State of Wise: Judge optimistic about meeting growing challenges

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, January 5, 2019

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Starting New Term

STARTING NEW TERM – District Judge Brock Smith swears in Wise County Judge J.D. Clark Wednesday morning. Clark started his second term. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

County Judge J.D. Clark was sworn in Wednesday morning to officially start his second term as Wise County’s top elected official.

While it was the start of a new term, he quickly pointed out the work has never halted in what is becoming a fast-growth county.

“Every meeting people go to of ours, they hear us talk about growth and different things we’re getting ready to do down the pipe,” Clark said. “We’re past the point where it’s just forecasting. It’s actually happening, with us trying to manage growth. We’re not seeing the onslaught right now where it’s overwhelming, but we are seeing a rapid uptick in housing growth. We’re trying to be proactive and plan for that.”

Between Feb. 15 and the end of 2018, 911 addressing coordinator Wacy Beck assigned 643 addresses in unincorporated areas and cities other than Decatur. Estimates by the North Central Texas Council of Governments and U.S. Census Bureau released in the spring for 2017 showed the county’s population was between 62,700 and 64,465, adding more than 1,500 in the past year.

During their last two meetings of the year, commissioners were presented double-digit plats or construction plans.

With the growth, Clark pointed out that there is an increased demand on services and making plans to meet those demands will be a focus in 2019 and beyond.

“You’re going to hear us talking about what we can do for increased patrol [from the Sheriff’s Office] and as the population grows an increase in ambulance service,” Clark said. “I’ve actually told [EMS Administrator] Charles Dillard already to be putting some numbers together for us to do a workshop and talk about the future of EMS in terms of population breaks and at this point if we need to bring another ambulance online.”

Those plans also include infrastructure. Commissioners will be looking to approve the county’s transportation plan at their Jan. 14 meeting.

The Wise County economy is coming off a strong year with a majority of cities seeing double-digit increase in sales tax revenue in 2018.

Wise County had a 10.24 percent growth in sales tax revenue off its half-cent rate, bringing in $4.131 million over the past 12 months – a $383,866 increase from the previous year.

“The county is in a good place. We just ended this fiscal year in better financial shape than we’ve been in in a long time in terms of holding to our budget, and where our revenue came in versus our expenditures,” Clark said. “We spent less than we collected in revenues. That shows the responsibility on the county’s behalf as far as spending. It shows the health of the county overall that the revenue was up because of the sales tax far exceeded what we budgeted. Going into 2019, it’s going to continue to be strong, and hopefully we see that sales tax continue to be up.”

As the residential growth continues in the county, Clark wants to make sure it is also supporting existing local businesses and ones looking to relocate to Wise County. He points out that the recently adopted federal Farm Bill, which provides grants and long-term loans for rural broadband projects in the middle mile, the space between main fiber lines and outlying areas, will play a role in meeting those goals.

“A big component of that now that the Farm Bill has been signed and when they implement those programs how can we utilize those to work with some providers to expand service for businesses and residents around Wise County,” Clark said.

The county judge also will be looking to secure some grant funding to address needed work at the historic courthouse in the heart of the Decatur Square.

“We hope that we’re able to secure some grant funding from the Texas Historic Commission during this next term to do some work to this courthouse,” Clark said. “As we plan for growth and prepare for the future, we can’t forget about where we came from too. This building is the icon of that. It was built in 1895 and needs a little love. I think even if you’re not from Wise County, people agree it’s one of the most beautiful courthouses in the state.”

County officials will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings in Austin with the 86th Legislature convening. Heading into the session, there has been talk about property tax reform. Clark said the county should be ready to respond appropriately.

As 2019 starts, and another four-year term for Clark begins, he is optimistic about how the county is set to handle the ongoing challenges and growth.

“We’re in a good place,” Clark said. “We’ve got challenges, but there’s more opportunities than challenges.”

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