Liberty County commissioners vote against 3 percent pay increase for elected officials

Dr. Jimmy Smith (standing at left) argues his case for a tax abatement for a sand and gravel pit that is harvesting sand from his property in north Liberty County during the May 28 meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court. Smith hoped to get the tax abatement for the company in exchange for road repairs to CR 2132.

By Vanesa Brashier,

Liberty County officials will not get a pay raise in the upcoming budget cycle. A proposed 3 percent pay increase was voted down by Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur and Pct. 3 Commissioner James “Boo” Reaves at the May 28 regular meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court. With Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson absent, the vote was 3-0.

The item was tabled from the May 14 commissioners court meeting because Karbowski was away at training. At the previous meeting, Wilson suggested the pay raise was in order since elected officials have not seen an increase in a while. Arthur and Reaves disagreed and were wiling to vote against raises at that time. Instead, they tabled the item until May 28 so that all commissioners could be involved in the decision.

Commissioners also declined a request from Dr. Jimmy Smith, owner of the Artesian Lakes resort, regarding a road use agreement and tax abatement. Smith said that CR 2132, the road used most often to reach Artesian Lakes off of FM 787 in north Liberty County, is desperately in need of repairs. He asked commissioners to consider a tax abatement with a private sand and gravel company that harvests sand from Smith’s land in exchange for repairs to CR 2132.

Smith said that the road has not been reworked in nearly 50 years despite the fact that Artesian Lakes brings in $1.9 million of annual benefit to the local economy through tourism, and residential properties inside the upscale community account for $800,000 in property taxes each year.

Commissioner Arthur told Smith that plans are in place to change out culverts on the road leading to the resort and repairs will be made to a small portion of the road at that time.

David Douglas, with the county’s permit department, told commissioners that he met with the owners of the gravel pit and had a handshake agreement for the company to repair the road since the dump trucks using it cause damage to the road surface.

Douglas said he looked closely at the documents Smith presented at the May 14 commissioners court meeting, when Smith’s initial request was tabled, and determined that the request does not fit the requirements for a tax abatement. Douglas said awarding a tax abatement to the property owners could set a bad precedent. Commissioners agreed and declined the request.

After the meeting, Arthur said that the sand and gravel pit company has agreed to rebuild the road to county standards – capable of withstanding the 100 dump trucks per day that are likely to travel that road. The roads will be rebuilt to withstand up to 80,000 pounds with a four-inch asphalt surface. Smith said during the meeting that the sand and gravel pit owner is considering other access roads through private land, though Arthur believes the owner will move forward with plans to use CR 2132 as easements would be needed to cross over the other properties, which could be problematic and costly.

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, commissioners gave their approval for the sale of fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the county. County Attorney Matthew Poston told commissioners they could not regulate what types of fireworks are sold in the county when County Judge Jay Knight asked about prohibiting fireworks with sticks or fins. Poston said those types of fireworks can only be prohibited during times of drought, which the county is not facing at this time.

Commissioners also determined how $3.9 million in General Land Office grant funding for Hurricane Harvey repairs for roads, bridges and drains will be spent in the county’s four road and bridge precincts. To prepare for the grant, each commissioner was asked to compile a list of all the roads that received damage during the hurricane. The GLO then evaluated the condition of the roads before settling on a final sum of $3.9 million, which was 73 percent of the original tally for all the repairs.

Commissioner Reaves wanted the funds to be split four ways with each precinct receiving an equal amount. His suggestion did not find favor with Arthur and Karbowski as their precincts are larger. Reaves motioned to approve a four-way split, but the motion died for a lack of a second. Karbowski motioned that each commissioner receive 73 percent of what they each originally requested. Arthur agreed and the motion passed with Reaves voting against it.

In other business, commissioners:

  • approved the removal of old cattle guards from CR 1840 and CR 1902, so the road can be resurfaced;
  • approved the addition of a permit for on-site sewage facilities to the county’s permit fee schedule; and
  • denied the sale of two tax delinquent properties.

Karbowski said that one of the two properties is in an area where the Texas Department of Transportation hopes to widen US 90. The other was denied because the offer was roughly one-fourth of the total tax value for the property.

Mike Fielder, who represents the county in delinquent and foreclosed property matters, said that land in Liberty County appears to be more desirable than ever.

“At the May auction, all the properties sold. That’s the first time it ever happened and there was very spirited bidding,” he said.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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