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Michael Cavazos  

Retired firefighter Ron Clower of the Piney Woods Pipes and Drums plays the bagpipes during a 9/11 memorial, on Wednesday September 11, 2019, at Pine Tree High School. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo  

Firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel join parishioners for a Blue Mass in honor of Gregg County first responders Wednesday, September 11, 2019, at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Carthage man makes keeping memory of 9/11 his mission

A removed kidney at age 18 dashed Arthur Lorenzo’s hopes of joining the military or working in law enforcement or as a firefighter.

However, Lorenzo, a native New Yorker who lives in Carthage, said he has tried to make up for his lack of service by paying tribute to Sept. 11, 2001 — a day in which nearly 3,000 people died after terrorists hijacked four planes.

Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Passengers who learned about the earlier hijackings that day stormed the fourth plane, causing it to crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Lorenzo, 65, said he penned a poem about the day and mailed and handed out more than 30,000 copies of it over a five-year period.

“This is my life,” Lorenzo said Wednesday as he oversaw a 9/11 memorial at the Longview Public Library. “This is my way of paying back my country.”

Lorenzo, who was living in Las Vegas during 9/11, said he began gathering memorabilia about two weeks after the attacks.

“I spend about 2,000 hours a year going through thrift shops trying to find little pieces,” he said.

He assembled the memorabilia Wednesday on tables and a wall in the library. He conducted the memorial over the past four years in Carthage but moved it to Longview because the Carthage City Commission declined to cover the cost for use of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, he said.

The memorial included flags that list the names of first responders and everyone who died during 9/11, newspaper front pages, two stuffed teddy bears and a stuffed American eagle, a wreath, commemorative bowls and plates, a photo collage of Ground Zero (where the World Trade Center once stood) and a moving screen of the New York City skyline.

Lorenzo also provided a display that contained a commemorative coin made from a sewer pipe from the World Trade Center, a cross made from debris from the building and a bolt from the building.

He also displayed crime scene yellow tape, a helmet, gloves, safety vests and a protective mask that were not part of 9/11. He said his intent in doing so was to feel what the day was like.

Lorenzo explained the memorial to a small gathering around lunch time and drew praise.

“I think it is fabulous, comprehensive,” said Rich Prickitt, a Longview resident who arrived at the library not knowing about the memorial. He added the memorial took him back to a conversation he had with a stockbroker who was watching TV when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

“I could not catch my breath,” recalled Prickitt, who said he is retired from a career in law enforcement.

Like Prickitt, retired teacher Sharon Burkett of Longview also used the word “fabulous” to describe the memorial.

Burkett, who was accompanied by her husband, Ken, said she was teaching her fourth-grade students in Hallsville when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

“She told me that her kids (in class) were confused and scared,” her husband said.

New York native Steven Filippazzo arrived to provide pizzas from his family’s restaurant, and described the memorial as being “very somber. I have lots of family that still live in New York.”

Filippazzo, who said he visited Ground Zero in 2005, said people “just remember it for one day,” adding they need to do so throughout the year.

Homestead exemption audit yields $474,000 in savings for Gregg County governments

A recent audit found almost 200 cases of falsified or erroneous homestead exemptions on properties in Gregg County, saving schools, cities and other local governments $474,000.

So far, audits of Gregg County Appraisal District records have recovered almost $1 million for local entities this year, Chief Appraiser Libby Neely said.

The appraisal district’s board of directors accepted results from the homestead exemption audit Tuesday during a regular meeting in which members also approved the agency’s 2019-20 budget.

Attorney Jim Lambeth with the Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson law firm audited residential property accounts in Gregg County that had homestead exemptions, which removes part of a residential property’s value from taxation. That lowers how much the homeowner pays in property taxes.

Of the 24,853 accounts with homestead exemptions, the audit removed 189 accounts, Neely said. Of those removals, the audit discovered the homeowner had died in 66 cases, there were 60 cases in which the homeowner claimed exemptions at multiple properties, and there were 63 cases in which the owner didn’t live at the residence where the exemption was being claimed.

“Attorneys performing the audit “have little methods that (county appraisers) don’t to use such as driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers to see if people have applied for homestead exemptions in multiple locations,” Neely said. “They can look out of state. We don’t have the resources for that.”

In most if not all cases, the property owner paid back taxes for each year that the exemption was unlawfully used plus fees that can range as high as 50% of the back taxes or more.

“This costs you money. They penalize the fire out of you for having a duplicate homestead,” Neely said.

The audit’s results come four months after the Gregg County Appraisal District returned about $514,000 to local entities after a financial audit of the district’s 2018 budget discovered overages in its operating reserves.

The homestead exemption audit resulted in $474,567 in revenue, with the largest savings being about $179,000 to Longview ISD, $50,600 to Pine Tree $49,500 to Gregg County and $43,500 to White Oak ISD.

“I think that’s very good that we had less than 1% that they found out of almost 25,000 properties,” Neely said, noting that attorneys went into the audit thinking that about 2% of homestead exemptions would be falsified or erroneous or intentionally duplicated.

Appraisal district directors also approved a $2.82 million 2019-20 budget. It represents a $76,000, or 2.7%, spending increase from this year.

The appraisal district is funded entirely through proceeds from the cities, school districts, emergency or other special districts, Kilgore College and Gregg County that depend on the entity to determine taxable property values.

Within the 2019-20 budget, the agency’s 30 employees received a pay raise of between 2% and 3%, Neely said. However, the payroll burden that includes employee benefits remained flat mostly because health insurance continues to see a $15,000-a-year reduction in cost.

“We’ve found some (consultants) that do some really good research for us to find good plans for us,” she said, “and our employees choose from what plans they want.”

R.Lacy, Oil Horse Brewing Co. finalists for state downtown awards

Two downtown Longview businesses have been named finalists for the Texas Downtown Association’s President’s Awards for 2019, the city announced Wednesday.

R.Lacy Inc. is a finalist in the new construction category, while Oil Horse Brewing Co. is a finalist in the best downtown business category.

“We are so excited to have two finalists this year,” Melida Heien, Main Street coordinator for the city, said in a statement.

The Texas Downtown Association has recognized outstanding projects, places and people in downtowns across the state for more than 30 years. In 2017, Longview’s Downtown Live was an award finalist in the best promotional event category.

The Longview Main Street program, along with One Hundred Acres of Heritage, nominated five projects for awards this year.

“It is an honor to be able to showcase the investment that businesses and people have made into our downtown community to make it a great place,” Heien said. “Getting recognized at the state level is quite an honor, because locally, we certainly know we have something to be proud of.”

Winners will be announced Oct. 30 at the awards gala held in conjunction with the 2019 Texas Downtown Conference in Georgetown.