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A monkey is on the lam in Santa Fe, police believe

SANTA FE

Two reported sightings of a monkey jumping through tree canopies had police and animal control officers searching the city for signs of a wayward primate.

The search had been called off Tuesday evening without a monkey being found, but with officials still saying they believed reports were credible and under investigation.

“We’d take it seriously no matter what,” said Sarah Haywood, director of Bayou Animal Services. “We’re hoping it’s not a hoax, because that would be a severe waste of time.”

Authorities first received a report about a loose monkey on Monday evening near 24th Street and Bellaire Street, a residential street south of state Highway 6 and west of FM 646, police department spokesman Greg Boody said.

On Tuesday morning, the police department received a second report about a monkey sighting near the intersection of 19th Street and Avenue O, Boody said.

The two independent reports within the same general area made the sightings seem credible, Boody said.

Officials hadn’t personally seen any monkeys, however, he said.

Bayou Animal Services called people in the area known to own monkeys and other primates to confirm their animals were accounted for, Haywood said. It also enlisted a drone from the League City Police Department to help search tree tops for the animal, she said.

“We covered a lot of ground, but if it’s scared and hiding, we’re not finding it,” Haywood said.

As the first reports about the search spread just after noon Tuesday, officials found themselves trying to knock down or confirm rumors about the situation, Haywood said.

Officials do not know what kind of monkey they were looking for. While initial reports described it as a chimpanzee, which is an ape, not a monkey, Haywood thinks the animal might be smaller, such as a capuchin monkey.

“It’s not a chimp,” she said. “From what we know, it’s not a chimp.”

Police initially said officers had seen a video of the monkey, but later said they didn’t know the origin of the video.

One news website attached a stock video — file footage that’s not directly related to the story to which it’s attached — to its report of the monkey, which may have added to the confusion Tuesday afternoon.

Police and animal control officers also have reached out to people on Facebook who claimed, without evidence, to have been approached or attacked by a monkey. None of those people responded to the questions, Boody said.

The animal shelter urged people to stay calm and act responsibly if they do see a monkey.

“Do not approach, chase or try and catch a primate if you have sighted said loose monkey,” the shelter wrote in a Facebook post updating residents about the status of the search.

If people spot the monkey, they should take a picture of it and call animal control as soon as possible, the shelter wrote. A photograph will help authorities identify the animal and keep it safe if it needs to be tranquilized.

The shelter was working with experts from Texas Primate Owners United, an advocacy group, to help track and capture the animal, Haywood said.

If residents see searchers out looking for the monkey, the best thing they can do is stay out of the way, she said.

“Do not interfere,” the shelter wrote. “Do no attempt to help. They are professionals and know what they are doing.”


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Friendswood residents await final word on flood buyouts

FRIENDSWOOD

From the main road entering the neighborhood, it’s almost unnoticeable how near Frenchman’s Creek Townhomes are to the creek. But during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, more than 9 feet of water surrounded Vicki Hartzell’s home, flooding the garage, she said.

Local officials have identified the neighborhood, with about 20 units on Blue Heron and Moss Point drives, along Clear Creek as a strong candidate for acquisition in a buyout program for flooded homes and the city council on Tuesday approved an interlocal agreement with Galveston County to pursue grant funding for the project, said Zach Davison, county spokesman.

But Hartzell and neighbors have received little in the way of solid information about what might await their homes in coming months, she said.

“We’re at a standstill,” she said. “My husband has been going to city hall to talk, but they keep just saying it’s not set in stone. We want to sell, but we’re just stuck waiting.”

Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 dropped more than 50 inches of rain on some parts of Harris and Galveston counties, overwhelming drainage systems and flooding more than 2,600 homes in Friendswood.

City officials for months have pursued federal Community Development Block Grant money to acquire the properties to tear town and build flood control projects, according to city documents.

Grant funding will flow through the Texas General Land Office, which has selected the Houston-Galveston Area Council to distribute the money, city officials said.

The land office’s sole role in the process is to provide technical assistance and make sure the methods meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules, said Brittany Eck, spokeswoman for the land office.

But Friendswood is only allocated about $2.76 million for buyouts and acquisitions, city documents show. So, following Tuesday’s interlocal agreement, the county will now apply for additional funding needed to purchase the remaining 12 units in the neighborhood, Davidson said.

The county has been allocated an additional $4.35 million for buyouts and acquisitions, documents show.

All acquisitions would be on a voluntary basis, Davidson said.

The county doesn’t currently have a timeline for when residents might actually receive offers on their property, Davidson said. But county and Friendswood officials will remain in communication as the process continues.

And for residents like Hartzell, the uncertainty is the problem, she said. Hartzell and her husband were planning to move to Corpus Christi just before Harvey hit the region, but the storm changed those plans, she said.

Hartzell took out a $25,000 loan with the U.S. Small Business Administration shortly after the storm to begin repairs on the property, but the entire neighborhood hasn’t been sure what to expect, she said.

Hartzell also received some money from her flood insurance agency, but not enough to cover the cost of repairs on the property, she said.

A glance around the neighborhood echoes that — a for sale sign hangs in front of one townhome, while still other property owners have made repairs and begun renting out the property while awaiting word about property acquisitions, Hartzell said.

Regardless of what happens, the Hartzell family can’t afford to take a financial loss via any acquisition, given how much they’ve already spent repairing the property, she said.

The Hartzells have lived at the townhome for about five or six years and, while it’s flooded once before they purchased it, Vicki Hartzell said she was surprised their neighborhood has become the focus for acquisition.

“We were so much luckier than some,” she said. “I’m surprised they want to offer us buyouts. I have teacher friends who live along FM 2351 that has flooded three times in three years.”


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Galveston County approves budget, lowers tax rate

GALVESTON

The county’s tax rate, and total projected revenue, will be lower next year under a budget unanimously approved by Galveston County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $144.6 million budget for the 2020 fiscal year. The fiscal year 2019 budget projected $149 million in total revenues, according the county.

County officials attributed the decrease to the county’s property tax rate. Commissioners approved a rate of $0.516 per $100 of property valuation. The current fiscal year’s tax rate is $0.532 per $100 of valuation.

The reduction put the county tax rate lower than the effective tax rate — the line at which the county would have collected the same amount of money at a lower tax rate because of increased property values and new construction.

It’s the ninth year in a row county commissioners have lowered the tax rate, an accomplishment that coincides with Galveston County Judge Mark Henry’s tenure in office.

“We’re reducing spending,” Henry said. “We went back and looked at contracts we haven’t used in a long time, and cut them out. There’s a lot of reductions in things that were never used anyway.”

The budget does include new spending for increasing the county’s ambulance services in Clear Lake Shores and Kemah; accessibility improvements to the court buildings and $1.8 million in capital project spending, officials said.

There are potential changes, and added spending, to come in the budget. For the second straight year, the commissioners approved a budget that was largely planned out by Henry and his staff.

Instead of debating items to include or remove from the budget before it was passed, Henry has urged commissioners to propose budget amendments to items for which they want more funding.

Two commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting said they planned to offer up amendments as soon as the commissioners’ next regular meeting.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Clark said he wanted the county to restore funding to three county fire departments for mutual aid services.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Joe Giusti said commissioners also intended to address funding for the county’s library system, which was stripped from this year’s budget. Budget documents show the library system received $593,000 in the current fiscal year budget, but received no funding this year.

After the meeting, Giusti said commissioners intended to review how the money to the system was distributed to libraries throughout the county before restoring the funding.

“Please don’t worry, it’s going to be taken care of,” Giusti said to library supporters who said were concerned about the cuts.


Coming Friday

How is Galveston preparing for a planned protest march over a controversial arrest?


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Galveston County deputy shoots man in Bacliff RV park

BACLIFF

A Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputy shot and wounded a man in Bacliff on Monday evening.

The man was shot after he charged at deputies while armed with a shotgun, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.

The man survived the shooting and was charged with a felony on Tuesday morning.

Chris McDonald, of Bacliff, was charged with aggravated assault of a peace officer, Trochesset said. His bond was set at $250,000, Trochesset said. He was still in the hospital Tuesday morning and had not yet been booked into the county jail, he said.

The shooting happened about 9 p.m. at RV park in the 600 block of Mile Road in Bacliff, Trochesset said.

The incident that led to the shooting began before that, during an argument between McDonald and his brother in Pasadena, Trochesset said. After McDonald left Pasadena, one of his family members called police with concern he might hurt himself or others, Trochesset said.

Deputies were sent to the man’s travel trailer. After they arrived, McDonald fired a shotgun multiple times both inside and outside of the trailer, Trochesset said.

McDonald was shot after leaving the trailer and charging at the deputies, Trochesset said. The deputies reported that McDonald was yelling “Kill me” before he was shot, Trochesset said.

McDonald was not killed. He was taken to a local hospital, underwent surgery and was expected to survive, Trochesset said.

The deputy who shot McDonald was placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, Trochesset said. He did not immediately identify the deputy. No deputies were injured during the incident, Trochesset said.

The Texas Rangers were called to conduct an outside investigation of the shooting, Trochesset said.


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Galveston seeks ways to offset costs at first community pool

GALVESTON

The city is looking for ways to increase revenue at Lasker Park Community Pool as a city board contributing to its operation moves to minimize costs.

Offering more rental options or increasing the price of swimming lessons could free the Galveston Industrial Development Corp. from covering some operational costs at the pool, leaving more money for use at other park projects, officials said.

The highly popular Lasker Pool opened in 2017 with great fanfare and much community anticipation.

But the city never expected the pool to make money, Director of Parks and Recreation Mario Rabago said.

“Pools are very expensive to operate, especially community pools,” Rabago said.

Officials expect the pool will bring in almost $498,000 in revenue in 2019, including a $400,000 transfer from the development corporation, and have about $549,000 in expenses, according to budget documents.

Officials also expect to collect about $80,000 in membership and admission fees, according to the budget.

The development corporation oversees some sales tax revenue, which it allocates for construction of community projects, like Lasker Pool, and in some cases also pays continuing operating or maintenance costs.

But the city wants to increase revenue from the pool, Rabago said during a Tuesday development corporation meeting.

The city is exploring building out a deck to add to the space it would need to charge for private parties.

“We think that’s going to do great,” Rabago said.

The pool also could increase the prices for some swimming lessons or try to draw in more swimmers with master’s or advanced level swim classes, he said.

The city also discussed changing pool hours to reduce staffing costs, but none of these options have been finalized, he said.

Earlier this year, the development corporation voted to reduce the annual amount of money it devotes to the pool to $300,000 from $400,000.

Some board members Tuesday discussed reconsidering that, although they also urged the pool staff to find ways to make the most of its revenues.

The corporation doesn’t want to spend so much on the pool that it takes away from other parks projects, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

But the pool is an important community asset and needs to be supported, Yarbrough said.

Pool managers should get creative with competitive pricing and leasing out space to food vendors, board member and District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski said.

“I want to see this thing succeed,” Listowski said.

The pool has budgeted to bring in almost $418,000 next year, including $300,000 from the development corporation and to spend about $698,000, according to budgets.

But pool managers don’t expect to spend that much because a contingency fund used only in emergencies is included in the budgeted expenses, Rabago said.

Pool managers budgeted $716,000 in expenses for this year, but expect to spend only $549,000, according to the budget.