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Candidates outline ideas

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Three candidates are seeking the Republican nomination for Wise County judge in the March 4 primary. They will appear on the ballot in the following order: Kyle Stephens, J.D. Clark, Keith McComis.

The Messenger devised a list of topics that the next county judge will likely face and asked the candidates six questions related to these topics. The men were asked to submit written responses of 150 words or less.

The questions are listed below, followed by each candidate’s name and their answers. Anything more than 150 words was deleted, and that is noted.

1. In this year’s campaign, a county water plan has been mentioned, but county government has not traditionally devised water plans. Why is this important and how would you address it?

2. It’s no secret that county office space is at a premium. What is the biggest facilities issue faced by the county, and how should it be addressed?

3. Although many local cities have economic development corporations, the county has never pursued a countywide EDC. In your opinion, is that important? Why or why not? If you support the idea, how would it work and how would it be funded?

4. What role should the county have in regional and state organizations such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments and why?

5. In recent years, the local fire departments have held fundraisers to purchase needed equipment. Do you think the fire departments are adequately funded?

6. How do you think the county handled the takeover of the fairgrounds? Would you have done anything differently? If so, please explain.

Kyle Stephens

KYLE STEPHENS

1. Water has always been an issue but one that was not widely discussed. We have always taken it for granted. This issue has been looked at as not being a big problem by most, but as the population grows, the demand for water follows. It has become more important in recent years with the droughts which have been endured.

As county judge, I will work with county and state officials to get Wise County involved with the newly activated Proposition 6. Proposition 6 creates and constitutionally dedicates two new funds: the state water implementation fund for Texas and the state water implementation revenue fund for Texas. The 2012 state water plan contains numerous strategies to meet water demands during droughts. These strategies are the water supply projects that will be eligible for funding.

2. The biggest issue is the cramped working environment that courthouse employees have to deal with on a daily basis, followed by the numerous buildings that are spread out in the county seat. Citizens have to go to multiple buildings to conduct business. Another issue is the county jail. As the county continues to grow, unfortunately, so does the jail population. The way the county is growing it will not be too far in the future that a new jail will be needed.

This shall be addressed by doing a facility study for a new courthouse annex, one that would be able to house most all county offices in one building. Doing so would allow multiple buildings to be sold and added back to the tax roll. Such a study would include all outlying buildings without diminishing the effectiveness of the services in said areas.

3. EDC plays an important part when it comes to enticing a business to relocate into a particular area. Most large manufacturers desire several things. Among these are major traffic flow (truck routes, railroads, etc.), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) ratings, other competitive businesses and local taxes.

It would be beneficial for a countywide EDC to be formed so that the cities of Wise County could work together to entice manufacturing business to help with the tax base. It would be a benefit to all of Wise County. This is made possible because each city offers their individual, desired characteristic of a specific industry.

At this time it is unclear where funding could be acquired. However, due to the potential gains countywide, I do not see there being a problem with the commissioners court coming to terms with beneficial solutions for all involved.

4. It is very important for the county to be involved with organizations on both regional and state levels. It pays to have connections through these organizations to help further knowledge and education to better benefit Wise County with problems it may have due to growth, tax base and even legislative issues. With most every issue the county will face in future growth, there is someone, somewhere that has faced similar issues. It is important to learn from others’ mistakes as well as their accomplishments. An active role in these organizations can also bring recognition and beneficial attention to the county.

5. My answer to this would be yes and no. The commissioners court needs to take a base rate that is fair to all departments in the county, then add to each department’s funding based on:

  • geographical area size – the miles they travel
  • call volume – number of calls they run
  • type of call – structure fire, grass fire, medical, vehicle accidents, etc. Each call will determine the type of equipment required.

Each department receives approximately $56,000 per year from the county. That may sound like a lot of money, but when you take into account the cost associated with the equipment, maintenance and fuel, the money doesn’t go very far.

6. In visiting with people involved on both sides of the issue (Sheriff’s Posse and county officials, alike), some say it wasn’t handled very well, and others say it was. Not being involved, it would be hard for me to say without further knowledge of all the details.

As is with any transaction, one can always sit back and say, “It would have been better to …” Then again, some would say, “There was no other way it could have been handled.”

In light of the fairgrounds now being the responsibility of the county, I will work to ensure that such a need for a facility where the youth of Wise County can come together is not forgotten.

J.D. Clark

J.D. CLARK

1. Water is our most precious resource, and as we grow, it will become even more valuable. It is absolutely crucial that we develop, implement and maintain an innovative water plan that will meet the long-term demands of our growing population, our increased industry, and our continued agricultural traditions.

The county judge should lead the charge in assembling a team to develop a plan to manage and protect our water resources for the coming years. It begins with getting all stakeholders with water knowledge and ideas at the same table: hydrologists, engineers, groundwater specialists, farmers, ranchers, developers and representatives from the oil and gas industry.

We have incredible human resources in Wise County, and we need to pull that expertise together to develop an innovative, responsible water plan for our county. If we don’t, outside entities will eventually work to further regulate Wise County water and limit our own local input.

2. County office space can seem like a piece-meal strategy: add a building here, convert a building there. By having our offices spread out in separate buildings with separate utilities, we are not being convenient for our taxpayers or efficient with our tax dollars. It is time to be proactive rather than reactive. We need a comprehensive, fiscally responsible facilities plan to improve and upgrade our facilities into a more efficient system, rather than performing “Band-Aid” fixes as problems and growth occur. Temporary solutions result in greater long-term costs for taxpayers.

We also face major challenges in guaranteeing that our courthouse has proper security measures to keep our employees and visitors safe. Our historic courthouse was obviously not designed with modern security in mind, so it is imperative that we maintain the integrity of that iconic building while also providing a secure facility for our court proceedings.

3. As the county’s chief executive, the county judge should have an active role in promoting, attracting and growing business in Wise County. Our county revenue should increase from greater economic activity, not from increased taxes. Promoting countywide economic development is different from creating a countywide economic development corporation because an EDC would require a new sales tax for Wise County residents.

Instead, my vision for Wise County economic development is a collaborative effort modeled after the statewide TexasOne program. That program does not use tax dollars; instead, it uses funds from members and donors (private enterprises, local chambers, etc.) to create outreach, marketing and communication programs targeting businesses and site selectors. Our county mission should be promoting a healthy Wise County business environment. The community a business chooses to call home should not matter to the county judge. As long as it is in Wise County, we all benefit.

4. We should remain actively engaged in organizations because they allow us to be ahead of the curve on legislation and build camaraderie between counties as we tackle similar challenges and issues. The North Central Texas Council of Governments provides us with opportunities for grant funding for projects and growth plans, such as our long-term thoroughfare plan and law enforcement projects.

Wise County is also involved in the Conference of Urban Counties because of our role in the rapidly-growing DFW Metroplex. This organization represents 80 percent of the state’s population and allows us to have a voice in potential legislation that could affect Wise County. There is strength in numbers when we deal with issues in Austin, and our collaboration in that organization is an asset.

Our elected officials also belong to professional organizations, which provide required continuing education and professional development at a more affordable rate than obtaining the training independently.

5. I am a volunteer firefighter myself, so I understand firsthand the challenges that our rural fire departments face. As our county population grows, so does our need for well-equipped, trained fire departments. The reality, though, is that our population is often growing faster than the funding available for fire departments. The county currently provides a generous amount of funding to the departments, but that will not always be enough. Our county leadership must always be looking for opportunities to increase our public safety measures, including the resources available to our local fire departments.

As Ronald Reagan once said, “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” As your county judge, I am committed to maintaining a positive, open dialogue with all of our fire departments to ensure that they have avenues and opportunities available to obtain the equipment, training and resources required to protect our county.

6. I agree that our youth and our residents deserve a first-class fairgrounds facility, and our county will benefit from the economic development opportunities presented by the fairgrounds. As the county judge, I will work to develop a shared vision in our community for the facilities. I have always been a person – in my official capacity and in personal life – who looks to build coalitions and relationships, and relationships will be crucial in any successful fairgrounds project.

The Posse and the county should be partners in this community, not adversaries, and I will keep us all focused on the goal of making Wise County a better place now and for our future generations. As we work toward that goal, we will be open, honest and respectful with all stakeholders involved. There will be growing pains along the way, but we will come out as a stronger community in the end.

Keith McComis

KEITH MCCOMIS

1. Lake Bridgeport was built in 1932 to control flooding and to supply the Fort Worth area with water. Since then a big burden has been put on the lake, with growing populations in the Fort Worth area, our towns and county. Lake Bridgeport is an approximately 13,000- acre lake that services a large amount of water to several entities – city of Bridgeport, Decatur, West Wise, Walnut Creek, several crushers, power plants and Devon Energy Gas Plant.

As some may know, TRWD tried to get water from the state of Oklahoma on a pact agreement that included several states and the Supreme Court ruled against them. For this reason, our plans for future water needs to be brought to TRWD or the Texas legislation. The county has no authority in water issues that belong to TRWD and even if they did, enforcement would be a nightmare.

This would entail meeting with TRWD and the Texas Legislation if needed.

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2. The commissioners and Judge McElhaney appointed a committee to research this and came up with a plan that duplicates Bell County. It would include moving the DA, county attorney, district clerk, county clerk, all courts, to this new facility. Judge McElhaney was in the process of finding a suitable location for this facility.

Within the Texas Constitution, the facilities have a maximum distance from the county seat so this is somewhat hindering. He was also waiting on bond debts to be paid so this would not create a tax or fee increase. The plan is already in place, it is just a matter of getting debt paid. I think this is a great plan and commend everyone that has worked on it.

The county courthouse as we know it will not change other than some offices that are housed there. For example, the DA’s office is on the second floor with documents stored on the third, second floor and in the basement.

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3. Economic development is not common on the county level but can and is being done. Hood County is one that has an EDC. The county has a few options to make this work. You can partner with towns or you can create your own EDC. Starting a county EDC will require funding and the only ways to do this are to fund it through your general fund or add an increase to sales taxes.

A sales tax in the present economy, in my opinion, is not an option. However, a sales tax increase would have to go before the citizens for a vote. These funds would be earmarked for a certain use and cannot be used for anything else. There is probably an option for Wise County, but it is something that has to be looked at very closely due to the fact that the funds used to finance this department are very specific.

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4. The county should play a big and important role in state and regional organizations. This would enable Wise County to have a voice in these organizations and take our needs to the top. With the state and regional organizations, they offer a lot to communities if you get involved. Transportation is just one of the many projects they offer. My goal would be to follow Judge McElhaney and possibly serve on one of the boards. Wise County as a whole needs to participate in anything that will help the citizens and not increase their taxes or fees.

5. Without knowing the finances of each department, this would be hard to answer. With that being said, everyone knows our county is growing from the east. Each town has a budget for their fire departments, and everyone knows these departments go out of their respected towns into the unincorporated parts of the county to assist citizens.

The volunteer firefighters are unique individuals giving of their personal time to assist those in need. They should be able to spend their down time with family and activities of their choosing instead of out trying to raise more funds. This is definitely something that needs to be reviewed and some plan put in place to help out more.

Remember, the towns are their primary source of revenue, although the county subsidizes. Not everyone moving into the county goes to a town. Several people like the country-style setting, and these people need to be sure they have adequate fire protection.

6. It is very hard to get information on this subject, so most of us have to speculate on this one. Not knowing the facts or any of the conversations that went on between the two entities, I would have to hope that a different ending and solution could have been worked out. From the outside looking in, I would like to think this could have been done to the satisfaction of all involved and a good solution could be worked out for the betterment of all. Sitting down and working out solutions is one of my strong points. I do this with my position on the city level along with my business.

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