Editor’s note: Election Equipment Quote Correction
The Devine News would like to acknowledge there was an error in an article last week titled ‘New mandated voting equipment, $777K new storage building approved’, about quotes for voter equipment upgrades. There was a misquotation of the Elections Administrator Lupe Torres. We stated that the price for using HART, our current voting vendor, increased from $270,000 to $288,889. The correct information is that the costs for the upgrade of our voting system actually decreased from $370k down to $288k. This decrease is because, with HART, Torres would be able to convert his current election equipment and convert his controllers and access touches into scanners instead of having to buy new ones.
On Oct. 7, 2021 at 10 a.m., the second half of the Medina County Commissioners Court Meeting started with Commissioners Timothy Neuman, Jerry Beck, David Lynch, Larry Sittre and County Judge Chris Schuchart all present.The Commissioner’s approved over a million dollars of purchases including a new storage building, mandated voting equipment and more. They also waived the requirement for the county judge to approve every department purchase and voted to donate various office equipment and salvage items instead of auctioning everything off.
The Elections Administrator Lupe Torres stepped up to the court to present options for upgrading the voting equipment for the county. As previously discussed, this is required by a new mandate.
“As you’re well aware we’re going to have to upgrade our equipment and purchase new equipment,” Torres said. “So I went ahead, I got two quotes one from HART, which is our current vendor and ES&S.”
Torres explained that the price for HART had increased from $270,000 to $288,889.
“That has to do with the current equipment that I have. Some of it I can use for early voting and the other I can use for Election Day. With the upgrade I will be able to use all the equipment on Election Day and on early voting, with the exception of scanners.”
Torres explained that by using HART as the vendor, he would be able to keep his current election equipment and convert his controllers and access touches into scanners rather than have to buy additional ones.
“They can be converted,” Torres said. “Whereas with ES&S… the county would have to purchase all new equipment and the current equipment that I have, I’ll have to store it somewhere.”
Torres has already secured a $120,000 grant for this specific issue, but says that there is going to be funding provided by the legislature at some unknown time, potentially during the month of November. Judge Schuchart further backed this claim with his own words.
“So allegedly the state set aside, 40 million dollars or something like that to fund this…They don’t have it figured out yet, but they have earmarked it,” Schuchart said. “And Lupe is on it because it’s going to be a first come, first serve. So, he’s already got $120,000 to go toward it and this is all created by the legislature. None of us here have any control over it.”
Torres recommended that Medina County stay with HART and suggested to the court that the best time to get on this issue is right now since there is a waiting list for funds that other counties doing upgrades are also trying to get on.
“The sooner we get on it, the more funds we will be able to have,” Torres said. “So the longer we wait, the less funds there are going to be, if there are funds.”
The legislation says that the funds will be reimbursed, so the county will first pay the cost and then later be reimbursed. If the county gets on the list for funds before November (2022), it’s a 100% reimbursement of the cost but if the county waits until after 2022, then it will drop to 50%.
New $777K storage building bid approved
Three bids were made for the award of the construction of the 120×120 engineered metal storage building for the Sheriff’s Office. Canco made a bid of $777,000, Carl Patterson bid $898,000 and NC Construction bid $910,000. Judge Schuchart first suggested they go with the lowest bidder.
“The Canco bid fits what we were looking for, so we’re okay going with the lowest bid,” Judge Schuchart said.
But a heated discussion on which bid to choose started with a counter suggestion by Commissioner Timothy Neuman to use the second bid made by Carl Patterson, backed by Commissioner Larry Sittre. After being questioned by Judge Schuchart who argued the court needed a good reason to make such a decision, Neuman explained his reasoning.
“My recommendation is that we go with the middle bidder, which would be Carl Patterson,” Neuman said. “Because every time we’ve had a project we always go with the lowest bidder and we’ve always had issues.”
Commissioner Larry Sitter backed Tim’s suggestion with his own explanation.
“What bothers me is that you have two bids and two completely different companies on almost $900,000 order with a $12,000 difference,” Sittre said. “Then you have one that drops the ball at $121,100? There’s something wrong. Something is definitely wrong.”
Schuchart then continued to argue his point.
“Tim, but just telling you by law, we don’t have any issues with this particular bidder,” Schuchart said. “You’re saying in general there’s been mistakes, that happens. But I’m saying by law, I would say this is a mistake to do this because the law is not on our side.”
The County Judge was referring to the Texas Local Government Code Title 8; Subtitle A, chapter 252, SUBCHAPTER c., sect. 252.043. Award of contract, which states that the contract must be rewarded to the lowest responsible bidder “if the competitive sealed bidding requirement applies to the contract for construction of a facility, as that term is defined by Section 2269.001, Government Code.” The government code describes a ‘facility’ as an improvement to real property, such as the sheriff’s office where the storage building will be built.
Commissioner Jerry Beck agreed with the concern voiced by Judge Schuchart, explaining how it informed his decision to vote for the lowest bidder.
“So one of the good things about the number two bid that you’re talking about Larry, is that the man is local…these are local tax payers, a local business, and I am a supporter of local business,” Commissioner Beck said. “Unfortunately, we are bound by statutes…”
The discussion was ended with a move made by Neuman to use the middle bid made by Patterson, also voted ‘yes’ by Sittre and voted against by David Lynch and Jerry Beck. A tiebreaker vote was made Judge Schuchart who voted against the motion.
A second motion was then made to instead go with the lowest bid made by Canco, voted in favor of by Beck and Lynch, and voted against by Neuman and Sittre. Judge Schuchart, who voted in favor of using the lowest bid, then again made a tiebreaker vote and the motion was passed.
The 14,400 square foot building will be used for emergency response equipment, large evidence, and vehicles according to the sheriff.
New phone system purchased for $18K
Keith Lutz, the Medina County Office’s Emergency Management Coordinator, stepped up to help discuss possible action on approving the proposal from HTS for upgrade to Zulty’s phone system and what it’ll offer over the old one.
“It expands the size, and actually gives us a brain that will handle all of these (calls),” Lutz said. “The max on the one we have is like 300 users. This one will provide users up to 1000 people that can be on the system.”
Lutz further explained how they were going to keep the old phone system as a ‘redundant layer.’ After implementing the new Zulty’s system, the old system will be left in place as a back up just in case the new system ever fails. Lutz also explained that the new system will be able to record calls and would benefit the Sheriff’s office and its investigators.
“For the sheriff’s office in particular, one of the problems it solved for them is now the deputies or investigators can load the application on their phone, the Zulty’s application,” Lutz said. “So they can make calls on that all day long and they can’t come seize their phone because that’s an application. All of that data is living on our system that’s housed at the sheriff’s office. So in the past if they were using their personal phone and they could ask ‘hey, we have to use your personal phone for evidence’ and take it.”
According to Lutz, when this phone system replacement project was started were around 50 AT&T lines within the courthouse removed and replaced with 25 calling trunks to take on the same tasks.
“So now across the county it literally doesn’t matter what building you’re in, you’re sharing call paths, they’re not lines…,” Lutz said. “The good thing about that is that if you have ten people in an office, as long as all the bundle is available, ten people in your office can talk and you’re not limited to there being only two or three lines in the office. It’s literally this bundle…”
Everything is done on internet now and all AT&T phone lines have pretty much been removed at this point, except for 150 or so total handsets across the county that they plan to completely replace within the next two years at most. They were formerly paying $15,000 to $20,000 a month using AT&T phones and $85 a month on a dozen or so DSL lines found during the replacement project that weren’t even being used.
Lutz says they’re planning to test the limits of the Zulty’s system and that if they start getting ‘call busy’ notices that it’s actually a good thing because it will signal to them that they’ve used all of their bundle and allow them to know when and where they could add a couple of call paths to make up the limit.
All commissioners voted ‘yes.’ The proposed Zulty’s upgrade will be purchased for $18,970.00, including all labor.
New WIC offices
The Quote from Alliance for Community Solutions (ACS) to add Castroville & Devine WIC offices with door controls was approved. The action was also taken to the state and approved to be funded by the state as a reimbursement.
The quote for Castroville was $21,884.70 and the quote for Devine was $26,571.27.
Radio upgrade approved for $10K
The court next approved the American Communications Estimate #58639E for radio communications upgrade for the jail expansion of $10,816.47.
Lutz said that the current radios used within the jail expansion by the jailors to communicate do not work very well when speaking from one side of the facility to the other due to all the concrete and steel used inside. But this new radio system will allow jailors to communicate pretty much throughout the entire jail property.
“So this is actually a repeater system, it includes the repeater and the radios,” Lutz said. “…it’d be the first time they’ve actually had good radios because we use to get them all worn out old deputies radios that have already retired. So that includes the radios for the jail, as well as the repeater so they can actually talk.”
Bell appointed to Appraisal board
When discussing and taking action on the resolution of votes cast to elect directors for the Appraisal District of Medina County for the years of 2022-2023, the court unanimously agreed to the addition of Clay Bell to the appraisal district court.
County salvage items to be donated instead of auctioned
When discussing the taking possible action on declaring office and equipment from various departments as salvage or surplus and authorize disposal, for the sake of time and avoiding having to put anything into storage, Judge Schuchart requested a blanket authorization.
“I’d like to have that so we don’t have to sit and look through every chair,” Judge Schuchart said.
The general public will not have access to anything thrown away; instead access will be given to the veterans and Salvation Army.
“Because they’ll take it down and if it has any value, they’ll sell it,” Judge Schuchart said. “And then they use it for what they do. Either one of those people, if we call them will come in there and take it.”
Court waives requirement to approve every purchase
Next, the court discussed and took action on the approval of Order to Waiver approval by the County Judge for requisitions pursuant to §113.901 Local Government Code.
“This we have to do the first meeting of every year and the law says … the county judge has to authorize every requisition and purchase personally and ya’ll are waiving it so I don’t have to have everything come through me,” Judge Schuchart said.
For the presentation from GrantWorks of the TDA Form A1024 CDBG Section 3 Goals and Concepts, the court used Zoom for the first time during a meeting to communicate with the presenter.
The short presentation, given by Kevin Pell, the Community Development project Manager at GrantWorks, Inc. covered new section 3 guidance from the TDA (Texas Department of Agriculture) recently released July 1st, 2021.
“With that new guidance they (TDA) are requiring a presentation to be given at a commissioner’s court or city council and in normal or in future years, this presentation will be given prior to instruction,” Pell said.
Salary Fund v General Fund
Another annual resolution, the Order for use of General Fund instead of Salary Fund pursuant to §154.007 Local Government Code was unanimously approved to avoid having to use a salary fund to pay salaries out of rather than a general fund like they are currently using.
“Again, this is an annual resolution we have to pass because otherwise we’d have to bring a salary fund to pay salaries out of and this way we can just take them out of the general fund,” Judge Schuchart said.
The meeting then went into executive session to consult with their attorney and the Sheriff. Returning from this session, the court approved putting up signage with penal code notices prohibiting the carrying of handguns or concealed weapons to be posted near the two entrances of the courthouse.
Ending the meeting, the court announced that a ribbon cutting will be hosted on Friday, Nov. 5 at 9 a.m. at the new Annex, located at 1300 Ave M in Hondo.
“We will open it to the public; this is the public’s house so we would like for the public to be able to come visit, walk around and to see what this beautiful building is all about,” Judge Schuchart said.
The new annex cost the county approximately $12 million.
By Christian Toler