncor Electric Delivery Company to extend electrical power distribution facilities across 2,450 feet of right-of-way along County Road 4592 which was tabled at a previously meeting be un-tabled and considered.
Price reported he’s spoken with the people involved and any concerns had been addressed. The extension of service will provide electric service to four new customers who are building houses and barns along CR 4592, northwest of FM 1536. The court agreed, then unanimously gave approval to the request.