Council Previews for Saturday, September 13, 2014

BUDGET, AIRPORT IMPROVEMENTS GET CITY’S FOCUS - The Bridgeport City Council will adopt its 2014-2015 tax rate of $0.5875 per $100 valuation at its meeting Tuesday, 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at 900 Thompson Street. The council will also discuss a uniform rental agreement with G&K Services and consider an agreement with TxDOT’s aviation division for improvements and repairs to the Bridgeport Municipal Airport.

DUGOUTS, AG BARNS ON AGENDA - The Bridgeport ISD will meet 7:30 p.m. Monday night at 2107 15th Street. At the meeting, the board is expected to discuss baseball dugouts, agricultural science barns and electronic message boards for each campus.

CRIME LAB, RESIGNATION ON COMMISSIONERS’ AGENDA – Wise County Commissioners face a lengthy agenda when they meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the third floor of the courthouse in Decatur, among them a request from Sheriff David Walker to acquire a building to be used as a future crime lab, and a “notification letter” received from Election Administrator Lanny Noble “for his resignation.” Other agenda items include bids on property sold in the recent “struck off property” auction, a final plat for Montecito Estates, cleaning out county road right-of-way to improve public safety and a discussion of conditions that might call for renewing the county’s burn ban. The meeting is open to the public.

DECATUR SCHOOL BOARD MEETS MONDAY – Decatur ISD administrators will provide the school board with their district and campus improvement plans at Monday’s meeting. The consent agenda includes the usual monthly items as well as approval of out-of-state travel for the National FFA Convention. The superintendent’s communications include a report on resignations/new hires, principals’ reports, directors’ reports, enrollment report, the high school ag project center and bond election. The meeting will take place at the DISD Administration Building, 307 S. Cates with a closed session at 6 p.m. followed by the open session at 7.

CHICO SCHOOL BOARD MEETS MONDAY – The Chico School Board will consider the Dads for Dragons program at Chico Elementary School at Monday’s meeting. In addition to the routine monthly items, the board will consider the sale of real estate, designation of 4-H activities as extracurricular school events and Extension agents as adjunct staff members, and district goals for the 2014-2015 school year. A work session with WRA Architects will take place following the board meeting in the elementary library. The regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in Room 150 of Chico Elementary School, 1120 Park Road.

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County approves $70 million budget

Wise County commissioners Monday approved a $70.6 million budget for fiscal year 2015.

The budget is $4.1 million bigger than last year’s, but the tax rate will remain the same. Commissioners adopted the same rate as last year – 37.89 cents per $100 valuation.

The new budget is slightly larger than FY ’14 due to an increase in county insurance, a 3 percent raise for all county employees and $5 million in capital expenditures. The rest of the budget remained the same as last year with only minor changes in some departments.

Taxpayers may also notice a slight difference in the proposed budget versus what was approved this week. Commissioners proposed a $69.8 million spending plan, but three funds were later adjusted.

Changes included an increase in reserves from $301,500 to $1,121,500 – which county auditor Ann McCuiston said is insurance money moved to reserves until it’s needed for roof repairs.

The fund for the impound yard was also increased from $75,000 to $87,000, and the Community Supervision and Corrections Department was actually reduced by $13,377, from $2,017,986 to $2,004,609.

Other budget details were explained in Messenger stories throughout the month of August. They have been removed from the website’s paywall and can be read at wcmess.com/budget.

Prior to Monday’s approval, the county held three public hearings. No one attended a public hearing Sept. 2, and although a few people attended a second hearing Sept. 5, no one asked a question or addressed commissioners.

A public hearing was also held at 8:45 a.m. before Monday’s meeting, but no one spoke.

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On Monday, commissioners also approved the $6.2 million Weatherford College Wise County budget and adopted a branch campus maintenance tax of 4.618 cents per $100 valuation.

Public hearings for this tax rate were held in conjunction with those for the county budget and tax rate. The only person to speak was Democratic county judge candidate Jim Stegall on Sept. 5.

He asked if there was a projected number of credit hours per student that would make the college self-sustaining. County Judge Glenn Hughes suggested it was a question of the number of students.

WCWC Associate Dean Matt Joiner said this year about $649,000 was transferred to balance the budget.

“Obviously, we want to see that number shrink,” he said. “A rough estimate … if we could hit 1,000 students that would be really close.”

He said that would be approximately 400 more students than are currently enrolled.

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County to replace jail’s rooftop

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office is the last of 11 county buildings to have its roof repaired after an ice storm nine months ago.

While work was being started on the other structures, county commissioners danced around hiring someone for the million-dollar S.O. job before finally giving the nod Aug. 25 to Eikon Consulting, an engineering firm in Sanger.

The hire was made at the recommendation of Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns.

The Sheriff’s Office, along with several other county buildings, was damaged by ice in early December 2013. County Asset Manager Diana Alexander said while she was gathering information and specs to bid the repair work, the county was hit by a severe hail storm in February. When commissioners met in March, they decided to add the hail damage to list of repairs and bid out all the work at once – except for the Sheriff’s Office.

The insurance company said the 106,000-square-foot roof that covers not only the administration offices, but also the Wise County Jail, would need to be replaced.

Alexander said the work on other buildings was in the $200 to $500 range per structure and was easy to describe and put into a bid packet. But the scope of the work required to replace the S.O. roof was much greater and would require the insight of an engineer.

In April, commissioners gave Sheriff David Walker authority to find an engineer for the job.

Over the course of the next few months, Walker made several suggestions, including Southwest Architects, the firm that built the jail, but each recommendation seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Although they never discussed it in a public meeting or elaborated on what firm might be better than those suggested, commissioners continually denied Walker’s recommendations and put off making a decision.

On Aug. 11, commissioners changed the way they had gone about seeking an engineer, and decided to ask for requests for qualifications (RFQs). But by Aug. 19, they had changed their minds again. At a budget workshop they discussed ditching the RFQ request and just hiring someone – which was the original plan. Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg said the RFQ process could take too long, further delaying the work, and complicating budget plans for fiscal year 2015.

Walker suggested another firm, Building Envelope Consultants out of Houston, but that suggestion got zero response from commissioners.

County Judge Glenn Hughes acknowledged Walker’s suggestion before addressing Burns.

“Kevin, do you have someone that you know of? Do you have a name?” he asked the Precinct 2 commissioner.

Burns said he didn’t and trailed off explaining that it could be an architect or an engineer.

“Do you have someone in mind, Kevin?” the judge asked, to which Burns replied he did not.

Eikon Senior Project Manager Nathan McQuillan attended that meeting but did not speak.

He also showed up at the Aug. 25 regular commissioners meeting and was hired that day. Commissioners also rescinded their request for RFQs that day.

Burns told the Messenger last week that Eikon was recommended by Denton County Commissioner Ron Marchant, who was pleased with the work the firm had completed on a detention center in his county. He said McQuillan attended the Aug. 19 meeting after hearing from Marchant that Wise County was looking for an engineering firm.

Alexander said McQuillan will write the scope of the project and likely put it into a bid packet.

“He’s our liasion and our representative on this project and making sure our interests are watched out for,” she said.

The insurance company estimated the damage at $820,000, but a third-party engineer told the county it would cost between $1.2 to $1.3 million. County Auditor Ann McCuiston said the insurance company will likely cover any additional expense but not until the work is complete.

Any expenses that occur in the meantime will be covered by capital expenditure money and replaced when insurance money is received.

The county will pay Eikon a percentage of the final construction cost, but those numbers are still being negotiated.

Walker said McQuillan was on the job bright and early Aug. 26.

MORE ROOF WORK

Rock Roofing and Construction LLC completed repairs – some major, some minor – on 10 other county buildings in late July and early August. Total cost was $47,452, all of which is covered by insurance.

The projects included:

  • Juvenile Probation, 401 Rook Ramsey
  • EMS, 1101 W. Rose Ave.
  • Wise County Animal Shelter, 119 PR 4195
  • Courthouse Annex, 205 N. State St.
  • Bridgeport Annex, 1007 13th St.
  • Precinct 1 equipment shed, 1151 N. FM 51
  • Adult Probation, 105 E. Walnut St.
  • Financial Building, 207 N. Church St.
  • Financial Building storage, 207 N. Church St.
  • WARM/Red Cross, 300 N. Trinity St.

*All buildings listed above are in Decatur except the Bridgeport Annex.

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County to seek bids on EMS rescue tanker

Despite a tense discussion Monday, Wise County commissioners are looking into the possibility of purchasing a rescue truck with a tanker.

They approved seeking bids for the vehicle at their regular meeting this week at the request of EMS Administrator Charles Dillard. They also approved his request to purchase two ambulances off Buy Board, a purchasing co-op.

Dillard said he wanted to add the tanker to the rescue truck to enable his crews to put out fires when necessary.

“We would use it if someone is trapped in a car, and we’re there but the fire department’s not,” he said.

Dillard told the Messenger Friday that he could think of seven or eight incidents where this scenario has occurred in the last two years.

“We’re not looking at fighting grass fires or house fires or anything else,” he said Friday. “If someone is trapped in a vehicle and the fire department is not on scene, at least we’d have an option other than sitting there and watching them burn up.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said at the meeting that “some fire departments have issue with that,” and they’re concerned with the safety of the medics.

Dillard said he understood, but noted that but half of his personnel are certified firefighters.

“We’re working with the Commission on Fire Protection where we’ll have the gear and everything also,” he said.

Burns said it was a “major change in protocol,” and that he was not convinced it was a good idea.

“I don’t think you have the personnel to handle all that at a scene do you?” he asked. “That requires another complement of men to do that effectively.”

Burns said two people would be needed on the hose and two people on the truck.

“You need three people out there, minimal, to be effective – to be safe,” he said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if Dillard could put three men on the rescue truck.

Dillard said he couldn’t, but there would also be an ambulance crew on scene to assist. He also explained that he’s considering putting in “red line” – a hose that can be handled by one person.

“We’re not trying to take over anything the fire department is doing,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide personal safety. Some of the departments are toned out, and they’re en route in minutes. But … we’re noticing more and more it’s harder to get a response in the daytime.”

Burns admitted that it is a turf issue, but he also touched on safety again.

“If you don’t have trained guys out there, you might have somebody in harm’s way thinking they’re protected, but if you don’t have an engine out there with a booster, you don’t have anything,” he said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if acquiring more fire extinguishers would be an option.

Dillard said those were only of limited benefit due to their size.

County Judge Glenn Hughes said there were several ways to look at this, and he could see all sides.

“But if you were trapped in a car, you wouldn’t care if that old boy was certified or not, a splash of water in here is all I ask,” he said, eliciting laughter and lightening the discussion.

Dillard asked Burns if he’d like to table the issue and discuss it later.

Burns said he wanted to table it – but then turned right around and made the motion to purchase the ambulances and seek bids for the rescue truck with tanker – with the stipulation that it be used in cross-training with the firefighters and it be available to firefighters on scene.

“If there was a way to figure out coordination with them, it’d be a secondary unit for them,” he said. “But we’d have to coordinate that.”

Dillard told the Messenger Friday that each ambulance will cost $209,000, and he estimates the rescue truck to come in around $165,000 with a small tank (200 gallons) and pump.

Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said Monday that he could also see both sides of the issue. He reiterated that if the truck is eventually purchased and put into service, it would be for use only in the kind of situations Dillard described.

Burns admitted there are “remote places that it’d be advantageous.”

Dillard told the Messenger he’d make the truck available to any department, and he would take it to department meetings to go over its capabilities and do live fire training, if that’s what the chiefs wanted.

“My primary job is to treat citizens like it’s my family member, and if my family member was hung up in that car, what would you want done for them?” he asked.

The ambulances and rescue truck, if a bid is accepted, will be purchased with capital expenditure money set aside for this purpose.

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Elevator expense going up

A state inspection revealed this summer that the courthouse elevator needs improvement.

It may not make the creaky ride to the top faster, but it should be safer.

County Judge Glenn Hughes told commissioners at a July 28 meeting that the elevator, which runs on a single-wall cylinder, must be converted to a double-wall cylinder to meet current safety code. At that time he said Otis Elevator Co., the company that currently maintains the elevator, estimated the cost at $60,000.

Commissioners decided to seek bids, but the only company that threw its hat in the ring was Otis with a formal bid of $70,000. They were awarded the job in Monday’s regular commissioners meeting.

The elevator was installed in the early ’60s, and the hydraulic cylinder that runs it fits into a hole in the bedrock underneath the courthouse.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said Tuesday that they’re not sure how deep the hole is, but it could be up to 12 or 15 feet. The current hole was drilled for the single-wall cylinder and will have to be enlarged to fit the double-wall cylinder. It will also have to be drained of any fluids that may have collected in it. Burns said fluids will also likely drain into it as the elevator is disassembled.

At this point, it’s not clear how or who will drill and drain the hole.

Otis representative Amanda Haynes told commissioners that their bid does not include “drilling or sucking out the hole.” It only includes the parts and labor to change the cylinder.

“The hole you have now is so small that you can’t get the hose down there to suck it out,” she said. “There are a lot of unknowns … as far as putting a price on it, it’s impossible.”

Haynes said the county could hire someone else to drill the hole, but an Otis mechanic would have to be present.

“It’s solid rock under the courthouse, and that’s what they’re worried about,” Burns said. “And that’s understandable.”

The commissioner said Otis could do the work or they might hire it out.

“I wanted to reserve the right to do it ourselves, as well as cleaning out the fluids,” he said. “I’m curious about what type of machinery will be required for the job.”

Commissioners will further investigate the best method to drill and drain the hole so the project can move forward.

The county was notified of the necessary upgrade during an annual state inspection in June and has until June 2015 to complete the work.

If it’s not completed by that time, the elevator will be shut down.

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Commissioners dig into budget

County commissioners have proposed an almost $70 million budget for fiscal year 2015, and Auditor Ann McCuiston hit the financial highlights in a budget workshop Thursday.

The bulk of the discussion centered around declining a state stipend for the judge’s salary, but McCuiston gave the details behind other significant numbers.

She said there was a slight increase in autopsy and inquest expenses, from $120,000 to $130,000. It was noted that Wise County could use either the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office or the Dallas County ME, but Dallas County is the office of choice.

County Judge Glenn Hughes said he tried to compare pricing between the two offices, but there wasn’t much difference.

He asked Justice of the Peace Jan Morrow why the Dallas office is used instead of the one in Fort Worth, and she said it was the preference of District Attorney Greg Lowery.

“We could use Tarrant or Dallas, but with anything criminal, the district attorney has asked that we use Dallas County,” she said. “They feel much more comfortable with any testimony is their reasoning, so we try to go along with the district attorney.”

“So is it that Dallas is a little more technical or professional?” the judge asked.

“Mr. Lowery could probably give you a little more insight into his reasoning,” she said, “but he prefers (Dallas), especially on the criminal ones.”

ENGINEERS/CONSULTANTS

The proposed budget also includes an increase for engineers and consultants due to the continued rising cost of Kimley-Horn engineering.

“I had asked (county engineer) Chad (Davis) if he would stay in touch with them and keep track of what’s going on with them because their costs have doubled in the last three or four years,” McCuiston said.

Davis told commissioners that in 2008, subdivision work dropped drastically, but they’ve “seen a lot more come across the desk” the last couple of years. He’s also started assisting with construction inspections to cut down on the firm’s trips to the county and therefore, their bill.

The FY ’15 budget includes $101,700 for engineers and consultants. Last year $80,000 was budgeted, and the county has spent $92,171 to date. In fiscal year 2013, $112,347 was spent on engineers and consultants, compared to $77,583 in fiscal year 2012.

OIL AND GAS

McCuiston also noted they anticipate a significant drop in oil and gas royalties.

Last year the county budgeted $800,000, but it’s received only $400,199.67 to date. They have budgeted $550,000 for FY ’15.

TEEN COURT

Hughes noted the proposed budget does not include funding for teen court because the group was disorganized, and they didn’t have clear goals. In fiscal year 2014, $18,000 was allotted to the organization.

“They had two or three different names, and I was kind of confused as to who they even were,” the judge said.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg backed up the judge, saying the documentation was confusing. The group that approached the county for funding is Wise Area Teen Court and helpers (WATCh).

“I told them that if they’d get their numbers together and information and tell us what they do, and the benefits, we’d be glad to come back to this,” he said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns also noted the justices of the peace would need to utilize the group to warrant giving them county money.

The only JP present, Morrow, said she doesn’t have enough cases to recommend to teen court, and those she could recommend often don’t want to participate when they learn of the commitment it requires. She said the city courts utilize it more often.

It was also noted that there are now two teen court groups in the county.

Other items of note:

  • $17,000 for IT consultants
  • $500 auto allowance increase for justices of the peace
  • $3,000 increase for Wise County Child Welfare Board
  • $300,000 in cash reserves
  • an increase for election judges (Read more in next midweek’s Messenger.)

This year’s proposed budget is based on the current tax rate of 37.89 cents per $100 property valuation. If approved, this means property owners would not pay more in taxes unless the value of their property increased.

Commissioners will have public hearings on the tax rate at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, and 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

They are scheduled to adopt a tax rate and budget Sept. 8.

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Commissioners propose budget, tax rate

Nothing is set in stone, but Wise County’s budget for fiscal year 2015 is taking shape.

County commissioners proposed a $69.8 million budget – a $3.3 million increase over last year – in a workshop Tuesday morning.

They also agreed to keep the tax rate at 37.89 cents per $100 property valuation, as suggested by County Judge Glenn Hughes in a July 31 meeting. If approved, this means property owners would not pay more in taxes unless the value of their property increased.

Neither the budget or the tax rate will be final until commissioners formally approve them in a special meeting Monday, Sept. 8.

Prior to that, two public hearings on the tax rate will be held the first week of September. The first is 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, and the second is 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5. Both meetings will be held in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

Under the Texas Property Tax Code, the county is required to hold the hearings because the proposed tax rate is higher than the effective rate. If adopted, the effective rate, with this year’s property values, would raise the same amount of tax dollars as fiscal year 2014, but Hughes was concerned it wouldn’t raise enough money to balance the budget.

Although overall property values are up 5.3 percent, a $400,000 increase in county insurance almost cancels out additional tax revenue that will be generated with the current rate in the next fiscal year.

Aside from the insurance increase and a 3 percent pay raise for all county employees, county Auditor Ann McCuiston said the rest of the budget remains the same as last year with only minor changes in various departments.

The fiscal year 2015 budget also includes $5 million in capital expenditures, which accounts for the overall increase from FY ’14 to FY ’15. Last year there was no capital expenditure money in the budget.

In December, commissioners approved funding $15 million in capital expenditures with tax notes, and the money will be used over a five-year period, starting in FY ’15, to purchase equipment and vehicles for various county departments.

This is the second time the county has used a capital expenditure plan. The first was in 2008, and that debt will be paid off this fiscal year.

Commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25, in the courthouse in Decatur.

Read more details about the county budget in the weekend Messenger.

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Commissioners talk money on Monday

The county and college budgets will be on the table for discussion at next week’s commissioners meeting.

The two budgets – one for the county and one for Weatherford College Wise County – were presented to commissioners in a special meeting July 31. Commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. It’s open to the public.

Commissioners will also discuss:

  • purchasing new duty weapons for sheriff’s deputies with the option for officers to purchase their old duty weapon for personal use;
  • entering into a professional services agreement for assistance in the roof replacement project at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and Jail; and
  • discuss the reporting requirements for the County Transportation Infrastructure Fund Grant Program.

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Commissioners eye proposed budget, tax rates

Numbers are flying among county officials as they close in on a budget for fiscal year 2015.

County Judge Glenn Hughes and Auditor Ann McCuiston have been meeting with department heads for weeks, fine-tuning individual budgets, but Thursday was the first of several special meetings and workshops that are open to the public.

Hughes said the meeting this week was for informational purposes. He presented a proposed budget based on the current property tax rate of 37.89 cents per $100 valuation, and Tax Assessor-Collector Monte Shaw presented the 2014 property tax rates.

“Today I’d like to just lay this out as an informative meeting,” Hughes said.

He said he’d like commissioners to study the budget and be prepared to discuss it in more depth at workshops currently scheduled for Aug. 19-20.

He did hit the highlights of what he’s proposing for FY 2015.

They include:

  • a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees, including elected officials;
  • no new positions;
  • moving tobacco settlement money received annually from the state to indigent care instead of putting it in the right-of-way fund;
  • slight increase in travel expenses for justices of the peace;
  • adjustment to the county judge’s salary;
  • $300,000 in cash reserves to balance the budget.

This draft of the budget is based on the current property tax rate, which means, if approved, homeowners would not pay more in taxes unless the value of their property increased.

Shaw said the effective tax rate is 36.13 cents per $100 valuation – a difference of almost 2 cents. If the effective tax rate were adopted, it would, with this year’s property values, raise the same amount of tax dollars as last year and would be a slight tax decrease for homeowners whose values remained the same.

But Hughes fears it wouldn’t raise enough money to balance the budget. Although overall property values are up 5.3 percent, a $400,000 increase in county insurance almost cancels out the additional tax revenue.

“We’ve stayed at the effective rate so long that it’s got us behind the eight ball,” Hughes said. “I don’t know how else to word that, but somewhere we have to get caught up. We have to get our reserves back up.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White questioned the suggested employee raise and asked if it should be cut from the budget.

“If we’re crunching numbers, maybe our employees need to realize that they don’t get a raise this year and feel fortunate that they’re getting what they’re getting from us,” he said.

Hughes emphasized that the raise was nothing more than a cost-of-living increase, and it would help employees cover the additional insurance costs coming out of their paychecks. He said he understood White’s point-of-view, though.

The commissioner said he wasn’t against employees getting raises, but “if we’re crunching numbers, maybe that’s one we should crunch.”

Commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 11, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. Budget workshops are planned for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, and Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office training room, 200 Rook Ramsey Dr., in Decatur.

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Tax Assessor-Collector Monte Shaw also presented the property tax rates for Wise County’s college branch maintenance tax, which funds Weatherford College Wise County.

The current rate is 4.6 cents per $100 property valuation, and the effective rate is 4.4 cents. The college’s budget was also given to commissioners, but there was no discussion of either issue.

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Constable vehicles will all be marked

There will no longer be any unmarked constable vehicles on Wise County roads.

County commissioners decided Monday that all constable vehicles should be marked in accordance with the Texas Transportation Code.

The issue was brought up when Precinct 3 Constable Doug Parr, who currently drives an unmarked vehicle, asked that regular license plate tags be put on his car.

He currently has exempt tags, which according to the state Transportation Code, are to be used only on marked vehicles.

“I was asking (Judge Glenn Hughes) about getting that fixed so that I’m running legally just like the sheriff’s civil deputies and the county attorney investigators and D.A. investigators and everybody else,” he said. “That was my request, just to put tags on it, so it’s legal.”

But the discussion quickly shifted from the topic of tags to the issue of marked versus unmarked cars.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg said section 721.004 of the Texas Transportation Code requires that county-owned vehicles be marked, but section 721.005 allows commissioners to exempt certain vehicles from inscription, including those belonging to constables.

“The question for the court is whether you want constables to have unmarked vehicles,” he said. “That would allow them to go down and have regular plates.”

Currently, vehicles used by Constables Dennis Hudson and Larry Short, in Precincts 1 and 2 respectively, are marked, and Parr’s is unmarked. Precinct 4 Constable Kevin Huffman’s vehicle is marked, but it’s white-on-white, which is potentially difficult to see.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White was the first to speak up.

“I personally would like to see our constable cars marked,” he said. “Tags on it impress me none.

“If they go out to serve papers or something, they need to be identified when they’re driving up,” he said. “They should have some type of marking visible. I don’t like the black lettering on black cars.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance said as a retired police officer, he understands why Parr might want an unmarked car, but in his current position he agrees with White.

“The citizens are going to call us and are going to say there’s some jasper out there with a gun on, and we don’t know what he’s doing and all that,” he said.

“My question would be why is my department different from others in the county doing the exact same job?” Parr asked.

White said he wasn’t opposed to marking all of them because he sees it as a safety issue.

“Why are we going around with marked cars and unmarked cars for law enforcement?” he asked.

The Sheriff’s Office uses two unmarked cars to serve civil papers and has other unmarked vehicles used by investigators and administrators.

“We have two that both have regular tags, and (the deputies serving papers) wear a gun and a badge and a Sheriff’s Office shirt, not a uniform,” said Sheriff David Walker.

He said at training, unmarked cars are recommended because the papers being served aren’t criminal in nature, and an unmarked vehicle is less conspicous and therefore, less embarrassing for citizens.

“A lot of times you’re serving people civil papers, divorce papers, evicting someone out of a house, and this, that and the other,” he said. “That’s why we do it. Could it be a safety issue? Yes, obviously it can. (The deputies) are both in unmarked vehicles but wear identifiable clothes. They’re forbidden from making traffic stops unless it’s an emergency situation. That’s how we have ours set up.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said he’d heard from local constables and those in other counties that marked constable vehicles deter crime while patrolling, even though they’re not stopping people.

White said he wasn’t trying to run down anyone’s department, but he wasn’t sure a badge and uniform were enough to properly identify an officer.

“You hear in the Metroplex all the time about a man dressed up like a police offer,” he said. “He gets out of a car, rapes a woman or whatever he does, robs them … just because he’s got a badge on doesn’t tell me he’s a peace officer, but if he drives up in a marked car, not everyone is going to drive around in a car that says ‘constable.’ Then if you see them get out with a gun and a badge, you pretty well know they’re employees of the county.

“I’d hate to get out of an unmarked car and serve papers,” he said. “It’s a good way to get shot in my opinion.”

Parr said he’s been shot at before, so that was “of paramount concern.”

“And that was in a marked car,” he said, “so if they’re going to shoot at you, it really doesn’t matter which kind of car.”

Parr said he simply has better luck serving papers in an unmarked car.

“I’ve had a marked car, and as soon as you round the corner in a marked car, half the people you deal with hit the door and won’t answer and that causes me two or three more trips, and I have to get an order from the judge to post it because they won’t answer the door.”

He said some of the people he deals with may also have criminal history and assume a marked car is tied to a more serious infraction, causing them to run or just not answer the door. If he pulls up in an unmarked car, he said people are more likely to at least answer the door, and he can simply hand them the papers.

He also echoed Walker’s statement, saying since his work is not criminal in nature, it’s less embarrassing for citizens when he’s serving papers to have an unmarked car parked in front of their home or business.

“Whatever you guys decide, I’ll be fine,” he said. “Safety is obviously my main concern going out anyway, and I’ll do what I have to do to protect myself.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts made a motion to have proper signage on all constable vehicles, and Lamance gave it a second. The motion passed unanimously.

According to the state Transportation Code, marked vehicles should have the name of the county and the office to which the vehicle belongs on each side of the vehicle. The decals must be in a “color sufficiently different from the body of the vehicle so that the lettering is plainly legible.”

It also says the inscription must be legible 100 feet away.

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Commissioners to review fire conditions

When they meet Monday morning at the Wise County Courthouse, the county commissioners will take a look at weather and vegetation conditions and review whether to renew, amend, revise or rescind the county’s burn ban.

Fire Marshal Charlie Beard is due to report at the meeting on recent fires and conditions in neighboring counties and throughout the state, and make recommendations for Wise County.

At the Monday meeting, commissioners will also review the county’s Indigent Health Care program and policy procedures for 2014-2015, as well as take action on a called meeting held Thursday to discuss health insurance for employees with the county’s health insurance broker, Brian Stephens of Stephens, Bastian and Cartwright.

Commissioners will also discuss revisions to the county’s fund balance policy and adding non-exempt vehicle tags and signage on vehicles for constables.

In routine business, commissioners will consider:

  • department head and committee reports;
  • budget amendments, claims and payroll; utility permits/right of way, interlocal agreements, contracts and correspondence;
  • a three-year capital expenditure plan;
  • plats of lots in Wildwood in Precinct 2, Walnut Creek Ranchetts in precinct 1 and Grasslands Estates in precinct 2.
  • accepting donations of personal property/various revenues;
  • the June 30 meeting minutes.

The meeting, which starts at 9 a.m., will be in the jury room on the third floor of the Wise County Courthouse. It is open to the public.

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Truck traffic restricted on CR 2474

Wise County commissioners decided Monday to restrict truck traffic on County Road 2474 in Precinct 2.

The action comes after a public hearing on the issue prior to its regular meeting June 16. Mike Pirtle was the only resident who attended the public forum, and he spoke in favor of closing the road to trucks. He described the road, saying it’s only 16 feet across at the widest point, and one quarter-mile section is only 10 feet wide.

Pirtle said at the hearing that the road has seen an increase in recreational use in recent years as an entrance to the LBJ National Grasslands, but his main concern was the possibility of increased oil and gas truck traffic.

There was no further discussion at Monday’s meeting, but commissioners unanimously approved the traffic restriction.

Laura Spain, with the Wise County Veterans Service Office, reported to commissioners on the activities of her office. She said from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2013, the office “has made $10,219,000 for this county.”

“I broke it down even more because it sounds even more impressive when you say $851,000 per month and $27,979 per day,” she said. “That’s what the veterans service brings into this county. That’s government money … that money is for immediate circulation. That money is for compensation and pension, healthcare, dependent benefits, funeral benefits … and all that money comes into the county thanks to my office.

“Obviously, it’s not just my office, but we’re really, really proud of what we’ve been able to do,” she said.

Spain said there are 40 years of experience between the office’s four employees. She was named state service officer of the year in 2013, and Patsy Harris was given a certificate of honor from the state for her work.

Regina Alexander was presented a certificate of appreciation for 15 years of service, and Terri Meeks also received a certificate of appreciation.

In other business, commissioners:

  • presented the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission to the Wise County Historical Commission; and
  • accepted the fiscal year 2013 annual outside audit report for the Wise County Emergency Service District No. 1.

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Restricted truck traffic on agenda

Wise County commissioners will decide Monday at their regular meeting whether or not to restrict truck traffic on County Road 2474.

The county held a public hearing on the issue prior to its regular meeting June 16 but could not take action on it because it was not on that day’s agenda.

Mike Pirtle was the only resident who attended the public forum, and he spoke in favor of closing the road to trucks.

He described the Precinct 2 road, saying it’s only 16 feet across at the widest point, and one quarter-mile section is only 10 feet wide.

“I’ve been there since 1988, and the last few years we’ve seen a tremendous influx of recreational use,” he said. “It’s the third entrance to the LBJ National Grasslands, and our little road was never supposed to handle that kind of traffic.”

In other business, commissioners will discuss and consider Wise Soil and Water Conservation District projects on the conditions and known rehabilitation needs of dams – including the Salt Creek and laterals watershed and Big Sandy Creek watershed.

They will also discuss the fiscal year 2013 annual outside audit report for Wise County Emergency Service District No. 1 and will present the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission to the Wise County Historical Commission.

The award recognizes the county commission’s outstanding preservation work accomplished in 2013.

Also on the agenda are county committee reports, consideration of bids, donations and joint venture project agreements with other local governmental entities.

Monday’s meeting is 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. It’s open to the public.

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Commissioners to discuss interim JP

Wise County commissioners will discuss Monday the appointment of an interim justice of the peace for Precinct 2.

The post was left vacant just two weeks ago when Judge Terri Johnson was killed April 26 in a car accident on U.S. 81/287 south of Decatur.

The interim JP will serve until the next general election, which is in November. Johnson was running unopposed this year, seeking a third term in office.

The local Republican Executive Committee will name a candidate to replace her on the ballot. J.D. Clark is leading the search committee, and he’s chosen Eric Marney, Rick Duwe and Ann Williams to assist him. Applications are being accepted through May 21.

In other business, commissioners will consider a proclamation noting the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act, the founding legislation of the nationwide Cooperative Extension Service. Extension agents Tanya Davis and Todd Vineyard will present the Building a Better Texas Award to the county commissioners for “decades of cooperation and support.”

Commissioners will also discuss an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to contribute right-of-way funds for a project to make certain highway improvements on U.S. 81/287 south of Decatur. They will also consider a supplemental agreement to an executed contribution agreement from 2009 (regarding a project on Farm Road 730) that would allow TxDOT to transfer surplus funds in the amount of $65,645.40 to the county for use on the Decatur project.

Also of note: The agenda includes an executive session for commissioners to meet with legal counsel for discussion and updates on pending litigation.

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Commissioners to meet Monday

Wise County commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Monday in the third-floor conference room of the county courthouse.

They will discuss the county transportation infrastructure fund grant program, which is administered by the Texas Department of Transportation, and consider revising the county’s prioritized project list to reflect the state’s final allocation.

Commissioners will also consider:

  • proclaiming April 27-May 4 Soil and Water Stewardship Week for the Wise Soil and Water Conservation District Board;
  • final plats for Forte Addition and 55 and County;
  • a replat for Seven Wires Lots 12R1-12R2; and
  • a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment for increased state funding for transportation.

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Commissioners approve additional shelter staff

Help is on the way.

Wise County commissioners voted Monday to add a position at the Wise County Animal Shelter at the request of Administrator Linda Bryan.

“We have two-and-a-half people,” she said. “We don’t even have enough people to cover when someone is sick. I’m trying to get my part-time girl, full-time.”

Bryan said if her current part-time employee could work full time, she could better utilize her.

“She came from a Weatherford equine facility, so she’s well-educated and can handle it,” she said. “She’s a good employee, and I would hate to lose her. She left a full-time job with benefits to come here.”

Auditor Ann McCuiston said it would cost $8,800 to finish fiscal year 2014 with that job as a full-time post, but Bryan also wants to keep the part-time position. It would remain unfilled until next fiscal year.

The changes would mean a $37,000 increase to next year’s budget. McCuiston said the shelter has the $8,800 in this year’s budget to cover the immediate increase.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if there was anyone at the Sheriff’s Office that could help cover shifts at the shelter. Until December 2013 when the shelter was made its own department, it was a division of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

“We discussed that and looked at a lot of areas,” said Sheriff David Walker, “but we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. We just don’t have enough people to go around.”

Walker said the shelter has been understaffed for some time, and Bryan’s request is similar to those he has made for the shelter in recent years.

“I never dreamed the shelter would be that busy, but it is,” he said. “They’re running their tails off inside that shelter.”

Walker said the S.O. sends them inmate labor, but they could send more inmates if the person going full-time is certified as a jailer, which is part of Bryan’s plan.

“It’s needed, and it’s been needed down there for a long time,” Walker said. “They’ve got their back in a corner now, and we’ve pushed it long enough.”

Lamance said he realizes that it’s a service in high-demand, and animal welfare is an important issue to many citizens.

“It’s not like it was a long time ago … you can’t just pick them up and haul them to Jack County,” he said, eliciting laughter.

He made the motion to approve the new position.

Interim Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts seconded the motion.

“It’s just going to get worse; it’s not going to get better,” he said. “If we don’t address it now, it’s just going to be a train wreck later. You’re going to wind up down there with one employee … Then what are you going to do?

“Jack County will build a fence.”

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County reinforces building possession

All the buildings at the Wise County Fairgrounds are now on the county’s insurance policy.

At their regular meeting Monday, commissioners approved adding all structures at the fairgrounds to the county’s property insurance policy purchased through the Texas Association of Counties.

County Judge Glenn Hughes also noted that there had been “some inquiry on these buildings,” and he issued the following statement: “Our position is that they’re Wise County buildings and belong to Wise County taxpayers.”

As of February, the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse maintained that the buildings belonged to them and was seeking reimbursement for the structures since the county did not renew the organization’s lease. County officials have staunchly opposed any sort of reimbursement and have begun maintaining and improving the property.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said there’s also “been some inquiry as to how much improvement we want to continue to do to these buildings.”

Public Works Director Tom Goode oversees maintenance of the fairgrounds, and he and his crew have been steadily making improvements including painting, mowing, redoing plumbing at the wash racks, building new gates, building a load-out chute for the rodeo arena and adding dirt to the arena. Goode said they’ve also made electrical repairs to the arena press box and repaired the plumbing in one of the bathrooms.

“It would be my opinion that he can do whatever minor repairs need to be done to these buildings,” White said. “Anything major or costly, we probably need to do through court.”

Goode said some projects he’d like to see done in the future include replacement of the bleachers at the show arena and replacement of the sheep and goat pens with portable pens, which will allow more animals to be kept in the barns during the Youth Fair.

Goode said the cost for the portable pens would be $80,000, according to one proposal he received, and the cost to replace the bleachers would be $30,000. These expenditures would have to first be approved by commissioners.

County Auditor Ann McCuiston told the Messenger Tuesday $55,000 has been spent on the fairgrounds since the county took it over. This includes utility payments, $10,538 for the purchase of a John Deere tractor, $11,500 for electrical work and $7,300 on parts for general repairs, plus other minor expenses.

The fairgrounds have generated $13,000 to date in revenue. McCuiston said money has been set aside in the capital expenditure plan for the purchase of equipment at the fairgrounds, which could include the pens and bleachers.

The county has had the property appraised for insurance purposes, but those numbers were not available at the meeting.

“I think we only have a draft at this time,” said commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg when citizen Kristina Kemp inquired about the value. Kemp is the Democratic candidate running for Precinct 4 commissioner in the November general election.

“(The buildings) were valued [for insurance purposes] at the cost to replace them, which would be more than what they’re worth,” he said.

In other business, commissioners approved adding a position to the Animal Control Department. Read more about that decision in the weekend Messenger.

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Commissioners to meet at full strength

Every seat in commissioners court Monday will be filled for the first time since mid-October.

Following the death of County Judge Bill McElhaney Oct. 14, commissioners operated with Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns filling the judge’s post as well as the one to which he was elected.

Meanwhile, Glenn Hughes had been serving as interim Precinct 4 commissioner since August 2012 pending the conclusion of a civil suit calling for the removal of Commissioner Terry Ross. Ross was removed from office March 19, and Hughes resigned from the post the next day.

He was appointed interim county judge March 24, and on April 3 he appointed Gary Potts to fill the open Precinct 4 seat.

The string of vacancies, removals and appointments has created the following lineup for Monday: Glenn Hughes, county judge; Danny White, Precinct 1 commissioner; Kevin Burns, Precinct 2 commissioner; Harry Lamance, Precinct 3 commissioner; and Gary Potts, Precinct 4 commissioner.

Hughes and Potts will hold their respective offices until a new judge and Precinct 4 commissioner are elected in the Nov. 4 general election. The winners of those races will take office as soon as the votes are canvassed.

On Monday, commissioners will have a regular meeting at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. They will discuss and consider a small watershed rehabilitation resolution for Big Sandy Watershed project and Salt Creek and Laterals Watershed project.

They will also discuss adding all the structures at the Wise County Fairgrounds to the county’s property insurance and adding a part-time or full-time position to the Animal Control Department.

Commissioners will also consider bids, approve plats, accept donations and consider joint project agreements between the county and other local governmental entities.

Monday’s meeting is open to the public.

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Construction firm shares trophy, but no critters

”Do you have a raccoon in there?” Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns asked Jared Jones.

Jones, with Steele-Freeman of Fort Worth, walked into Monday’s commissioners meeting carrying a large, cardboard box. There was no woodland creature inside, but instead, a trophy.

Jones, along with Business Development Director Karen Benson and Assistant Project Manager Boyd Weaver, presented county commissioners with a first-place award that the construction company received in the 2013 TEXO Distinguished Building Awards for Weatherford College Wise County.

“We would like to give Wise County an award that we won for the college,” Jones said, as he held up the trophy. “This was for any project built in 2012 in all of North Texas for buildings in the $10 to $30 million range. It went up against buildings in Dallas, museums and the like.

“This is our first time to win first place,” he said.

Burns was perhaps suspicious of the large box because he anticipated a payback. The commissioner said when Jones first began work on the WCWC project, he put a raccoon in Jones’ portable office at the construction site “to welcome him to the country.”

Steele-Freeman received the honor at the TEXO awards banquet in December. Since then, they have also presented a trophy to the college to commemmorate the accomplishment.

SALVAGE YARDS

Only three people attended a public hearing prior to Monday’s regular commissioners meeting. The group invited citizens to comment on county regulations related to certain outdoor businesses.

At a Feb. 10 meeting, commissioners discussed the county’s salvage yard ordinance after a citizen inquired about local regulations. Commissioners discovered the county ordinance was not in line with state law regarding permit fees and needed to be rewritten.

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard suggested dropping the permit fee from $150 to $25.

“It would be easier to enforce if it was in line with state guidelines,” he said. “The state transportation code says we can impose a fee of $25. We impose a fee of $150, which goes with a county with a population of 1 million or more.”

County commissioners were on board with Beard’s suggestion and approved the measure.

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK

Commissioners approved updating the county’s employee handbook requiring Sheriff’s Office employees, Emergency Medical Services employees and road hands to have an eye exam as part of their physical prior to being hired.

Sheriff David Walker had requested the change after new deputies placed on night shift suddenly revealed they couldn’t see in the dark.

“It doesn’t bind us to buy their glasses or anything else like that,” he said. “But it does say that they have to pass an eye test.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said he found it “amazing that we hire someone who doesn’t realize they have trouble seeing at night.”

“There’s a lot of stuff people don’t tell you while they’re in the process of getting hired,” Walker said. “I think our testing will weed out a lot of that stuff.”

FAIRGROUNDS

White congratulated Public Works Director Tom Goode on his work to clean and prepare the fairgrounds for the Decatur Swap Meet and Wise County Youth Fair.

“We completed our first antique car swap meet and our first Youth Fair event, and I want to congratulate (Goode) on a fine job,” he said. “Everything I heard about the Youth Fair was ‘good job.’”

White said there were a few complaints from the car club, but he thought those issues had been ironed out.

Goode said he spoke with Zane Lasater, who organized the Youth Fair Rodeo, and Lasater told him everything went well.

“Any proceeds they had left over will be given back to the Youth Fair,” he said.

White said he thought the “county as a whole did a good job.”

“… we only had three months to prepare for this, and everyone pitched in and did a good job,” he said.

The next big event at the fairgrounds is the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge May 31.

OTHER BUSINESS

Commissioners also heard a report on the Sheriff’s Office phone system, which is no longer working properly.

Walker said the system and its battery backups were “knocked out” when transformers on Market Street in Decatur blew up Jan. 24.

“When we tried to re-program the phones, we found out the software is no longer available,” he said. “It doesn’t affect 911. That’s a totally different system. This is the system for the office that we bought when we built the jail. Sometimes the phones work, and sometimes they don’t.”

Asset Manager Diana Alexander said insurance has agreed to pay $54,000 toward a replacement system.

Walker also requested canceling the county’s contract with Maxor pharmacy services and instead using S&J Pharmacy in Decatur to provide medications to Wise County Jail.

He said his department originally used Maxor because the company could provide medications in bulk, and it gave the jail credit for medicine it didn’t use.

Walker said he had talked with a pharmacist at S&J who said the local pharmacy could also give them credit for unused medicine and would give them a price break on commonly used medications. They will also deliver to the jail, eliminating a one- to two-day wait when medicine was shipped from Maxor.

“This will make it a whole lot easier on our staff,” Walker said.

Commissioners approved the change.

They also:

  • accepted a $10,135 grant from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which was awarded to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office in 2012. The money will partially fund a new voice/data recorder.
  • approved a project agreement between Precinct 1 and the city of Decatur for road work on Eagle Drive, Thompson Street and Deer Park Road. White said the work will start the second week of June.
  • approved a proof of loss form for insurance coverage of roof repairs due to winter ice storms.
  • approved moving capital expenditure plan money, including $60,000 designated for computers and equipment to mount them in the ambulances from fiscal year 2014 to FY 2015 for EMS; moved half of the money designated for a new CAD system for the Sheriff’s Office from FY 2014 to FY 2015; and $80,000 from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2014 for a roller in Precinct 3.
  • extended the county’s red flag burn ban for another 90 days.
  • approved the purchase of a new pickup for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Wise County.
  • approved seeking bids for one or more police sports utility vehicles and pickups for the Sheriff’s Office.
  • approved White’s request to purchase a truck tractor on state contract. The state doesn’t accept trade-ins so his current truck tractor will be sold.
  • approved again seeking bids for EMS uniform pants.
  • approved a re-plat for Jordan Addition, lots 1R1 and 1R2, block 1, in Precinct 3 with variances for measurements on the street and drainage.
  • approved a final plat for Forte Addition, lot 1, in Precinct 3.
  • accepted $264.81 for Cans for Canines.
  • approved a proclamation declaring April 2014 as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Wise County.

County commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, March 24, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. The public is welcome.

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Public hearing set Monday

Wise County commissioners have a public hearing and regular meeting scheduled for Monday, March 10.

The public hearing is set for 8:45 a.m. at the courthouse to discuss and receive comments on county regulations related to certain outdoor businesses, including salvage yards. At a Feb. 10 meeting, commissioners discussed the county’s salvage yard ordinance after a citizen inquired about local regulations.

Commissioners discovered the county ordinance was not in line with state law and needed to be rewritten. Any action on the ordinance will take place in the regular meeting that starts at 9 a.m.

They will also discuss the capital budget for fiscal years 2014 through 2016, as well as updates to the Wise County employee handbook, and a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality waiver for stormwater discharges from small, municipal storm sewer systems.

Both meetings will be held in the third-floor conference room of the county courthouse in Decatur.

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