The item was added to the agenda the day before the meeting as an emergency “amendment/supplemental” for the meeting, for the consideration of action prohibiting or restricting outdoor burning within Karnes County.
“We had numerous fires break out yesterday,” County Judge Barbara Shaw explained. “With those fires, we had people without electricity up until 9:30 and 10 O’Clock last night from lines burned and stuff being done.”
Shaw said she was alerted to the situation when she received a text from Commissioner Carl Hummel letting her know that there were numerous fires burning within the county.
Shaw said there were seven to eight fires burning, and after speaking with Karnes City Fire Chief Charlie Malik, she understood the situation was urgent.
“The only thing that we could do to ensure safety for Labor Day was to post an emergency – to be able to get this on the agenda for today,” Shaw said.
“We need to reinstate the burn ban,” Commissioner Hummel said. “We probably need to come up with some kind of disaster plan. We need to thank Bee County, because they were over there fighting those fires around Pawnee.”
Hummel said there were oil company trucks that also contributed to the effort to put out the fires.
According to discussion at the meeting, the fires were reportedly caused by a truck dragging an air compressor, causing sparks to fly out and ignite the dry grass at the edges of the highway.
Hummel made a motion to reinstate the burn ban and continue it until Nov. 28, 2012.
Commissioner James Rosales seconded the motion which carried on a 5-0 vote.
Liaison for the Phase 1 courthouse restoration project Lorraine Dailey presented an item for consideration to the court regarding services of a liason to advise the county in phase 1A of the restoration.
Dailey told the court that the Texas Historical Commission has approved additional emergency funding of up to $450,000 for courthouse foundation repairs.
“We’re calling it Phase 1A,” Dailey said. “And we’re calling it foundation-basement design and construction.”
The plan, Dailey explained, is to simultaneously carry out foundation repairs along with complete construction of basement of building for mechanical and other needs.
“I would propose to continue acting as your owners representative for this phase,” Dailey said. “We’re estimating four months for design and bidding of this phase of the project.”
Dailey explained that her fee is $12,500 plus reimbursable travel expenses.
County Commissioner Pete Jauer voiced support to approve Dailey for the position.
“She’s the right person to continue doing this,” Jauer said. “I’m very satisfied with what she has done.”
County Judge Barbara Shaw asked how the payment for services would be funded.
Commissioner Jauer explained that the fee and expenses would be paid from courthouse repair bond funding.
Jauer made a motion to approve Dailey’s services, the motion was seconded by Commissioner James Rosales and carried on a 5-0 vote.
In a related item, the court approved hiring Architect Graham Luhm as architect for the Phase 1A courthouse restoration project at a cost of $46,000.
Commissioner Pete Jauer gave an explanation regarding anticipated costs for the project.
“Graham Luhm estimated the cost at $926,000 to do this foundation project,” Jauer said. “The Historical Commission has approved $450,000 matching for that, so we’ll have to pay $476,000 if it comes to that exact amount. They are going to pay about half of it.”
During the public comments part of the meeting, Assistant County Attorney Betty Yarter spoke to the court about concerns regarding the county’s participation in tax abatement agreements.
Before Yarter spoke, Yarter’s husband, Maurice Yarter who had also signed up to speak, told the court that he was conceding his time to his wife so that she would have six minutes to speak instead of the three minutes maximum allowed under current policy.
Yarter said she had two things to address.
“We need to do something about several legal issues facing the county,” Yarter said. “As a taxpayer, there are concerns, and as assistant county attorney there are concerns.”
Yarter said she has collected documents that show that the county has executed three tax abatements and a fourth one has been requested.
“The three that are executed have been in effect for over a year,” Yarter said. “We have yet to appoint anyone to inspect these sites, ensure compliance, make sure they actually did create three jobs or 20 jobs or whatever they said they were going to create for the luxury of having their taxes abated.”
According to Yarter, the county adopted guidelines and criteria for tax abatement on Feb. 12, 2010.
“Those guidelines and criteria for tax abatement are critical,” Yarter said. “You can not do a tax abatement without them and without them being in effect. They died on Feb. 12, 2012. They expired under the statute.”
Yarter said taxpayer money had been paid to the law firm Denton and Navarro for the most recent tax abatement request. She said that the company’s name has been referred to as “Energy Transfer” but the company’s name has been listed under four or five different names.
$12,000 in legal fees have been spent to date, Yarter said, paid to Denton Navarro and despite there being a reimbursement agreement in place, the county has not been paid back.
Yarter said that the court approved reinvestment zones for Regency Energy Partners and another for Energy Transfer Partners.
“The statute requires that the abatement is to be granted to the land owner, and neither of those companies own the land in question,” Yarter said.
“Who are we making an agreement with, if we make the agreement, and who is going to own and operate the units, because we don’t have the right parties at the plate?” Yarter asked.
As her time to speak expired, Bernice Stimson, who had also signed up to speak under public comments, offered to concede her three minutes of time to Betty Yarter so that she may continue speaking on the topic.
“I’m sorry, I think we need to take a vote on that before we keep doing that,” said County Judge Barbara Shaw. “This is becoming... three minutes... three minutes... if everybody out here wanted to sign up and do the same thing...we would be...”
“We’ve done it before,” Stimson said.
“We’re not doing that, Mrs. Stimson, no we haven’t done it before,” Shaw said.
“Excuse me, those are the rules adopted by this Commissioners Court,” said Maurice Yarter.
“No it is not,” Shaw said. “It does not say that you can give your time to anybody else and we are going to... if you have signed up to be heard...”
“You are wrong,” Maurice Yarter said. “We have a copy of it.”
“I don’t care what you have a copy of,” Shaw said. “I don’t care who you sue or why, but we are not doing this. There will be order in this court and that is enough.”
“Chief Snell,” Shaw said, speaking to the bailiff. “There is order in this court, and that is enough. If somebody signed up to speak, they are more than willing to do so, but we are not going go go A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3...”
“You just don’t want it to come out in public what has been going on,” Maurice Yarter said.
“There’s nothing going on, Mr. Yarter,” Shaw said.
“You are not doing it right,” Maurice Yarter said.
Juan Morales was next to speak under public comments.
Morales said that he understood the court was considering hiring an assistant county attorney.
“If (County Attorney) Robert (Busselman) here happens to be sick or something like that then I am sure you guys can determine and pick somebody of your own choosing without having to use one of the candidates – because they are candidates that are running for this office.”
“The way this is going, I think we are being very unfair to that candidate,” Morales said. “By having somebody in the office who is also a candidate for this office – who is going to get the choice by the voters coming this election.”