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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Commissioners approve grants for DA’s office, hear COVID-19 update

Wharton County commissioners met at the courthouse annex Monday to approve several grants, including two to support the district attorney’s office, which is tasked with prosecuting several capital murder offenses this year.

Wharton County District Attorney Dawn Allison addressed the court to seek approval for two grants, including a County Essential Services Grant, as well as a Forensic Testing Grant.

‘There have been more murders this year than the equivalent of the last 10 years.’

The money would help fund retaining experts, travel fees, expert compensation, investigator fees, forensic testing and more.


“If awarded, the grant would be retroactive to Sept. 1, 2019, for costs that have already been paid and would end Dec. 31, 2020,” Allison told commissioners, adding that there is no county match requirement for the funds acquired from either grant.

“There have been more murders this year than the equivalent of the last 10 years,” she said, explaining that there is no set amount for money received. Bills sent to the grantor would go through the auditor’s office.

Commissioners voted unanimously to support to application of each grant, in addition to the CARES Grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.


In response to COVID-19, the federal government is sending money to states to appropriate to libraries and possibly museums. 

The library director will use funds for technology and technical support and there is no requirement for the county to match money received from the grant.

Wharton County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director also addressed the court Monday with an update on the effect of COVID-19 in the area.


‘(The number of positive COVID-19 cases) shot up almost 20 in two weeks. A lot of that was related to the testing of the nursing homes after the governor’s plan (was implemented) to test 1% of the population.’

“We will probably extend the emergency order so we can remain eligible for reimbursement,” Kirkland said, noting that the numbers as of Friday were 73 confirmed cases. “It shot up almost 20 in two weeks. A lot of that was related to the testing of the nursing homes after the governor’s plan (was implemented) to test 1% of the population.”

He explained that 3% of Wharton County citizens have now been tested. “Some were residents and an equal amount were staff. They were asymptomatic, but the governor required testing in all nursing homes.”

Kirkland also addressed the first COVID-19-related death in the county.

“She was 85 years old in El Campo and had pneumonia prior to being diagnosed,” he said. “It more than likely compounded the issue.”

According to a report issued Tuesday, June 9 by the Wharton County OEM, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported no new positive cases and no new recoveries. 

The total number of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 remains at a 74 in Wharton County.

“We have had 42 reported cases who have recovered and sadly, one death,” the report stated.

Wharton County has 31 active cases.

“We must remain diligent in our social-distancing and hygiene efforts. Now is not the time to let up on our social-distancing practices,” said the Wharton County OEM. “Continue to avoid crowds, wear masks when it is required or you feel it is in your best interest to do so and use good common sense when out in the community to avoid spreading disease.”

The report, Kirkland told commissioners, is issued around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. after information is received by the state.

Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath, right, consults with commissioners Doug Matthews, left, and Steven Goetsch.

The court also voted to approve:

• State travel for DARE instructor to attend training in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the period of July 6-17.

• 2020-21 health insurance renewal with the Texas Association of Counties (TAC).

According to Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath, there was no rate increase for medical insurance, which usually increases 9% each year. However, dental insurance, which is optional for county employees, will increase by 4%.

• Adopt Texas County and District Retirement System (TCDRS) rates.

Commissioners voted to stay at a rate of 15.17%.

• Engineering Services Agreement for the Community Development Block Grant — Disaster Recover (CDBG-DR) Contract Number 20-065-107-C294 with John D. Mercer & Associates for generator projects.

The agenda item relates to the $2 million awarded for three phases of the grant.

Commissioners voted to approve the installation of concrete for a total of $300,000, with no requisite matching funds.

• The purchase of storage tank for oil-based road materials for all precincts paving.

A 6,000-gallon tank was approved for purchase for a total of $51,000 in Precinct 4.

• Approve purchase of 48-foot lowboy trailer for equipment transportation not to exceed $28,500 with funds from Capital Replacement Fund — Road & Bridge, Precinct 4.

• Pay salary, supplement to Special Road and Road & Bridge Fund Precinct 3 employee to hold a vector license.

• Issue Request for Proposals (RFP) for administrative services and Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for engineering services related to the Community Develop Block Grant — Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) grant programs administered by the Texas General Land Office (GLO).

According to Spenrath, these relate to the drainage projects and needs, with no local match.

However, “if (the county) agreed to a 1% match, we’d get five points on the grading scale to get $3 million,” the county judge said, noting that the match would total $30,000 and could be built into next year’s budget.

Commissioners voted to approve the 1% match.

• Apply for HAVA Cares Act Grant with the Texas Secretary of State and approve Resolution No. 20-19 for grant application.

Spenrath explained that Wharton County could initially be eligible for $39,972, which does not require a match.

“Anything over that, the match would kick in at 20%,” he said.

Commissioners also approved consent agenda items, which can be found on the county’s website, along with past and future agendas and minutes.

Natalie Frels-Busbyhttps://www.thecountygin.com
Natalie Frels-Busby is the former editor-in-chief of The County Gin.

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