New judge takes office

County Judge-elect J.D. Clark is on the job.

During a special meeting Wednesday, county commissioners accepted the resignation of interim County Judge Glenn Hughes and appointed Clark to serve the remainder of Hughes’ term, which runs through Dec. 31.

First Day

FIRST DAY – District Judge John Fostel gives the oath of office to County Judge J.D. Clark Wednesday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Clark was sworn in by District Judge John Fostel, who teased the 28-year-old, saying “this is your last chance,” just before issuing the oath of office.

“How long did it take for Bob Holloway’s hair to turn white?” Fostel joked, in reference to the locks of a former county judge, who served 1983 to 1986.

Clark is likely the youngest currently serving county judge in the state, and Fostel noted that he was the youngest Wise County judge that he could remember, at least during his own tenure in the county.

Clark took the oath before a room packed shoulder to shoulder with family, friends and other county officials.

“It was a little surreal,” he said Friday. “… I was no longer a spectator but part of the meeting.”

Clark has been attending county commissioners meetings for months and said the knowledge he gained during that time will ease the transition. He went straight to work Wednesday afternoon.

“So far it’s been a lot of routine business while I get my bearings here and learn how different procedures work,” he said.

Clark said he wants to “get a feel for what (he) likes and what (he) might do a little differently.”

“It feels like a good fit for me,” he said. “I don’t feel out of place at all. I’m just glad to be at work.”

Taking Office

TAKING OFFICE – Interim County Judge Glenn Hughes (left) swore newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy into office Wednesday morning. Later in the meeting Hughes resigned his position. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy also took office Wednesday. Interim Commissioner Gary Potts resigned, and Kennedy was appointed to serve the remainder of his term.

Both Kennedy and Clark will start the terms to which they were elected Jan. 1.

Hughes, who was appointed interim judge following the death of County Judge Bill McElhaney, has returned to his post as county special projects manager – his job prior to filling in as judge.

He thanked all of Wise County Wednesday when he resigned.

“I want to thank everybody, all the departments, department heads and people of Wise County for putting up with me for the last eight or 10 months,” he said. “It’s been thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve learned a lot, and I appreciate the people of Wise County so much more.”

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Resignations lead to changes in county lineup

Wise County commissioners are expected to accept the resignations of County Judge Glenn Hughes and Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts at a special called meeting today.

Commissioners will also canvass the votes from the Nov. 4 election and will appoint people to fill the unexpired terms of Hughes and Potts.

More than likely, judge-elect J.D. Clark and Gaylord Kennedy, who won the Precinct 4 post, will be appointed to those positions. The meeting is at 10 a.m. in the Wise County Courthouse and is open to the public. (Read more in the weekend Messenger on newsstands Saturday.)

Despite the anticipation of welcoming new officeholders, county officials have plugged along on regular business the last two weeks with meetings Nov. 3 and Nov. 10.

LAW ENFORCEMENT VEHICLES

Commissioners on Nov. 3 approved the purchase of seven Chevrolet Tahoes, six for the Sheriff’s Office and one for the 271st District Court bailiff, at the request of Sheriff David Walker.

The S.O. vehicles will be paid for with designated capital expenditure money, and courthouse security funds will cover the cost of the district court’s vehicle.

The new Tahoes, all 2014s, will help the sheriff out of a bind while providing most of the new vehicles needed in fiscal 2015. Walker reported at the Oct. 13 commissioners meeting that the Tahoes purchased by his department in fiscal year 2014 ended up being 2015 models, instead of 2014 as promised by the dealer.

The sheriff had ordered equipment for the 2014s, but was unable to use it when the newer models arrived.

The equipment supplier said it would give him credit, allowing him to make an exchange, but he told commissioners last week that he was only going to get $4,000 for about $13,000 worth of merchandise.

In an effort to make the most of the 2015 vehicles and the 2014 equipment, he decided to go ahead and acquire the next six Tahoes that were scheduled to be purchased in FY 2015. The new fiscal year started Oct. 1, and capital expenditure money for FY 15 was also available on that date.

The 2014 equipment will be installed in the most recent batch of vehicles approved for purchase, and the 2015 models will be outfitted by a company in Temple.

He told commissioners he plans to use this company for all future equipment installations, too.

“When we order in the future, they will outfit (the vehicles) with radios that work on our system, and stripe them, etc.,” he said. “It’ll be cheaper and quicker and easier for the auditor and everyone because we can make one order, and it comes lock, stock and barrel – done.”

Walker said his department had outfitted its own cars for years, but that was no longer feasible. The most recent vehicles purchased will be used for patrol, and one will be made a canine unit.

OTHER BUSINESS

On Nov. 3 and Nov. 10, commissioners also:

  • approved the Western Surety Co. official bond for interim Elections Administrator Jim Parker and Wise County Auditor Ann McCuiston;
  • approved the Western Surety Co. rider bond for Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Craig Johnson;
  • approved a re-plat of Zimmerman Addition in Precinct 3;
  • approved a final plat for Vista Oaks, lots 1-6, in Precinct 1;
  • approved a re-plat for Stonegate Park, lots 35A and 35B, in Precinct 4;
  • accepted donations to Public Works – $65 from the Bridgeport Mexican Cemetery, $500 from Alvord Cemetery and $500 from Friendship Cemetery;
  • accepted donations to the Sheriff’s Office canine unit – $1,000 from Hanson Aggregates and $2,000 from Devon Energy;
  • accepted a $293.15 donation to the animal shelter from Cans for Canines;
  • approved a list of standing county committees;
  • tabled a final plat for Currey Addition in Precinct 1; and
  • tabled nominating someone for the Wise County Appraisal District board of directors.

After today’s special meeting, commissioners are not scheduled to meet again until Dec. 15.

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Meeting Previews for Saturday, November 8, 2014

DECATUR CITY COUNCIL – When they meet at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, the Decatur City Council will consider a rate increase request from Progressive Waste Solutions for residential and commercial garbage service for 2015. Also on the light agenda is a request to close some streets for the Chamber of Commerce’s “Moonlight Madness” parade Saturday, Dec. 6, and a couple of appointments – Brian Bosworth as a reserve police officer, and Murvelle Chandler to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The meeting is open to the public.

BOYD SCHOOL BOARD – The Boyd school board will meet 6:30 p.m. Monday for its regular meeting. The board will hear an update on construction of the ag barn and will discuss softball field renovations and improvements, as well as budget amendments to cover those expenses. The board will also hear a report on the No Child Left Behind, NCLB, Highly Qualified Report.

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – Wise County commissioners meet twice next week. The first meeting – 9 a.m. Monday – will include the discussion of putting together a hiring committee for the newly created systems coordinator position. (See related story on page 1A.) Commissioners will also consider revising county committees, and they will tend to regular business, including consideration of bids, roadway and construction joint venture project agreements and plats. The second meeting is 10 a.m. Wednesday to canvass the votes from the Nov. 4 election. The agenda also says commissioners will accept the resignations of County Judge Glenn Hughes and Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts. Commissioners will turn around and appoint people to fill those posts, most likely the winners of Tuesday’s election. Both meetings will be held in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse. They are open to the public.

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Upcoming Meetings for Saturday, October 11, 2014

DECATUR COUNCIL – The Decatur City Council will convene at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 201 E. Walnut. They’ll consider several appointments to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Adjustment and will vote on second readings to raise library fines, airport fees, water and wastewater fees. They’ll also look at continuing to contract with the Wise County Appraisal District for property tax collections, and look at a police department request to make Deer Park Road from Eagle Drive to Preskitt a one-way road northbound from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30.

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – Wise County commissioners will consider on Monday a request from Fire Marshal Chuck Beard to hire an outside communications consulting agency to link all the radio towers and systems. They will also discuss trying to acquire two modular buildings through the federal government, as they continue to seek additional office space. Regular business will include consideration of bids, discussion of plats, project agreements and committee and department head reports. Commissioners meet at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. The meeting is open to the public.

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Commissioners meet Monday

Wise County commissioners have a full slate for their regular meeting Monday.

In addition to routine business items, they will also discuss adding additional county facilities near the courthouse and adding a school resource officer at the request of Sheriff David Walker. Randy Joy will update commissioners on the Department of Information Resources.

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

Prior to the start of the regular meeting, commissioners will hold two public hearings – one on archive and technology funds for the district clerk and county clerk offices and one on the Takings Impact Assessment, as related to the Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act in the Texas Government Code. A TIA has been prepared for the Wise County Development Rules and Regulations, Wise County Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, Wise County On-Site Sewage Facilities Order and Wise County Master Thoroughfare Plan. The first hearing starts at 8:30 a.m. and the second at 8:45.

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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.

—–

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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