It did not take long for the Van Zandt County Commissioners Court to vote unanimously April 15 to extend the current Second Amendment Proclamation Declaring a Local State of Disaster regarding coronavirus in VZC through midnight Wednesday, April 29.
The commissioners’ court also extended through midnight April 29 the closing of the VZC Courthouse as well as remote VZC office locations to public access.
The April 15 meeting was once again held without access to the meeting at the courthouse by the general public. The meeting was made available online through YouTube and ZOOM.
No more than 10 people were allowed to attend the meeting in person with those attending sitting six feet apart as well as the members of the commissioners’ court.
The current emergency declaration order was updated and approved April 7 during a special called meeting of the commissioners’ court.
At that time, the order was scheduled to expire at midnight April 15, prior to the latest unanimous vote by the commissioners’ court.
The motion to extend the emergency declaration order through April 29 was made by VZC Judge Don Kirkpatrick and seconded by VZC Pct. 3 Commissioner Keith Pearson.
Before voting on the motion, Pearson said, “I would like to emphasize that our emergency declaration order in VZC is right in line with the governor’s order. We have not done anything that is more strict than what is being done in the State of Texas. We can but we have not.”
Kirkpatrick responded, “The governor’s orders always supersede the orders of VZC.”
Regarding extending no public access to the courthouse and other remote VZC office locations through April 29, Kirkpatrick said, “We have boxes out in front of the north entrance (State Highway 64) to the courthouse for anyone who needs to drop off information to one of our offices in the courthouse. The courthouse is closed to public access except for essential needs.”
The motion extending no public access to the courthouse and other VZC remote office locations through April 29 was made by Pearson and seconded by VZC Pct. 1 Commissioner Brandon Brown.
“I believe that what we are doing is working right now regarding the courthouse,” pointed out Kirkpatrick.
Pearson responded, “Our offices are open, and our people are working. I have had a few people that have commented to me that they could not get in to one of our remote offices. I told them that they needed to call and take care of their business by telephone. There are other ways to communicate besides face-to-face.”
Kirkpatrick also shared that there have been no new cases of coronavirus reported in VZC since April 9. As of April 9, there were 10 confirmed coronavirus cases in VZC.
Following the April 15 meeting, information was released later in the day from VZC Emergency Management Coordinator Vicki McAlister that an 11th coronavirus case had been confirmed in VZC. The case was from Wills Point.
The next day, Friday, April 16, information was released from McAlister that a 12th coronavirus case had been confirmed in VZC, also from Wills Point.
The commissioners agreed to revisit the emergency declaration order as well as the order regarding no public access to the courthouse and other VZC remote office locations at their next regular meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 29.
In other action during the April 15 regular meeting, the commissioners’ court heard an extensive report on VZC delinquent tax collections from Richard D. Brand Jr. of Linebarger Attorneys at Law in Tyler.
“If you own a piece of property on Jan. 1, you owe taxes,” said Brand to the commissioners’ court. “Jan. 31 is the last possible day to pay taxes. At midnight on Feb. 1, taxes are delinquent. July 25 is when the VZC Appraisal District certifies their tax roll. In other words, they would have sent out notices to everybody on what they think the value of each property is going to be. There is an opportunity to protest that value. If there is no protest, it becomes certified.”
Brand shared some VZC delinquent tax numbers from the period of Jan. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2019, with the commissioners’ court.
“During that time period, we sent out an aggregate number of 32,000 letters which accumulated to a total amount of $15 million notifying those people that they were delinquent,” emphasized Brand. “I do spend a lot of time trying to reach out to these property owners and taxpayers. In those two years, we filed approximately 306 new lawsuits totaling over $486,000. We have received around 200 paid dismissals before it comes to judgement totaling around $286,000. We have taken 112 judgements that have amounted to over $188,000. Judgements paid before the sale totaled 15 cases resulting in about $118,000. Currently, there are 443 pending lawsuits totaling $674,000. These are being dealt with. Through an order by the court, we will conduct sales of property administered by the sheriff on the courthouse steps. We have sold 78 tracts of property totaling $110,000.”
Brand also shared a ‘Top-10’ list of the highest delinquent accounts currently in VZC. The Tyler attorney discussed each of the accounts by a number but did not release the names of any of the property owners. No action was taken on Brand’s report by the commissioners’ court.
The commissioners’ court approved the minutes of the April 1 regular meeting as well as the VZC bills as they were submitted.
VZC Judge Don Kirkpatrick reminded VZC citizens to fill out their 2020 Census form. “We are in the process of doing our 2020 Census and it is very important for every citizen in VZC to report their 2020 Census,” said Kirkpatrick. “You can do it online. It is very simple and easy. You can mail it in. The census determines how much federal money will be coming to VZC. Every individual needs to be accounted for in the 2020 Census.”
Proclamations declaring the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in VZC was approved by the commissioners’ court after the proclamations were read by Kirkpatrick and VZC/Rains County Legal/Victim Advocate Crystal Mayer of the East Texas Crisis Center in Canton.
A Property Tax Relief Resolution to allow VZC to roll values forward on existing properties from the 2019 tax year to the 2020 tax roll was approved by the commissioners’ court.
According to Kirkpatrick, the proclamation prevents an approximate 10 percent market value increase across VZC.
“Due to our current coronavirus situation, there are a lot of unemployed people right now and I believe this would be a way to help the taxpayers of VZC,” summarized Kirkpatrick.
Following a recommendation McAlister, the commissioners’ court approved the adoption of the five-year VZC Multi-Jurisdiction Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Following a recommendation by VZC Pct. 2 Commissioner Virgil Melton Jr., Beavers Construction of Aubrey, Texas, was awarded the bid for repair on Cedar Creek Watershed, Site 135-C, in VZC Pct. 2.
The commissioners’ court accepted bids regarding road and bridge fuel and office supplies in addition to approving bids on some road and bridge material items following a recommendation by VZC Auditor Sandy Hill.
A series of fiscal year 2020 budget amendments were approved by the commissioners’ court.
Monthly reports submitted by various offices and departments of VZC government were approved and entered into the minutes of the commissioners’ court.