Gregg County, Kilgore at standstill over city's request
Nov. 24, 2012 at 11 p.m.
A curious stalemate between Gregg County and one of its cities highlights how and when governments can help each other.
The city of Kilgore is poised to renew land where a decaying, asbestos-riddled former school poses health risks. The city council on Nov. 13 OK'd a letter supporting a private developer's application for tax-credit status to attract investors for a 60-home, multi-family development on the old C.B. Dansby School site.
In lining up the deal to bring the five-acre tract back on the tax rolls, city officials asked the lot's other co-owners - the county, Kilgore College and Kilgore Independent School District - for financial help demolishing the building.
The schools were asked to help with the $192,000 estimated cost, and staff members have said they will take those requests to their respective boards of trustees with favorable recommendations, City Manager Scott Sellers said.
The county was asked to provide a road and bridge crew to demolish and remove the building.
That can't happen, at least not with a road and bridge crew. Gregg County Auditor Laurie Woloszyn explained, counties can do only those things spelled out by statute.
Cities and other governments in Texas face the reverse prohibition, she said. They can do something unless specifically prohibited.
"I can't bless using a road and bridge crew, that's paid out of the road and bridge fund, to do work out of its purview and function," Woloszyn said. "And demolishing a building has nothing to do with road and bridge work."
The denial disappointed Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd, who initially agreed to the request but got cold feet when his thoughts landed on the prohibition against using county resources to add value to a property under private development.
Boyd already had been stung once on that score, earlier this year, when he thought he was addressing a health hazard by removing trash from an abandoned home. That brought him an investigation by the Texas Rangers, a probe that was dropped without Boyd facing any penalty or sanction.
But it made him more cautious.
"You bet," Boyd said. "It is serious, and that particular one happened to be framed by a different set of circumstances. But for me and my learning curve, and learning what you can and can't do, you look at the statutes. ... It has to do with what the statutes will not let us do."
Everything had appeared good to go after the city reached out to Boyd, a former Kilgore ISD board member and Kilgore Economic Development Corp. trustee.
"The county truly thought, and I don't blame them, that because they were using their road and bridge equipment, that it was OK," Sellers said. "It would sure be nice to preserve $60,000 in tax dollars to have the county come in and do the labor. ... It's an extremely attractive project. All the taxing entities stand to benefit, and it clears up a blighted area that's been there, probably, since 1969."
But, the stakes changed at a meeting of all four entities the day before the council was scheduled to act, Sellers said.
"The county said at that meeting, 'This is our final word - no assistance,' " he said.
It sounded uncomfortably familiar, Sellers and Mayor Ronnie Spradlin said. The county already had balked at requests to help with asbestos removal at the former Irwin's service station and, they said, with roof replacement on the old Crim Theater, both downtown and both co-owned with the county.
"We have a phenomenal relationship with the county, with Gregg County," Sellers said.
"And the commissioners and the (county) judge have been extremely supportive of Kilgore. And we couldn't be happier with the relationship we have together. The issue at hand is an issue over a legal opinion that the auditor and the district attorney's office has maintained."
That is only half right, said Gregg County District Attorney Carl Dorrough.
"We haven't been asked, and it hasn't been presented to us," Dorrough said this past week.
And, with no request to study, Dorrough and Janie Johnson, the assistant D.A. who advises the commissioners court, said they did not know whether the county could or couldn't help with the Dansby school.
They said the service station request had been forwarded to them, and was turned away because the property was being sold to a private company, Network Communications, which now has its Kilgore headquarters there.
But, Dorrough and Johnson said, neither a request regarding the historic Crim movie house nor one regarding the Dansby school had ever been received by the county's legal counsel -- despite a story published Saturday by a Kilgore newspaper.
Stoudt said the matter might not be finished.
"The county will continue to research and try to find a way we can help," he said. "The county has a clear record of helping every city in this county."