Residents of Walker County looking to bring down their utility bills and improve the energy efficiency of their house may be able to benefit from a federally-funded grant program which seeks to update and repair the homes of low to moderate income families.

During a regular session on Monday morning, the Walker County Commissioners Court heard a presentation about the national Brazos Valley Community Action Agency, Inc. Weatherization Program, which was created as a part of the stimulus package enacted by the Obama administration.

Bryan Jones, the administrator of Housing and Weatherization, presented information about the program before the court and called for a discussion about ways to disseminate the information to potential applicants.

Jones stressed that more applicants are applying than when the grant was first awarded, but he said the program still needs more families to apply before the funding runs out or the grant deadline passes.

“The weatherization program has been around for a number of years, even before the stimulus package hit and gave extra money,” Jones said. “We weatherize houses from rental properties, single-family dwellings and apartments — pretty much anything as long as it is not a place of business.”

The program seeks to decrease utility bills for families by improving the energy efficiency of their homes through several measures, including updating infrastructures, replacing appliances and improving existing systems.

“We do things like attic wall and floor installation,” Jones said. “We can look at central systems that are not energy efficient to raise their energy efficiency, and things like ovens, stoves, space heaters – we replace them.”

In addition to the money from the stimulus package, a $500,000 grant was also awarded for the project to be used for residents within the city limits of Huntsville.

According to Jones, the grant money must be used for the program by September 2011.

“We’re really beating the bush to try to get folks to apply,” Jones said. “We’ve got (applications) everywhere and I’ll bring them everywhere. If we don’t spend it, we’re going to lose it.”

In order to qualify for the grant, a household of one person may earn up to $21,600 annually while a household of five may earn up to $ 51,580 annually.

“Just because you have a job doesn’t mean you can’t apply,” Jones said. “In fact, we’re trying to find individuals that work and families that are working that we can help.”

The project is restricted by stipulations for its usage, including a variety of strict requirements concerning older homes and hazardous materials that workers may encounter on the job.

“Along with this money comes a lot of red tape,” Jones said. “A lot of these homes we are looking at are over 45 years old, (and those have) to be reviewed by the Texas Historical Commission before we can move on.

“If we have to replace a door or a window and it changes the integrity of the structure or outside appearance, then we have to have the commission review it.”

Lead-based paint also causes problems during the weatherization of older homes because of safety and clean-up requirements, Jones said.

“We’re going to have set-backs on a lot of houses and we’re probably going to get a lot of complaints that we’re not servicing an individual for any number of things,” Jones said. “We do get a lot of houses that are beyond the scope of our program.

We just want people to know what we’re working against,” he added. “We can’t just work miracles with this funding source.”

The federal grant that funds the Weatherization Program covers 10 counties, including Brazos, Burleson, Grimes, Leon, Madison, Montgomery, Robertson, Walker, Waller and Washington counties.

Coupled with the $500,000 grant for residents of Huntsville, Jones said the agency has $6.2 million at its disposal for the weatherization program.

The Brazos Valley Community Action Agency, Inc. is a non-profit organization that receives funding through the Texas Department of Housing (TDHCA) and the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies.

Applications for the Weatherization Program are available at the Walker County Courthouse or on-line at Potential applicants can also call the Brazos Valley Community Action Agency, Inc. to apply at 979-822-4100.

In other action, the court also agreed to form a committee to review funding and maintenance issues with the Walker County Storm Shelter and the HEARTS Veterans Museum.

Prompted by issues with the cleaning of the shelter after events and maintenance financing, the court opted to form the committee instead of approving an agenda item that called for changes in the Walker County Storm Shelter Policies concerning rent.

In other action, the court:

• Approved minutes for March 29 and March 31, 2010.

• Approved allowing Peggy Petty to travel to Alabama for Video Forensics training in May 2010.

• Approved the purchase of a new washing machine for the county jail.

• Approved the contract for fiber installation and monthly service at the new station.

• Approved claims/invoices submitted for payment in the amount of $121,708.20.

• Approved payment of bills in the amount of $1,244,188.15.

• Approved requesting donations for the Walker County Employee Health Fair to be held April 29, only from non-vendors of the county.

• Approved Tank Guard Pollution Liability & Terrorism Risk Insurance Renewal for Road & Bridge Pct. #2 for the period of June 13, 2010, to June 13, 2011.

• Approved award of Bid #C2360-10-006/Hydrated Lime to Austin White Lime in the amount of $141.33 per ton as primary and Texas Lime Company in the amount of $146.59 per ton as secondary.

• Approved contract for Request for Proposal #C2360-00-003 RFP/Computer-Aided Dispatch Software.

• Approved inventoried and non-inventoried items for surplus, including a 1999 Ford pick-up and a 1993 Buick Century.

• Approved on-line auction of surplus property to begin April 22, 2010, an continue through May 5, 2010.

• Approved the acceptance of Right of Way for Pinedale Road.

• Approved preliminary plat for Larry G. Woods 54.49 acre tract in the Richard Farris Survey, A-205.

• Approved Proclamation 2010-16 for “Older Americans Month.”

• Approved possible changes in operating procedures and/or work time for the Veteran Service Officer.

• Approved reappointing B.J. Gaines Jr. to the Walker County Public Safety Communications board, retroactive to August 2009.

• Approved reimbursement funds from R&B General to 2214 for P2 Emulsions in the amount of $1,220.

• Approved additional funds in the amount of $6,000 for tree cutting for Precinct 2.

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