By Kelly Young

Immediately following a public hearing on the topic of next year’s fiscal budget that elicited no community participation, the Cherokee county Commissioner’s Court voted unanimously to adopt the budget at Monday’s meeting and then moved on to other items.

The county approved a $19,762,916 budget — up from $19,228,634 last year — which included a 5 percent pay raise for all county employees. Next year’s budget will also include $1 million more in fuel and road materials in order to help offset the escalating prices of those materials.

Action was also taken to set two public hearings during the coming month where citizens will be able to speak to the court concerning the proposed tax rate of 58 cents per $100 of valuation — a drop of 3 cents from last year’s rate.

The first hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 8 during the court’s next regular meeting at the county courthouse in Rusk. The second meeting will be a special meeting held at 10 a.m. Sept. 12, also at the courthouse.

Ken Hanna, the county’s emergency management coordinator, spoke with commissioners about the county starting up an emergency notification system and received approval from the court to move forward with the plan.

“We applied for some homeland security funds which would allow us to adopt an early warning system. We received the grant money; the money has been released to us and the state has authorized us to purchase a warning system,” Hanna said. “I just wanted to bring it before the court so you could give me the word to go ahead and figure out what would be best for the county.”

According to Hanna, several similar emergency notification systems exist, like the CodeRED system the city of Jacksonville employs.

An emergency notification system is an automated service which can call thousands of telephone numbers in a matter of minutes with a pre-recorded message. The city of Jacksonville has used CodeRED in the past year to notify citizens about flooding and power outages.

“It’s as simple as determining who you want to send a message to, typing your message in, calling the program up from a computer with the password, recording your message and hitting the button to send it. It will then go to everyone in just a matter of minutes,” Hanna said. “People can get on the Internet to register themselves, and we can also enter 9-1-1 telephone banks into the system to get phone numbers.”

In addition to being able to call all phone numbers in its registry, Hanna said early warning systems can also be used to target specific areas.

“A map pops up that you can use to circle an area, and the system will only call the numbers located within that circle. You can also set up any number of lists, so that it will only call all the county’s first responder or all the county’s law enforcement or whoever else you want to make a list of,” he said.

Hanna said the new system will allow up to four phone numbers per contact, meaning it will be able to call a work phone, a home phone and a cell phone simultaneously. The program will also work throughout the county, regardless of whether a person lives inside or outside of a city.

While the county gave him permission to select an emergency notification system, Hanna said Monday he hasn’t determined which company he would choose. More information regarding how to register for the new service will be made available once a service provider is chosen.

In other business the court approved:

• the laying of utility lines on County Roads 2907, 3405 and 3409;

• the monthly report from Lynn Kelley, constable;

• the appointment of Robert C. Martin as a reserve deputy sheriff;

• a resolution allowing the Cherokee County Airport to receive a $27,000 TxDOT grant for an obstruction survey to be done;

• changing the polling place for Voting District 45 from New Summerfield City Hall to New Summerfield First Baptist Church;

• Precinct 3 to assist the Earle’s Chapel volunteer fire department with dirt work for a new building and parking lot;

• the 2008 Tax Roll as presented by Tax Assessor-Collector Linda Beard;

• a data processing services agreement between Healthcare Solutions Ltd. and the county;

• the financing of new Mack dump trucks for one or more precincts, with the county judge signing all documents;

• the plat for lots 1 and 2, block 1, of the Yount subdivision;

• a tax refund greater than $500; and

• paying the bills.

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