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Kristen Westfall to begin serving double life sentence

Kristen Westfall will officially begin serving her double life sentence after a jury convicted her of capital murder on August 18, in Bryan, Texas.

After hearing testimony from both sides, including testimony from Kristen's brother, Cameron, the jury deliberated for 8 hours before coming back with the guilty verdict.

Westfall's mother, Letha, accepted a plea deal in May and Cameron pled guilty to two counts of tampering with evidence, which are 3rd degree felonies. His finding of guilt is being deferred until Cameron testifies in the trials of his family members.

Kristen's father, Paul, is still awaiting trial.

Commissioners Court decision appealed over Lake Amanda

by Stephen R. Juneau

Tyler County Commissioners convened to move forward in creating a Water Control and Improvement District for Lake Amanda residents during their Aug. 18 regularly scheduled meeting. The purpose of that creation would be to tax residents for the restoration of the broken dam at Lake Amanda. They also convened to appoint a temporary board of directors to govern it. These were items E & F on their Aug. 18 agenda.

Judge Jacques Blanchette asked for Pct. 3 Commissioner Mike Marshall to brief the court regarding updates on Lake Amanda. Marshall reported: "After hearing both sides and having a lot of discussion, Judge, I think the best thing is to go ahead and put this up for election. So, I make a motion to approve the creation of a water and improvement district." It was seconded.

Judge Blanchette then addressed the crowd on hand with the following: "This is an Administrative Body. It is not a Judicial Body. It has the responsibilities to review information presented to it to render a decision based upon whether it's in compliance with what the law is. Ultimately the decision will be put before first. I will just add in my comment section that we received numerous communications from those both supporting and opposed to this. When we conducted our Public Hearing we received the information to see if there was anything that was illegal in this process which is represented by a body of people who petitioned legally through this. Mike and I met numerous times. It is appropriate for us to do this. We were not informed and did not have the deliberation of any of the other body present with us. This was very serious and very sobering and we came to a conclusion that we have an administrative responsibility to act upon what's been petitioned before the court. So that is going to be the extent of my portion of the discussion regarding this particular matter; and, I feel like it was respectful for us to convey that. Mike and I had that conversation and once it goes before the voting public, then they will have their opportunity to make their own decision about this. That being said, is there any other discussion from the court?" Since none, the commissioners all voted in favor of: Creation of a Water and Improvement District #1.
Judge Blanchette then moved to appoint a temporary Board of Directors to Water Control and Improvement District #1. He said: "There were five names that were put before the court requesting that they be appointed as a temporary board member until a confirmation of this particular district has been set before the people; and then, ultimately the opportunity for any individual who has property in that district to be appointed on the board as well." They were: Don Sousley, Heyward Fetner, Kirwin Drouet, Gene Cappadonna and Kaye Mendoza.

Judge Blanchette pointed out that the Court needed to act upon that portion of their responsibility in appointing them as temporary board members. Commissioner Marshall made a motion to do so and it was seconded. The judge invited discussion before the governing body.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Martin Nash inquired about the legal residency of the five. He was informed that only Don Sousley resided in Colmesneil: home of Lake Amanda. Fetner and Drouet were from Houston; Cappadonna, Conroe; and, Mendoza from Nederland. Judge Blanchette pointed out: "The understanding was that members did not have to be residents." Nash: "I understand that. I am inquiring if we could have a more balanced make up of residents than nonresidents." Judge, "At this particular time, these were the names that were submitted to the court to act upon. That all changes based upon the election. This is just a temporary board until now and the confirmation of the election." The motion passed with Nash dissenting.

However, Amanda Lake property owner, Leigh Cowart, appealed the Court's decision. She stated: "Sec. 51.022 says we can APPEAL FROM ODER OF COMMISSIONERS COURT at the time of the entry of the order." Judge, "Your appeal will need to be filed with the court so we can move forward with your appeal." Cowart, "Thank You!" Judge, "You're Welcome. We will certainly seek some legal guidance as far as operating through your petition." Cowart, "Thank You." Mrs. Leigh then went from there to the County Clerk's Office and put up $2500 bond for her appeal in compliance with the law.

County Clerk, Donece Gregory, cited that the deadline for mailing out ballots is 45 days in advance of an election for military personnel. Because of the appeal process, the County Clerk will be contacting the Secretary of State to determine if the two motions will be on the ballot in the upcoming Nov. 8 General Election.

Warren ISD Superintendent on Warren ISD Tax Ratification Elections

Warren ISD Response to:

Spurger ISD and Warren ISD Tax Ratification Elections
From Tyler County Booster
August 10, 2016

Stephen R. Juneau wrote an article in the Tyler County Booster this week discussing the Tax Ratification Election. He uses the metaphor of fictional characters Peter, Paul and Mary and none of these have any place in this election. The article is riddled with confusion and is flawed from its very origin.

 

There are many misrepresentations within the article. In the third paragraph, the article makes the statement that “the less paid out on any loan, the higher the cost.” Please understand that the ENTIRE bond payment for Warren ISD has and will continue to be paid in full. In addition to this, WISD has recently completed refinancing approximately $8.5 million of the current bond, thus saving in excess of $1.5 million over the life of the bond.

 

The article goes on to mention “School Taxes.” The $1.18 that he discusses as the ceiling set by the state does not exist. There are two ceilings set. A school district may, by law, set a tax rate of $1.04 on maintenance and operation without going to the district’s voters. The district must go to their voters to exceed that rate. The maximum rate that a district may charge on the maintenance and operation side of “School Taxes” is $1.17. This is why the Warren ISD board proposed to ask our voters for approval to do this.

 

The article mentions that a portion of the money collected from this hypothetical $1,180 is used to pay the bond. This statement is completely inaccurate. All of the tax revenue from the $1.17 collected (if passed) will go directly to the operation of the school district. The entire explanation using the $1,140 for M & O and the $40 for I & S is completely incorrect. The only statement in the 4th paragraph from the article that is true is that the district collects more state funding by increasing the maintenance and operation tax rate. This is the main reason for doing a “Tax Swap” election. A successful “Tax Swap” results in increased funding from the state level without any undue burden on our local taxpayers.

 

In the 5th paragraph, the article states that the Tax Ratification Election would move $0.13 from our $0.14 “mortgage payments.”  This analogy is incorrect and should be I & S, which is our debt service tax rate. To clarify what is misstated in the article, the $0.14 rate is the debt service rate for Spurger ISD, not Warren ISD. The proposed tax rate for Warren ISD for the 2016­17 school year is $1.45 which would include $1.04 for Maintenance and Operation and $0.41 for Interest and Sinking. If the “Tax Swap” election passes, the tax rate would still be $1.45. The difference would be that the Maintenance and Operation rate would move to $1.17 and the Interest and Sinking rate would drop to $0.28. The overall tax rate would remain the same. The same amount of taxes would be collected locally and, as stated earlier in the article, the gain in funding would come from the state and not from our voters. Again, the entire bond payment would still be made and the length of the bond would remain unchanged. Based on education funding templates, Warren ISD would stand to gain an additional $280,000 from the state in year one and around $300,000 in future years.

 

In the next paragraph, the article makes reference to a home loan and extending the loan through refinancing. That is not what this election is doing. The Tax Swap is taking advantage of state funding formulas by collecting more revenue on the Maintenance and Operation side of “School Taxes”, not by extending the bond payments.

 

Again, there will NOT be an extension of the Warren ISD bond if this election passes nor will the total tax rate of $1.45 change. The article goes on to describe what is on the ballot. There is a sample ballot on the Warren ISD Facebook page or you can see one at the Warren ISD central office.

 

This article clearly does not give a true representation of this process. The author has not made any contact with officials at Warren ISD. The dollar amounts listed in THIS response can be verified for Warren ISD, while the numbers in the article cannot be verified for Warren ISD. We encourage our residents to get out and vote. But please educate yourself before you do so.

Please remember the following:

  • This election will not cost the voters of Warren ISD moremoney.
  • This will not extend the bond payments and all payments will be made in full.
  • This “Swap” is moving $0.13 from I&S toM&O
  • Most importantly, this will generate anadditional $280,000 in revenue from the state without placing undue burden on WISD taxpayers.

 

If anyone has any questions regarding the Warren ISD TRE, please contact the Warren ISD central office at 409­547­2247 or go to the district website at www.warrenisd.net for more information.

 

Brad McEachern Superintendent Warren ISD

STORY RETRACTION: Spurger ISD and Warren ISD Tax Ratification Elections

STORY RETRACTION: The Tyler County Booster ran a story in the August 11 Issue of our paper titled "Spurger ISD and Warren ISD Tax Ratification Elections." It has come to our attention from both Spurger and Warren Superintendents that the the numbers and facts represented in the story are inaccurate. Because the story is important and timely, the fact that it inaccurate is egregious.

The Booster works very hard to be an asset to our community, and work very hard to be fair and accurate in our reporting. We failed with this story and for that we apologize.

Spurger ISD Superintendent Kendall Smith has written the following response to the story and provided accurate information so voters can make informed choices.

The Tyler Booster Published on August 10, 2016

Spurger ISD and Warren ISD Tax Ratification Elections by Stephen R. Juneau

Corrections are done in red to correct the highlighted text.

Spurger ISD and Warren ISD are holding Tax Ratification Elections (TRE) in order to receive more state funding without increasing local property taxes for the time being. The players are threefold whom I will refer to in this report as Peter, Paul and Mary. No “Mary”, don’t know where it came from.

What Tax Ratification Elections are all about is taking from Peter to pay Paul resulting in two outcomes: increasing revenues from the State while decreasing payments on outstanding loans we will not decrease any payments towards the bond. Since Peter comes up on the short end, let’s carefully examine just what Peter represents. There is no short end.

Peter metaphorically represents the amount of money school districts use to pay totheir bonds that are primarily needed for financing new building projects: their mortgages so to speak. Spurger ISD refers to their Peter as I & S: acronym for Interest and Sinking Fund. Warren ISD refers to their Peter as DSR: acronym for Debt Service Rate. But no matter how thin you slice it or what you call it, the less paid out on any loan, the higher the cost. We are not paying less on any loan. Instead of using I & S tax to cover the entire bond payment, we are reducing that side of the tax to increase the M & O rate and pay most of the bond out of fund balance.

In the State of Texas, school districts must be good stewards and collect money on their own by assessing taxes on the property owned by the people living within their boundaries. That charge may not exceed $1.18 for every $100 of worth to one’s land and home—sheds and fences, in order to qualify for state funding. Based on that magic $1.18 ceiling, a property valued at $100,000 would result in its owner owing the school district $1,180 in January. They call it, “School Taxes.” The $1.18 covers M & O and I & S taxes Spurger. Tax rate may exceed $1.18 in total taxes. State says that a district may set a tax rate without an election allow 4 cents above the compressed tax rate, which ours is a $1.00 (for 1.04) , and with a TRE the maximum M & O rate is 17 cents above the compressed rate.

Then you may ask: What happens to that $1,180 once it ends up in the hands of the school district? For the most part, school districts allot up to $1,140 of the total amount to Paul: Maintenance and Operations. On the other hand, the remaining $40 is allotted to Peter: payment on their bond debt or so called mortgages. I really don’t know where this came from. On the basis $100,000 property value and the $1,180 collected, we would currently collect $1,040 for the M & O and $140 for the I & S.  The reason for those magic numbers is that the State of Texas sets a ceiling at $1.14 $1.04 per $100 value that school districts may tax for M & O alone without voter approval. The remaining $0.14 is set aside to pay off existing mortgage loans typically in the form of bonds. This rate varies based on the tax value and the amount of the loan. The I & S rate tax rate can be changed every year to make sure enough tax is collected to cover the bond payment. But there is still another catch. It just so happens that the State of Texas started a new trend of allocating a portion of school district allotments based on the amount of money districts allot for their M & O. The higher the tax rate, the more money the district stands to gain from state funding.

That’s where a clever Tax Ratification Election comes in to play: “taking from Peter to pay Paul without raising taxes.” Hence, what Spurger ISD and Warren ISD and many others are simply proposing is to shift $0.13 out of their $0.14 mortgage payments and increase their M & O with that $0.13. Under their proposals, if approved, their M & O would increase from $1.14 $1.04 per $100 to $1.17 leaving only $0.01 per $100 to pay out their loans. The upside is that Spurger ISD stands to receive an additional minimum $130,000 annually from the State of Texas. Warren ISD would receive a proportional increase as well. But what about their payments on their outstanding bonds?

Here’s the real world: Let’s say you have a fifteen year mortgage for $1,000 monthly. But, you want to buy a new car out of your mortgage payments. So how can you do that? Easy! Refinance your mortgage for 30 years reducing your monthly mortgage payments to $600 leaving you with $400 to pay on your new car loan. So what you end up with is a new car, a $400 car note, and perhaps triple the amount of money you now owe on your home having extended your mortgage from 15 years to 30 years. This is a ridiculous example that DOES NOT depicts the situation. We are not reducing the bond payment! We want to move most of the tax rate used for bond payments to the operation side because the state provides more funding for that tax rate and make the bond payments with our fund balance (savings). At the end of the year, monies not spent will replenish the fund balance.

So the big question property owners should ask their school districts holding TREs (Tax Ratification Elections), is how much remains owed to the quiet one? Mary (bond holders)? We will owe the same amount for bond payments no matter if the TRE passes or not. And, are there any new building projects in the making that will require a bond election in the future? All future major projects will require another bond election and there are no plans in the near future.  If the school district is debt free with a nice emergency fund set aside as some are, then taking from Peter to pay Paul would make sense until State Legislatures once again change methods of financing schools while looking out for their own self-interest.

TRE is a window of opportunity that may not go very far; however, if it’s to a school district’s advantage, best to use it rather than lose it. Spurger’s TRE ballot consist of only a Tax Ratification Proposal of $1.18; Spurger’s TRE is a tax swap also. The ballot will read a raise to $1.31 to protect us in case the TRE fails and the board passed a resolution declaring that the maximum total tax rate is $1.18 no matter the outcome. whereas, Warren’s ballot consist of a Tax Ratification Proposal as well as a Tax Swap Proposal. Hence, the two Districts are holding the same election. Should they have little or no bond debt, it would be to their advantage to have voters approve their proposals. The amount of the bond debt is not a factor in the benefits.

Spurger ISD has an excellent video on their website explaining the ratification. Spurger ISD and Warren ISD Tax Ratification process focusing on Paul; but, it comes short of mentioning the effects of taking from Peter. In reference to the Warren ISD Community, Superintendent Brad McEachern summed up his reasons for the TRE: “Warren ISD has lost approximately $60 million in appraised (property) values in the last three years attributed mostly to the decrease in oil and gas values. this affects the amount of money collected locally through taxes. While the State makes up some of this loss in the following year, there is still a net loss. Each of the last three years, WISD has cut expenses to account for this.”

TRE Election Dates, Hours and Locations:

Spurger ISD’s Election is scheduled for August 27 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the high school’s Minter gymnasium. Early voting is available from August 10-12, 15-17, 19, and 22 – 23: all within the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Early voting will also be available on August 18 from 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Warren I.S.D. is holding its TRE Elections in the high school’s library on August 16 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with early voting from Aug. 1 – 12 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the same location.

(School Board Elections will be held in November during the General Elections)

This article has been corrected Kendall Smith, Superintendent of Spurger ISD

Lake Amanda Gone With The Wind: Seeking Revival

And Then There Was None—Water, that is. Lake Amanda near Colmesneil before recent heavy rains and winds was a beautiful recreational lake. Now it stands empty. (Stephen R. Juneau photo)And Then There Was None—Water, that is. Lake Amanda near Colmesneil before recent heavy rains and winds was a beautiful recreational lake. Now it stands empty. (Stephen R. Juneau photo)

by Stephen R. Juneau

Beautiful Lake Amanda was once located off Hwy. 256 about a mile or two east of Colmesneil and about a mile or two south of Lake Tejas before it vanished on May 27, 2016. What happened was that 200 feet of its earthen dam broke open due to heavy rains; and, unfortunately, everything that was in the lake, including fish and boats, simply drained away.

The area is privately owned and cherished by the 165 residents living around what once was Lake Amanda. Having been a recreational attraction as well as a big plus toward property values, there has been much interest in rebuilding the dam in order to revive the lake. As a result, a Public Hearing for its restoration was held in the Tyler County Court House on Monday, August 8, at 11 a.m., following the regularly scheduled Commissioner's Court meeting. Hence, the Public Hearing, originally proposed by Pct. 3 Commissioner Mike Marshall, was simply for the purpose of hearing comments regarding solutions for reviving the lake including the creation of a water district that could generate the funds necessary for completing the project.
County Judge Jacques Blanchette welcomed the many people who turned out for the hearing. He reassured the large crowd that he and the commissioners were there to help them see through their wishes for Lake Amanda. Pct. 1 Commissioner Martin Nash added that the court had dealt with similar events and were experienced in making decisions to the best interest of those affected by massive storm damage referring back to Hurricane Rita. Judge Blanchette then allowed any and all who wanted a voice in the matter to step up to the podium and speak their peace as he called out their name as listed on the sign-in roster of those wishing to speak.

First speaker was John Stover, representing Skelton Slusher Barnhill Watkins Wells Law Firm out of Lufkin, Texas. Mr. Stover proposed the creation of a Water District (WCID) among the residents who live there as the best solution of collecting taxes needed for the lake's restoration. He proposed that an election be held "for or against" the formation of a Water District in the upcoming November 8 General Election.

Next up to speak was Kirwin Drouet, President of Lake Amanda Property Owner's Association. Mr. Drouet pointed out that the LAPOA was voluntary resulting only in voluntary donations and voluntary annual dues; thereby not having the means by which to support a restoration that could run as high as a million dollars. Additionally, since the area is privately owned, the possibilities of having the restoration funded by various state, county and local governments were pursued only to be declined. Therefore, Mr. Drouet endorsed the approval of a WCID over the bake sale/car wash/big unexpected lottery winner cash contribution scenario that could take years if not decades to accomplish. He went on to say: "The WCID structure would insure that all residents in the WCID paid their fair share of the cost of the repairs since the tax obligations on the residents would be enforceable rather than voluntary as they are now in the LAPOA. In addition, the WCID would also be able to levy taxes for maintenance fees to ensure that the repaired dam will be here for our grandchildren." Additionally, he pointed out that, "The LAPOA has sought lenders in the dealing of tax-free municipal bonds as something to consider in financing the project."

Next up to speak were the following residents: Amanda Harralson, Claudia Hamilton, Leigh Cowart, Rhonda Hopkins, Bobby Lord, Christine Martin, Christopher Bennett, and Frank Grant. Each expressed being in favor of the dam's restoration; however, each had their own concerns. Harralson was concerned about the possibility of the lake becoming public and it being there for her grandchildren. Hamilton's concerns were over the manner by which the LAPOA went about proposing the formation of a WCID, the truth about taxes never going away, the need for a budget to establish the cost for each home owner, and the need to proceed with the involvement of all residents. Cowart needed more information concerning the implications of having a Water Control & Improvement District (WCID) verses other options for funding the project. Hopkins reiterated several concerns including having everyone in the community involved and given a voice in the matter, keeping the lake private, and somewhat feeling uneasy regarding the way things have been handled as pointing only in the direction of a WCID. Lord expressed concerns over having a government entity over his property where ownership could be in jeopardy should one not pay the taxes levied on homeowners; thereby, the formation of a WCID should be the last resort. Martin expressed her concern over misinformation that got her to an earlier meeting in her community that was more about getting her signature for a questionable proposal rather than simply receiving information as publicized. Bennett expressed his concerns over the lack of information given to home owners over alternative options such as grants; as well as a concern over a decline in wildlife throughout the area. Frank Grant summed up his concerns with a brief comment: "Take care of business before it hits the fan."

John Stover then requested to share a few closing comments to address the overall concerns of the citizens of Lake Amanda's community. Judge Blanchette granted his request with the understanding that, since emotions were running a bit high, for Mr. Stover to limit his comments according to the sensitiveness of the emotions at hand. Stover went on to emphasize that all that was being asked of the residents was simply to hold an election for or against the establishment of a Water District. If approved, the residents of Amanda Lake Community could take charge of electing whomever they wanted on their Water Board as well as deciding on the amount of taxes to be levied.

Judge Blanchette thanked all for taking the time to participate in the hearing. He scheduled for the commissioners to vote on the election proposal in the upcoming Commissioners Court Open Meeting scheduled for Thursday, August 18, at 8:30 a.m. at the Tyler County Court House in Room 101.

Kristen Westfall jury trial set on Aug. 9 in Brazo county

by Emily Waldrep

The jury trial for Kristen Westfall is set to begin in Brazos county on Wednesday, August 9. Jury selection began on Tuesday, August 8.

Westfall's last pretrial took place on Monday, August 7, where the state attorney from the Texas Attorney General's Office decided to allow witnesses to mention that Westfall had talked about being a member of the Aryan Brotherhood gang. In addition, the defense attorney made a motion that spectators at the trial would not be able to wear bright yellow "justice for Nathan and Krystal Maddox" shirts to the trial, to ensure Westfall receives a fair trial.

Westfall has been charged with capital murder after the victims, Nathan and Krystal Maddox, were gunned down in the parking lot of Mt. Caramel Baptist Church in Colmesneil on January 18, 2014.