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.

——

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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Commissioners to meet Monday

County commissioners face a lengthy agenda, which includes an executive session, at their meeting Monday.

They will meet privately with legal counsel for discussion of pending litigation. If any action is taken on what’s discussed, it will be done in open session.

Commissioners also plan to discuss the Wise County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone No. 1, which is related to the county’s grant application seeking money to repair roads affected by oil and gas production.

They will also discuss a salvage yard ordinance, establishment of a consent agenda and a deputy position for the county clerk’s office for collections.

County Auditor Ann McCuiston will present the county’s latest Standard and Poor rating.

Monday’s meeting is at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. The public is welcome.

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Commissioners check off grant application requirements

County commissioners took steps Monday toward the completion of a grant application in hopes of securing more than $2 million from the state. The money will be used to repair roads affected by oil and gas production.

Monday morning they approved an order creating a County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone (CETRZ), an advisory board and an ad valorem increment account. All of these things are application requirements and are due Feb. 10-14.

The funds are being disbursed through the Texas Department of Transportation as authorized by Senate Bill 1747. Every county in the state was assigned an allocation with the highest being Andrews County at $8.7 million and the lowest being Hudspeth County at $92,407.

Wise County’s initial allocation for the grants is $2.2 million, but they could be eligible for more. If awarded, it also requires a 20 percent match by the county.

This is where the CETRZ comes into play.

Any revenue captured from increases in property value within this zone will be used to cover the county’s 20 percent. After the 20 percent match has been met, the additional revenue will continue to be used for road repair.

The CETRZ approved by commissioners Monday is named Wise County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone No. 1, and it includes properties west of Farm Road 51 and along Greenwood Road approximately 1.25 miles. It’s situated between FM 51 and Farm Road 730.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said at a special meeting Jan. 22 that this area was chosen because Targa is building a natural gas processing plant – the Longhorn Gas Plant – in this area, and obviously, property values would increase.

Property owners in this area will not pay increased taxes. The designation simply earmarks for road repairs any future property tax revenue over what was collected in 2013.

This money will go into the ad valorem increment account, the creation of which was also approved Monday.

Also, although discussed at the Jan. 22 meeting, commissioners formally approved appointments to the advisory board of directors for the zone, which had to include three industry representatives and two public members. Those appointed are Laura Anderson, Devon Energy; Tommy Weatherly, Trinity Materials; Mike Moyers, Aruba; Kristina Kemp of Paradise and Jimmy Kirk of Decatur.

Commissioners’ attorney Thomas Aaberg said Friday that the grand jury is expected to approve a road report that has to be submitted with the application, and county engineer Chad Davis is working to complete a prioritized project list for the application.

OTHER BUSINESS

Commissioners also made a few changes to the Wise County Fairgrounds agreement. Aaberg said after using it for a month, a few issues were discovered that required minor changes.

They also:

  • tabled discussion of a consent agenda policy;
  • accepted a $272.60 donation to Cans for Canines;
  • approved Oncor’s application to amend a certificate of convenience and necessity for a proposed 138 kV transmission line in Denton, Tarrant and Wise counties;
  • approved easement requests for Targa Midstream Services on County Road 2625 in Precinct 1 and Devon Gas Services on County Road 3550 in Precinct 4.

Commissioners’ next meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 10, in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse. The public is welcome.

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Wise County Commissioners pursue grant dollars

County commissioners are jumping through hoops to secure state grant money that will help repair roads affected by oil and gas production.

The state legislature in Senate Bill 1747 authorized the disbursement of funds through the Texas Department of Transportation.

Every county in the state was assigned an allocation with the highest being Andrews County at $8.7 million and the lowest being Hudspeth County at $92,407.

Wise County’s initial allocation for the grants is $2.2 million. If awarded, it also requires a 20 percent match by the county.

In their meeting Monday, commissioners will consider approving the boundaries for a County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone (CETRZ), which must be designated to apply for the grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.

A CETRZ is a zone in a county that is affected by oil and gas exploration and production activities. Any revenue captured from increases in property value within this zone will be used to cover the county’s 20 percent.

After the 20 percent match has been met, the additional revenue will continue to be used for road repair.

The grant money and matching funds provided by the county can be used within the zone or in other parts of the county.

Commissioners Monday will also consider approving an advisory board of directors for the zone, which is another requirement of the application process. It must include up to three oil and gas representatives and two public members.

In a special meeting Wednesday, commissioners decided to appoint the following individuals: Laura Anderson, senior landman with Devon Energy; Tommy Weatherly with Trinity Materials; Mike Moyers, landman with Aruba; and citizens Kristina Kemp of Paradise and Jimmy Kirk of Decatur.

The board is set up to advise on the establishment, administration and expenditures of the CETRZ.

Commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Monday in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. The public is welcome.

Other items to be discussed include:

  • an amended Wise County Fairgrounds agreement,
  • a consent agenda policy, and
  • new polling locations.

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Commissioners deny car clubs’ request

Wise County commissioners decided Monday that their word is good enough.

Representatives with the Southwest Swap Meet and the Wise County Antique Auto Club Association had requested that commissioners outline in writing the groups’ use of the fairgrounds and secure future dates for their events.

But commissioners denied their request.

Moving On

MOVING ON – A county employee Tuesday removes letters from the overhead sign at the fairgrounds entrance on Farm Road 51 South in Decatur. The sign was a holdover from the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse, which had leased the property for more than 50 years, before the county took it over in December. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“The entities asked if they could have dates for a period of years so they could have continuity,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said. “We can’t contract that, but we could do a memorandum of understanding.”

Burns said it wouldn’t be legally binding, just a suggestion for future commissioners.

“The only time we might change it is if the Youth Fair was a conflict because that’s what those grounds were for,” he said.

The Wise County Antique Auto Club Swap Meet is held the last week of February, and the Southwest Swap Meet, which moved to Decatur three years ago, is held in September. Burns said the Southwest meet had been displaced several times, and representatives thought an agreement in writing would secure continuity for their event.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg wasn’t opposed to the groups getting the same dates every year, but he didn’t support issuing them memorandums of understanding.

“It’s been on the record several times since we started this process that everyone who has a historical date gets that date,” said Aaberg. “What more do we need?”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White agreed with Aaberg.

“What were they given before?” he asked. “If our word isn’t good enough, maybe the paper we write on isn’t good enough either.”

Burns said although it had been stated during commissioners meetings and was a matter of court record, it wasn’t in the fairgrounds rules or in the lease agreement.

“I’m not against them getting their dates,” Aaberg said. “I’m just trying to look out for what you guys are about to sign. If Tom’s (Goode) the head of this, he can schedule that for several years out.”

In the end, commissioners agreed that Goode has authority to book events many years in advance, and if he chooses, he can write letters to the associations detailing the dates for which they’ve booked the facility.

In other fairgrounds-related business, commissioners agreed to designate $50,000 for utilities, maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

They also decided to form an advisory committee with representatives from the entities that use the fairgrounds most. The committee will have someone from the Wise County Youth Fair, Wise County Antique Auto Club, WC Challenger Charities, Wise County Sheriff’s Posse and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Wise County. Goode, who is public works administrator, said the committee will make recommendations about improvements that could be made to the grounds.

Anyone who has leased the fairgrounds should call the Public Works office at 940-627-9332 to confirm and pick up a copy of the new lease and rules. Goode said his office is honoring all previous reservations and down payments, but since he never received the Posse’s schedule book, he doesn’t know what groups have reserved the facility – with the exception of longstanding events like the Youth Fair.

OTHER BUSINESS

Commissioners approved having a survey done on a portion of County Road 4227 at the request of Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance. He plans to do some road work, which includes straightening a curve, near Sewell Ranch.

Elections Administrator Lannie Noble reported to commissioners that his office would no longer be able to use the Decatur Civic Center as a voting location. He said Decatur City Hall has been offered as a replacement option, but he’s open to suggestions.

“Parking is the issue,” he said. “I have enough space to set up booths in my office, but there’s only six parking spaces. We need plenty of parking, and it has to be ADA compliant. There are days during early voting where 1,000 people will vote. That’s a lot of traffic in and out.”

Burns suggested commissioners bring ideas to the next meeting.

Commissioners also discussed the vehicles in use by the Wise County Animal Shelter. The shelter, which was under the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, was made its own department at the Dec. 2 meeting.

Animal control officers Sherri Hartfield and Fred Redder remain under the S.O. umbrella because the department is required by the state to handle strays and rabies control. For that reason, Sheriff David Walker told commissioners that his department would need to retain the vehicles driven by Hartfield and Redder, but any other vehicles could be assigned to the shelter. Walker said the shelter vehicles could continue to be maintained by mechanics in the S.O. shop.

Commissioners also:

  • approved bonds for county engineer Chad Davis, Public Works Administrator Tom Goode, Asset Control Manager Diana Alexander, County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Stephen Wren and Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance,
  • approved the appointment or re-appointment of Winford Cash, Chad Hightower and Tommy Spencer to the board for Wise County Emergency Services District No. 1;
  • ratified the three-year appointment of Tim Woodruff to the North Central Texas Council of Governments Regional Aging Advisory Committee;
  • approved the amended Department of State Health Services Cities Readiness Initiatives contract; and
  • accepted the following donations: $458.94 to Cans for Canines; a training dummy from Crime Stoppers to the Sheriff’s Office; and $25,715 from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to the county. The county had given TxDOT $32,530 for a right-of-way project, and TxDOT returned what was not used.

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Wise County Commissioners to meet

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

It will be their first meeting of 2014.

Agenda items include discussing an investment policy, consideration of a survey request for County Road 4227, and consideration of memorandums of understanding with Southwest Swap Meet and Wise County Antique Auto Club Association for use of the Wise County Fairgrounds.

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Top Stories of 2013 #3: Ross pleads guilty, runs for re-election

Top Stories of 2013 #3: Ross pleads guilty, runs for re-election

Suspended County Commissioner Terry Ross pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity in September, and just two months later decided he’d give it another go and run for re-election.

Suspended

SUSPENDED – Commissioner Terry Ross turns and grins at his wife, Kelli, after District Judge Roger Towery announced Ross’ temporary suspension. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The suspended Precinct 4 boss remains defiant after a run-in with the law that started two years ago.

In February 2012, Texas Rangers seized a child’s playhouse from the Ross home as the result of an investigation that started in late 2011. The commissioner faced charges related to its construction with materials and labor paid for by the county, and since then, the case has bumped along through the court system.

Ross was suspended by District Judge Roger Towery in August 2012 after a citizen filed a petition for his removal citing incompetency and official misconduct. The petition came on the heels of indictments for abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500, a Class B misdemeanor, and tampering with governmental records, a felony.

In October 2012, Ross was indicted on a second felony, theft of $500 to $1,500 by a public servant.

Done Deal

DONE DEAL – Terry Ross listens intently to one of his lawyers after signing a plea agreement and pleading guilty Sept. 23 to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor. As part of the agreement, two felony charges against Ross were dismissed. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

As 2013 opened, a Feb. 19 trial date loomed, but it was seven months later before Ross actually went to court. The February date, rescheduled from October 2012, was pushed to April. The April date was bumped to Sept. 23 when District Attorney Greg Lowery had to recuse his office at the last minute after being reminded that he represented Ross in a criminal matter 16 years earlier.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Gill out of Tarrant County was appointed as prosecutor, and along the way Ross parted ways with lawyer Barry Green and took up with Jerry Loftin of Fort Worth.

On the morning of Sept. 23, almost 100 potential jurors and more than 20 possible witnesses filled the first and second floors of the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur. They waited in the hallways and various courthouse offices for more than an hour before being released when Ross signed a plea agreement just before 10 a.m.

He admitted guilt on the misdemeanor charge of abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500, and the other two charges, both felonies, were dismissed.

The plea agreement required $500 restitution and 180 days in jail, probated for one year. If Ross had been convicted by a jury of either felony, he would have been automatically removed from office and disqualified from running again.

Instead, the outcome of a civil suit will determine if he remains in office or is removed.

County Attorney James Stainton has filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting that Towery remove Ross from office without a trial. Just last week, Towery scheduled a hearing on that motion for March 19, 2014. Assuming it is not delayed, he will either issue a ruling removing Ross from office, or decide that a jury trial is necessary.

While his latest attorney, David Fielding of Fort Worth, familiarizes himself with the case, Ross has a campaign to run. He faces Gaylord Kennedy and David Stewart in the March 4 Republican primary.

Towery’s ruling on the summary judgment has no impact on the results of the election and if he is removed, it’s only for the duration of his current term. If Ross is not removed from office, the county will owe him back pay, which totals $125,453.12 as of Dec. 31.

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