Liberty County Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 23, approved a contract with Dayton ISD for tax collection services. Tax Assessor-Collector Richard Brown called the contract “historic” since Dayton ISD has had its own tax collection system in place until now. With the retirement of key personnel at the District, the County has been asked to take over, he said.
“The tax code says an entity can collect their own taxes. They have the option of keeping their own systems in place, their own software, their own personnel. The invitation has always been there for us to take over and share resources,” Brown said.
Brown said he met with District personnel and the school board to go over any points of concern they might have about the County being responsible for the collection of the school district’s taxes.
“I am pleased to report that last Tuesday, at the school board meeting, we got approval to do their tax collection. Today I am coming before commissioners court to recommend approval of the contract that has already been approved by Dayton ISD,” Brown explained to commissioners before the vote.
Dayton ISD has 27,000 accounts for tax payments and, with the exception of a few accounts in Harris County, the tax assessor-collector’s office already sends out statements to those accounts for other taxing entities, including Liberty County. Adding the school district’s taxes will be a simple matter, Brown said, and will save money for the school district, be more efficient and help to avoid confusion.
“Residents will get one bill. It will be less confusing. There will be the efficiency of Dayton ISD not having to pay two employees to do the job. It’s a net revenue generator but it’s no more work for us since we are already dealing with these accounts. It gives us another tool to use to collect overdue taxes. I don’t think it’s causing any burden to the taxpayers of Liberty County,” he said.
The County is even working to hire on the remaining school district employee who oversaw tax collection for Dayton ISD.
“The county treasurer has offered a job to one of the employees in my office. Now I am in a position to offer that person a job if they are interested and if they meet our requirements,” Brown said. “That kind of worked out for everyone. I think it will work out well. I think, in general, it’s a good thing for us.”
Tuesday’s commissioners court included only Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur, Pct. 3 Commissioner David Whitmire and County Judge Jay Knight as Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski and Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson were unable to attend. It was a rare opportunity for Knight to vote as he typically provides a swing vote only in the event of a tie.
Following prayer and pledges at the start of the meeting, Knight asked Arthur and Whitmire to approve a proclamation request from U.S. Rep. Brian Babin related to border security.
“Congressman Babin asked for a proclamation to open the eyes of people beyond the borders of Texas and for additional measure to stop the invasion at the border,” Knight said.
Calling the situation “out of hand,” Knight added, “Babin is aware of what our law enforcement agencies deal with and hopes the measure will help the governor in his fight to secure the border.”
After approving the proclamation, the trio went on to approve an amendment that increases nurse coverage and add psychiatry provider hours for inmate healthcare services. Penny McMillen with the County’s Indigent Healthcare Department explained that the amendment will provide two full-time nurses that would see to inmate healthcare needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While adding the nursing hours comes at a cost, the savings for not outsourcing medical care more than makes up the difference.
“When the nurse leaves, the correctional officers are not medical personnel, so if something happens with an inmate after the nurse leaves, we have to send them to the emergency room. When you transfer to the hospital, you have to send two deputies to accompany the inmate,” said Sheriff Bobby Rader, explaining how the costs get compounded.
Rader told commissioners that the prisoner count at the jail continues to run high with 296 prisoners on the jail roster as of Monday, Aug. 22. Due to overcrowding, Liberty County has had to contract with neighboring counties for housing of Liberty County inmates. Currently, agreements are in place with Chambers, Polk, Hardin, Jefferson and Montgomery counties. On Tuesday, commissioners court approved an interlocal agreement with San Jacinto County for inmate housing.
One cause of the jail being at maximum capacity is the growth in the County, which has officials eyeing a future jail at the same site as the new law enforcement center on SH 146 north, which is expected to open in the coming weeks.
The growth also has the County working toward construction of a new “Northwest Annex,” which will be built using federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
“You all have approved to go out for proposals to build that. We are at the point of presenting to you to award, but we did it according to state law. If we are using ARPA funds, we have to go according to federal rules,” said Liberty County Purchasing Agent Harold Seay.
Commissioners asked Seay if using ARPA funds would require the County to hire another architect. Seay said the architect plans the County procured can still be paid through ARPA funds, so there is no issue.
County Clerk Lee Chambers told commissioners that her office is one step closer to having plats and maps as part of the online database that can be searched by the public, and asked commissioners to approve using the County Clerk’s records management fund to purchase the software. Commissioners agreed, and Judge Knight lauded Chambers for her department being able to fund the project. Commissioners also approved the purchase of software to aid the County Clerk’s Office with Public Information Act requests. This also is funded by the County Clerk’s records management fund.
Liberty County Elections Administrator Klint Bush, who wears “many hats” in the community as he serves on numerous volunteer boards and organizations, was approved by commissioners court to another four-year term on the Southeast Texas Housing Authority.
The Court also approved the annual renewal of a grant that assists veterans with legal services. According to Rolondria Webb with Veterans Services, the grant helps by offsetting the costs of rent and utilities for the Veterans Services office. Webb thanked the commissioners for saying yes to the grant for the last three years.
“Your ‘yes’ has allowed veterans to avoid foreclosures and other legal issues,” Webb said.
Commissioners approved interlocal agreements with Tarkington ISD and Hardin ISD for the use of deputy constables as school resource officers.
With only two commissioners present for the meeting, the court was unable to take action on some items, including approving Arthur as a reserve deputy sheriff and a culvert refund request from a citizen in Pct. 1. They also tabled the acceptance of roads in Santa Fe Section 8 and revisions to the employee handbook related to retirement benefits for county employees. Both of these items will be brought back before the court in two weeks. They took no action on a software purchase request for the engineering and permitting department.