Waller County allocates CARES Act funds to ISDs, addresses COVID-19 and fire risks at Nov. 25 meeting

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 11/30/20

Waller County Commissioners Court approved a draft agreement to provide CARES Act funds to county school districts, including Katy ISD, to help with connectivity and other remote learning expenses …

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Waller County allocates CARES Act funds to ISDs, addresses COVID-19 and fire risks at Nov. 25 meeting

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Waller County Commissioners Court approved a draft agreement to provide CARES Act funds to county school districts, including Katy ISD, to help with connectivity and other remote learning expenses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. They also approved an agreement with The Beckham Group regarding litigation against a proposed high-speed rail project and instituted a burn ban which was later lifted.

The agreements to distribute CARES Act funds will pass money to Waller, Hempstead, Royal and Katy ISDs on a prorated basis, based upon the number of students each district has living in Waller County. The agreements are subject to approval by the individual district’s as well. Under the agreement, Waller ISD will receive about $257,000, Hempstead ISD about $114,000, Royal ISD roughly $178,000 and Katy ISD about $52,000.

County Judge Trey Duhon said the county had been required to submit reports on how it would spend CARES Act funds it had been allotted prior to the end of the year. Funds not spent would be subject to recall by the state and federal government, barring congressional action. The county had been allocated about $1.6 million, he said, and even with free COVID-19 testing the county is offering to residents had not been able to spend that full amount, which led to the discussion of assisting schools.

“We were not going to be able to spend the money,” Duhon said. “We were not going to be able to spend ($1.6 million) even with the aggressive testing that we have been doing.”

Funding also covered PPE reimbursement, additional payroll costs due to COVID-19 and other related issues, Duhon said.

Duhon later said Waller County is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in the county. At the time of the meeting, the county had 70 active cases compared to a few weeks prior when the case counts were in the high 20s. Total cases to date at the time were 1,159 with 18 fatalities and 1,034 recoveries.

“I’ll just say this subjectively,” Duhon said. “I’m hearing of more people I know of that have come down with the virus. We’ve even had some county employees that have come down with the virus as well.”

He also said data from the Texas Medical Center shows that the virus is actively spreading and encouraged residents to use caution to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus especially during the holidays.

“We are not going to regulate a family gathering. Not in Waller County,” Duhon said. “It’s just not going to happen, but I do encourage people to be smart about it.”

COVID-19 testing information is available online at co.waller.tx.us/page/homepage. Testing is for Waller County residents only and is free of charge.

The county agreed to become a plaintiff in a lawsuit that seeks to challenge the environmental statement for the project spearheaded by Texas Central which would build a high-speed railway between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

“This is at no cost to the county. We don’t have any liability; we don’t bear any cost,” County Judge Trey Duhon said. “We will just be included as a plaintiff along with a number of other entities … since we have standing as being one of the impacted counties that will be impacted by this proposed project.”

Grimes County and other impacted counties have already joined in the lawsuit, Duhon said. He added that he will be speaking to the city of Waller to ask if they want to be included because the city will be impacted as well.

The court also instituted a burn ban at the recommendation of Fire Marshal Brian Cantrell. The recommendation was put forth because of a high Keetch-Byram Drought Index across the county which indicated a high risk of fire due to a lack of rain.  The ban has since been lifted after weekend rains.

“So the KBDI has reared its ugly head. It started last week. Last week we were a bit under 500 and now we’ve gone to 543,” Waller County Fire Marshall Brian Cantrell said. “We’ve got areas in the county that are (in the) 570s.”

Cantrell said he understood that people would want to be outside sitting by a fire due to colder weather and asked the court to allow him to lift the ban if the KBDI had become lower due to expected rain over the weekend. The court authorized the burn ban with that caveat.

Waller County readers are encouraged to follow the Waller County Fire Marshal’s Office and Office of Emergency Management’s Facebook page for real-time updates regarding burn bans in the county.

Other items:

Commissioners also approved the following items during the meeting:

  • Multiple payments for items associated with the new Precinct 4 Annex located between Katy and Brookshire on Highway 90 totaling about $103,000.
  • Approved execution by the county judge of two resale deeds for private tax resale of properties held in trust by the county in a manner that complies with the Texas Tax Code.
  • Approval of training expenses for Sheriff Elect Troy Guidry to attend the new Sheriff Conference from Dec. 6-11. The training conference is a standard training newly-elected sheriffs attend and is within the Sheriff’s Department’s training budget.
  • Renewal of the county’s auto liability, Worker’s Compensation and other similar coverages for 2021 with some increase in premiums due to increased fleet size and staffing.
  • Payment of about $1.17 million to Sedalco, Inc. for construction related to the county’s new Criminal Justice Center. This is expected to be one of the final payments for the facility which was paid for through voter-approved bonds.
  • Stan Kitzman as the point of contact for approval of content to be placed on the Waller County Veterans Memorial website. Commissioner Jeron Barnett will serve as the alternate point of contact.

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