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New animal control ordinance proposed Committee to submit findings to commissioners Dec. 12

LIVINGSTON -- The Polk County Animal Control Committee, established by the county commissioners court and the sheriff last year, has submitted a draft of a new ordinance intended to address the stray dog and cat problem in the county.

The ordinance, which will be formally presented to the commissioners court on Tuesday, Dec. 12, has been designed to formally address several issues identified by the committee, county commissioners, the sheriff’s office and from the general public’s input.

These new rules will not supersede any existing city ordinances or any existing HOA/POA rules within Polk County, but focus on the unincorporated areas, according to Committee Member Gary Ashmore. Some specific things in the proposed ordinance include:

1. Formally establishes an official County Rabies Control Authority and Animal Control Program led by Sheriff Kenneth Hammack and his staff.
2. Reinforces the existing state law requiring all dogs and cats to have a rabies vaccination.
3. Reduces the number of dogs that are left to freely roam the neighborhood streets.
4. Excludes public highways and parking lots as places to sell animals from parked vehicles.
5. Reduces the risk of animals causing injury to people and pets by other unrestrained pets.
6. Reinforces State law regarding cruelty to animals and establishes penalties for any occurrences.
7. Excludes all rural property owners of five or more acres from any restraint or leash requirements.
8. Organizes a county-wide registration of all animal shelters and breeders for improved health coordination and communications regarding animal population and pet adoption opportunities.
9. Establishes some formal processes for the county animal shelter regarding stray animal impoundment.
10. Reinforces the existing state law regarding the restraint of dogs and specifies what is allowed and not allowed.
11. Establishes fines and penalties for violations and serves as a deterrent to irresponsible dog and cat ownership and pet dumping.

Ashmore said the Animal Control Committee which is made up of volunteers from the public, has worked the past few months with Sheriff Hammack and Lt. Mark Jones from the sheriff’s office. Dr. Ray Luna, the county health officer, also has been supportive of the ordinance as it is written. The county commissioners from each of the precincts have also provided valuable input and detailed feedback into the new ordinance as well as County Judge Sydney Murphy.

Input also was received from several members of the SPCA of Polk County’s board of directors. The SPCA currently operates the only active animal shelter in the county.

The Polk County Criminal District Attorney Lee Hon’s office is currently reviewing the ordinance prior to its submission for possible commissioners court action.

Although the new ordinance will limit certain activities related to irresponsible pet ownership, Ashmore said it is also important for people to know that it does not prevent anyone from owning, sheltering, breeding or selling animals in the county.
“It does not limit the number of animals a person can own. It does not prevent any specific breed of dog or cat from being owned as a pet. It does not require people to keep animals on a leash at all times. And most importantly, it does not direct law enforcement to go out and inspect people’s property for violations, rather allow them to respond to complaints and prevent further violations and injury to the public and to promote responsible and healthy animal ownership in Polk County,” he said.
Ashmore added this ordinance is only a start in addressing the existing county stray dog and cat problem and will need to be modified as time goes by and the county learns what works and what will not. The next steps by the animal control committee will be in addressing the existing, non-operating county shelter facility and determining what it needs to adequately support the animal control needs of the county.

For more information email Ashmore at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Unemployment falls to 17-year low

LIVINGSTON – Polk County’s October unemploy-ment rate fell to its lowest level in almost 17 years, according to figures released by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

The agency posted a 4.9 percent jobless rate for the county during October, which is the first time in almost 17 years unemployment has dipped below the 5.0 percent mark. The last time this was reported was the 4.8 percent rate posted in December 2000.

TWC frequently revises the figures as it collects additional data so it is possible the latest 4.9 percent figure could go up or down slightly in the next 30 to 60 days.

The new rate is down significantly from the 5.6 percent September rate, the 6.2 percent August rate and the 5.8 percent July rate.

In addition to being the lowest jobless rate of the year, the 4.9 percent October rate is down 1.2 percentage point from the 6.1 percent rate recorded in October 2016.

The current 4.9 percent unemployment rate translates to mean that out of an estimated workforce of 17,199, there were 846 county residents looking for work during the month. One month earlier, TWC’s revised estimates put the local labor force at 17,307 with 975 people looking for jobs.

Statewide, October’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.9 percent was down from September’s 4.0 percent and down from the 4.8 percent jobless rate posted in October 2016.

The October seasonally adjusted U.S. rate of 4.1 percent was down slightly from September’s 4.2 percent and down from the 4.8 percent figure posted in October 2016.

According to TWC officials, the state added 71,500 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in October. Annual employment growth for the state was 2.8 percent during the month, marking 90 consecutive months of annual growth.

“By adding an impressive 71,500 jobs over the past month and 316,100 jobs over the year, Texas employers have once again demonstrated their unmatched innovation and ability to achieve success in our country’s premier place to do business,” said

TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “This economy provides valuable opportunities for the highly skilled Texas workforce to also achieve success.”

Leisure and Hospitality employment rebounded by adding 34,700 jobs in October after experiencing its largest monthly decline in September due to hurricane-affected business closures. Over the year, this industry has gained 41,000 jobs. Trade, Transportation, and Utilities employment grew by 10,300 jobs, and Professional and Business Services expanded by 6,300 jobs.

“Private-sector employers added 64,100 jobs in October and have accounted for the addition of 279,300 positions in Texas over the past year as the state has continued to expand its employment,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs. “I invite Texas employers to participate in the We Hire Vets recognition program to recognize them for their commitment to hiring our nation’s heroes.”

“Several Goods Producing industries are showing strength in Texas, including Construction, which expanded by 4,500 jobs in October” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “In recognition of Texas Apprenticeship Week this week, I encourage our labor force to tap into TWC’s apprenticeship training program that can help prepare them for a well-paying career.”

From among the 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) monitored by TWC, the Amarillo and Midland MSAs had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.4 percent, followed the College Station-Bryan MSA at 2.5 percent and the Austin-Round Rock and Lubbock MSAs at 2.6 percent.

The MSAs with the highest jobless rate in September was the Beaumont-Port Arthur MSA at 6.3 percent followed by the McAllen–Edinburg–Mission MSA at 5.7 percent. The Brownsville-Harlingen MSA recorded a rate of 5.5 percent.

Unemployment rates posted for other East Texas counties include:
OCT. %
COUNTY RATE CHANGE
Anderson 2.8 -0.4
Angelina 4.0 -0.5
Cherokee 3.7 -0.4
Grimes 4.1 -0.6
Hardin 5.4 -1.3
Harris 4.2 -0.7
Houston 3.7 -0.4
Jasper 6.3 -0.8
Jefferson 6.6 -1.9
Leon 5.2 -0.6
Liberty 5.7 -1.3
Madison 3.7 -0.6
Montgomery 3.5 -0.6
Nacogdoches 3.3 -0.5
Polk 4.9 -0.7
Sabine 6.7 -1.0
San Augustine 5.9 -1.1
San Jacinto 4.7 -0.8
Shelby 4.1 -0.5
Trinity 4.7 -0.7
Tyler 5.9 -1.4
Walker 3.7 -0.6

Disaster declaration extended by governor

AUSTIN - Governor Greg Abbott has extended the State Disaster Declaration for Texas counties affected by Hurricane Harvey.

All Texas counties -- including Polk County -- declared disaster areas will continue to be eligible for assistance as they recover and rebuild after Hurricane Harvey. There are currently 60 counties included in the state disaster declaration.

“The most important message I want to send to the victims of this storm is that they are not alone as they continue to recover from this storm,” said Abbott. “While we still have a long way to go to return to a new normal, I have no doubt that Texas will eventually emerge from this disaster stronger than ever before.”

State Disaster Declarations must be renewed every 30 days for assistance to remain available. Governor Abbott will continue to renew them as they are needed throughout the recovery process.

Counties currently declared disaster areas include: Angelina, Aransas, Atascosa, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Caidwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Colorado, Comal, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kerr, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, Matagorda, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Patricio, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Wailer, Washington, Wharton , Willacy, and Wilson.

Tips from public end with arrest

LIVINGSTON -- A suspect in the Oct. 24 burglary of the Airport Quick Stop off FM 350 South has been taken into custody by Polk County Sheriff’s Office, thanks to a tip from the public.
Richard Vincent Prebis, 52, of Livingston has been charged burglary of a building in connection with the incident.

According to Sheriff Kenneth Hammack, the victim of the burglary reported that someone had broken in and taken money along with a number of products.

The sheriff’s Criminal Investigative Division launched an investigation into the matter and a Crime Stoppers report was generated with a picture of the suspect obtained from the surveillance video at the store.

As a result of that Crime Stoppers bulletin, investigators received a tip of the possible identity of the suspect and where he resided.

Detectives were able to locate and identify Prebis as the suspect. He was arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail Nov. 9.

Hammack, as well as members of both the Criminal Investigation Division and the Patrol Division, expressed their appreciation to public for the tips and information that led to the arrest.

Anyone who is able to provide any information pertaining to this case or another case involving Prebis is asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division at (936) 329-9027 or call Crime Stoppers at (936) 327-STOP. Tips made through Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may result in a cash reward for information leading to an arrest.

Armed man shot by PCSO deputy

LIVINGSTON -- Details were released on an officer-related shooting that resulted in the death of a Livingston man inside the Southland Plantation subdivision on Friday, Nov. 3.

According to a statement released by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Jason Poindexter Johnson, 37, of Livingston died at the scene of an incident involving deputies with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 3.

Preliminary information shows that deputies with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a domestic disturbance at a residence on Vicksburg Drive at approximately 11 p.m. on Nov. 3. After arriving, Johnson allegedly approached the officers while holding a pistol and refused to drop it after multiple verbal commands were given by deputies.

The report states that Johnson then walked towards the location of the domestic disturbance and fired his weapon. That is when a Polk County deputy returned fire.

Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene and transported to the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

The incident remains under the investigation of the Texas Rangers and no additional information is available at this time.
Funeral services for Johnson are set for Monday, Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. in the First United Pentecostal Church in Livingston.

Five charged with smuggling drugs into jail

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LIVINGSTON -- Five people, including three jail inmates, have been charged in connection with a contraband smuggling operation uncovered by narcotics investigators at the Polk County Jail.

The inmates included Maghen Ann Haynes, 30, of Livingston; Sophia Yancey Schaffer, 31, of Goodrich; and Christa Marque Branam, 23, of Livingston.

The others arrested in connection with the operation included Steven Lynn Croft, 41, of Goodrich and Tony Curtis Brooks, 50, of Livingston.

All were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and bringing prohibited substances into a correctional facility.

According to Polk County Sheriff Kenneth Hammack, investigators in the narcotics division opened an investigation on Oct. 27 regarding prohibited substances being brought into the Polk County Jail.

Over the course of the next few days, detectives learned a jail trusty and at least two other inmates conspired with at least two people outside the jail to bring methamphetamine and other contraband into the county’s correctional facility.

Through telephone and video surveillance monitoring, detectives were able to identify suspects and obtain arrest warrants. While the three female inmates were all already in jail, additional charges were filed against them and the two non-inmates were taken into custody.

According to jail records, Haynes has been held since June 6 on a bench warrant, Schaffer has been held since July 19 on a charge of abandoning/endangering a child through criminal negligence and Branam has been in custody since June 7 on a drug possession charge and out-of-state parole violation warrant.

Hammack noted bringing contraband in to the Polk County Jail is a felony offense which will not be tolerated and all charges possible will be filed in such cases and sent to the Polk County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.