Officials optimistic about finance decision

It’s not a surprise – and it’s far from over – but Thursday’s ruling in the Texas school finance lawsuit does push the state one step closer to a possible resolution of its longest-running political drama.

How should we fund public education?

State District Judge John Dietz of Austin issued his long, and long-awaited, ruling Thursday afternoon. The 400-page document says the state’s school finance system unconstitutional on several grounds. Included is an exhaustive set of findings of fact and conclusions of law giving the reasons for the ruling.

Judge Dietz had announced in February of 2013 that the system had evolved into an unconstitutional statewide property tax that fails to fund Texas schools at the level required to provide a constitutionally adequate education.

Several Wise County school superintendents, who have followed the proceedings closely, agree.

“I think it’s a win for public education – however, I don’t think the battle is over,” Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend said. “I think people are beginning to wake up and realize that the state is not pulling their fair share of the weight, but putting more of the cost on local taxpayers while demanding more at the same time.”

Bridgeport’s Eddie Bland said the ruling is exactly what he expected.

“If you can make yourself look at the school finance system objectively, and not from a political agenda perspective, there’s no doubt it’s broken,” he said.

“I have always said the distribution mechanism is relatively equitable when it’s fully funded,” he added. “But they haven’t fully funded it, so they created the inequities with the target revenues and the tweaks they tried to do to it. I believe we are underfunded and inequitable.”

The ruling sets the stage for a likely appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court.

As part of the judgment, Judge Dietz issued an injunction against the school finance system, but delayed that until July 1, 2015, to give the legislature, which reconvenes in January, an opportunity to address the constitutional shortcomings of the system.

LOCAL TAX DOLLARS TO AUSTIN

With the budget process just wrapping up, several Wise County school districts continue to send local tax dollars to Austin under the state’s finance plan – deemed “Robin Hood” because it captures money from property-rich districts and redistributes it to property-poor districts.

Most of Wise County’s wealth comes from oil and gas. Under the state’s finance system, mineral wealth provides little help to a school district, since the state cuts funding and requires “recapture” of that local tax revenue for statewide redistribution.

Decatur will return about $4.4 million to the state this year. Bridgeport is sending back $174,000, Alvord around $110,000 and Boyd about $83,000. Statewide, that “recapture” has totaled more than $16 billion since 1993 and now accounts for about $1 billion annually.

Boyd Superintendent Ted West said state funding has become a fairly small part of his district’s budget.

“We anticipate bringing in $10.7 million dollars for this year’s budget, and $9.3 million of that is from local taxes,” he said. “We only get about $84,000 from the state this year, and we have to send $83,000 of that back. It’s kind of a shell game how the whole thing works.”

LESS MONEY, HIGHER STANDARDS

Mark Trachtenberg, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the judge’s ruling makes it clear that the state is failing to provide schools with the resources they need to ensure all students have a meaningful opportunity to achieve state standards.

“Judge Dietz correctly reasoned that the legislature cannot substantially increase academic standards with one hand, and then cut billions out of the public education system with the other,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed after lawmakers cut roughly $5.4 billion from state public education funding in 2011. In 2013, with the state’s financial picture much brighter, legislators restored about $3.4 billion of that – but Judge Dietz said the underlying problems still exist.

Alvord Superintendent Bill Branum, reporting to his board Thursday night, was pleased with the ruling.

“He found the system to be inequitable, unsuitable and inadequate, in violation of Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution,” he said. “He also found districts do not have meaningful discretion to adopt tax rates above the statutory maximum, creating a de facto state income tax, in violation of Article 8 of the Texas Constitution.”

“I sincerely hope the legislators will do the right thing this time, and fix – in a fair and equitable way – the public school finance system for the kids of Texas,” he added. “If we get that done, it’ll be a milestone that will pay huge dividends.”

Boyd’s West said the debate over school finance has been “a constant” in Texas education for more than 20 years.

“If you just look at it in one way, it’s optimistic that the system is seen as broken, because it definitely is,” he said. “But there’s nobody out there who has a definitive answer on what we’re going to do next or how we’re going to fix it.”

Townsend said he’s convinced there are too many parties “wanting to get their hands in the cookie jar, not thinking about what’s best for kids.”

“The pendulum needs to swing back the other direction,” he said. “They need to start making decisions based on what’s best for kids, how to meet their educational needs.”

Branum remained upbeat.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, money doesn’t get it done,’ and I would agree with that, to a point,” he said. “But you do have to have enough money to get it done.

“I’m very optimistic that this first step – and that’s what I’d call it – may result in real good things for Texas public school kids.”

“At least the ball is now rolling in a positive direction.”

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School enrollment holds steady

Wise County had its ups and downs the first few days of school this week, but as a rule most school districts’ enrollment held steady compared to the end of school in May and the first day of school last August.

Alvord ISD principals reported enrollment of 691 as of Thursday, down seven students from last year’s 698. The elementary campus is where the decrease hit, as principal Bridget Williams said her school’s enrollment is 327 – down from 343 at this point last year despite a bigger pre-kindergarten group.

Enrollment at the middle school was 156, while the high school’s enrollment was 208. Both of those numbers were up slightly from first-week numbers last year.

First-day enrollment numbers in Boyd ISD showed a decrease of 40 students.

A total of 1,115 students reported for the first day of classes Aug. 26 – including 377 at the elementary school, 254 at the intermediate, 152 at the junior high and 332 at the high school.

Those numbers are down from the 1,155 students who enrolled on the first day last year.

“That being said, we have had an additional 20 students enroll since the first day of school, so our enrollment as of Friday is 1,135,” Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West said. “That enrollment number is about where we ended the school year last year.

“I anticipate that we will get a few more students enroll after the Labor Day holiday.”

Bridgeport ISD had 2,048 on the first day, but that had risen to 2,073 by the end of the week. It was 2,098 last year.

The elementary campus had 537 students, with 424 at the intermediate campus, 467 at the middle school and 620 at the high school.

Superintendent Eddie Bland said the numbers were right where they expected them to be.

“We had 2,079 kids on the last day of school last year, so we’re within five-10 students of where we were at last year,” he said. “We tried to conservatively predict how many kids we would have this year, and we’re right on target.”

Chico Superintendent Mike Jones said his district had 585 students enrolled on the first day – up slightly over last year’s first-day enrollment of 576.

He said the numbers were steadily increasing throughout the first week, and that more students are likely to enroll after Labor Day.

Decatur’s first-day enrollment number, 2,935, showed a slight decrease from the 2,952 enrolled at the end of last year – but this year’s first-day enrollment was higher than the 2,921 who enrolled on the first day of the 2013-2014 school year.

Superintendent Rod Townsend said the numbers were increasing throughout the week, and he hoped enrollment should near the expected 3,000 mark by next week.

“Our optimal level would be 3,100, but we’ve budgeted for around 3,000,” he said.

In Northwest ISD, much of the enrollment is outside Wise County as the district extends into Denton and Tarrant counties. But as has been the norm for the past several years, enrollment continued to grow.

Unofficial numbers included 544 at Seven Hills Elementary – actually down 11 from last year’s 555 – and 438 at Prairie View Elementary, up just one student from last year.

The big jumps were at Chisholm Trail Middle School, which has 894 this year compared to 866 last year, and Northwest High School, which welcomed 2,807 students after seeing 2,669 on opening day last year.

The district has a new high school under construction.

Paradise ISD reported 1,096 on its first day of school, up from about 1,085 at the end of the 2013-14 school term.

Paradise Elementary had 325 students, Paradise Intermediate had 148, Paradise Junior High had 258 and Paradise High School boasted 355 students. Superintendent Bob Criswell said the numbers of students registered has increased to 1,115 since Monday.

“We ended the year at 1,085 last year, so we’re up, and that will help us financially and bring more money to the school,” Criswell said. “It’s always been a rule of thumb that you wait until after Labor Day, but I feel that number is where we are going to be.”

Slidell ISD welcomed 248 students Monday morning.

Superintendent Greg Enis said this was an increase of 10 students from the first day last year. The elementary campus, which includes pre-k through fourth grade, had 111 students, and the secondary campus had 137.

“The high school was right at about 67 students,” Enis said, “but we have two of our smaller classes in the freshmen and seniors.”

Enis said the first graders were split into two classes, but they were already making plans to do that at the end of last year due to the size of the kindergarten. He said the class gained three or four students this week.

Enrollment Numbers

WCWC ENROLLMENT CONTINUES TO GROW

Enrollment at Weatherford College Wise County has steadily climbed through the last five years, and that trend continued this year.

As of Friday morning, 590 students were enrolled, although that number won’t be certified by the state until Monday, Sept. 8, and may still fluctuate.

“Our highest semester ever,” said Matt Joiner, associate dean for instructional services.

The number represents a 2 percent increase over last fall. Over the past five fall semesters, enrollment has grown as follows:

  • 2010 – 438
  • 2011 – 462
  • 2012 – 563 (first semester in the new building)
  • 2013 – 579
  • 2014 – 590

“We are overwhelmed by the positive impacts Weatherford College is having on the lives of students and their families in Wise County,” Joiner said. “Working together, the college, county, students, faculty and staff members are saying loud and clear that higher education in Wise County is a priority.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with our enrollment trends and enrollments,” he added. “This is an exciting time at WCWC.”

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Weatherford College approves 2014-15 budget, tax rate

The Weatherford College Board of Trustees approved the 2014-15 budget and tax rate during a called board meeting Thursday afternoon.

“The board’s action today demonstrates their continued support of both the employees of Weatherford College and the taxpayers of Parker County,” said WC President Dr. Kevin Eaton. “Despite having one of the lowest tax rates in the state, Weatherford College has consistently outperformed its peers. As I have said many times before, it is an honor to work with the best college employees in the state.”

At $54.7 million, the budget is balanced and was presented to the board with no changes from their last meeting. The budget includes a 3.75 percent pay increase for full-time college employees and a $25 per credit hour increase for adjunct instructors.

The tax rate will remain unchanged at 11.464 cents per $100 valuation. This rate includes 10.741 cents for maintenance and operations expenses and 0.723 cents for debt services.

Two public hearings were held on a tax revenue increase since, due to an increase in property values, Weatherford College will receive about $400,000 more in revenue in the coming fiscal year compared to 2013-14. No one spoke during either public hearing.

While the board unanimously approved the budget, the tax rate passed 5-1 with Joel Watson opposing. Board member Dr. Trev Dixon was not present.

In other business the board approved:

  • TASB (Texas Association of School Boards) policy service update No. 29;
  • increasing the number of credit hours in the phlebotomy curriculum from 10 to 16 in order for students to receive a WECM (Workforce Education Course Manual) certificate and become eligible for federal financial aid; and
  • insurance and incidental fees for the computed tomography practicum course.

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Hospital board approves acquisitions, appointments

The staff, board and facilities at Wise Regional Health System all experienced a little growth as a result of Monday night’s board meeting.

The board that governs the hospital appointed Carey Williams to place 1.

Matt Joiner, Mary Williams and Linda Rios were named to the Wise Regional Health Foundation board, and three new physicians were also introduced.

Saeid Aryan, M.D., a neurosurgeon, Arshad Mustafa, M.D. a rheumatologist, and Cynthia Hartman, D.O. and OB/GYN, provided brief backgrounds and were welcomed to Wise Regional. Six other physicians, two nurse practitioners and physician assistant were also approved for staff privileges upon recommendation from the Medical Executive Committee.

The board also approved the acquisition of a physical therapy clinic in Argyle and the purchase of two pieces of equipment for spine surgery at the Parkway Surgical Hospital, which opened earlier this year.

A Stryker Sonopet dissection tool was purchased at a cost of $172,195, and a Stryker navigation system for spinal implants was purchased at a cost of $118,739.

In planning for a future Fit-N-Wise fitness/therapy/sports medicine complex, the board OKd a civil engineering contract with Adams Engineering for $65,000, allowing them to begin work on developing the facility, which will sit just north of the main hospital east of Farm Road 51.

OTHER BUSINESS

CEO Steve Summers told the board there has been some interest expressed by representatives of the Wise County Veterans Group for the Veterans Administration (VA) to provide some services in Wise County – possibly at the Bridgeport campus. Summers said he would welcome an opportunity to discuss the issue with VA representatives.

He also told the board the Siemens Healthcare Software division is being acquired by the Cerner Corp. Since Wise Regional uses primarily a Siemens platform for its information technology system, he is anxiously waiting to see how the change impacts the hospital.

CFO Jim Eaton gave the board a financial report, noting the hospital had an increase in net position of $273,000 for July, with patient charges and other revenues of $45.6 million. Both inpatient admissions and outpatient services were up for the month.

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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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First Financial Bankshares named No. 1 in nation

First Financial Bankshares Inc. has been selected as the No. 1 top-performing publicly-traded bank in the nation in the $5 to $50 billion asset category by Bank Director magazine.

The magazine’s annual scorecard rates all publicly traded banks in four asset size categories on the basis of profitability, capital adequacy and asset quality.

First Financial has branches in Boyd, Bridgeport and Decatur.

“We are very honored to be selected as the best publicly traded bank in the country in the $5 to $50 billion asset category by Bank Director magazine, which is one of the most recognized publications in the industry,” said F. Scott Dueser, chairman, president and CEO. “We are very humbled to receive this honor for the second time, and it’s a direct result of the tireless dedication of our team, including our board, officers and employees who execute our strategy every day to make sure that our customers receive superior service and that we reward our shareholders.

“We thank our customers and shareholders for their loyalty and support, which has allowed us this great honor,” he said. “This marks the sixth consecutive year that First Financial has been recognized as either No. 1, 2 or 3 in the nation.”

For its scorecard, Bank Director looked at profitability measures including return on average assets and return on average equity; capital strength metrics including the ratio of tangible common equity to tangible assets; and asset quality measures including the ratio of nonperforming assets to total loans and other real estate owned and the ratio of net charge offs to average total loans.

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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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Applications due for DATCU junior board

DATCU Credit Union recognizes the importance of developing young business leaders with a heart for service and volunteerism.

In 2012, DATCU created their first junior board of directors to help local students further develop leadership, gain insight about the credit union and financial industry and promote community service.

The program was previously for Denton-area students only, but this year it will be open for the first time to students in Decatur and Lewisville.

Last year’s program was successful and led to DATCU’s being awarded the prestigious Dora Maxwell Award for Social Responsibility.

“We received outstanding feedback and are so excited to expand our junior board program. While these bright, young leaders will be gaining valuable business knowledge to complement their lives, just as important, they will be making a difference in the service of others,” said Pat Sherman, DATCU’s vice president of business development.

To apply, visit datcu.org/about us. Requirements include being a high school senior graduating in May 2015, mandatory attendance at four meetings during the school year and submission of an application on or before Thursday, Aug. 28. All applicants will be selected by an external committee and will receive a $250 scholarship to be used toward higher education.

DATCU Credit Union is a member-owned, not-for profit financial institution founded in 1936. They currently serve more than 77,000 members with assets in excess of $700 million and have 10 branch locations.

Membership is open to anyone living or working in Denton, Cooke, Wise, Montague or Clay Counties.

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County judge’s paycheck to shrink

Almost all county employees will see a pay increase in fiscal year 2015 – all except for the county judge.

Under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, employees will receive a 3 percent increase in pay, but the judge’s position will see a $4,150 decrease.

The shift is the result of County Judge Glenn Hughes trying to keep the county in good standing with the state and keep the judge’s pay equal to commissioners’ without being tied to the state supplement.

He suggested in a July 31 meeting that the county no longer accept a $15,000 state stipend for the judge’s salary because it requires the judge to spend 40 percent of his time on judicial duties.

Hughes doesn’t think that’s possible, or necessary, since Wise County now has two county courts-at-law.

Although it had been previously discussed, Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance still had questions at a budget workshop this week.

“The way the county is structured now versus 15 or 20 years ago, there’s just no way a county judge can spend 40 percent of his time doing judicial duties,” Hughes said. “What’s happened, Harry, is it [could cause] problems … being legal. I’m afraid it’ll get the county in a situation with a lawsuit.”

Lamance asked if the next county judge could reconsider the issue. Auditor Ann McCuiston said he could, but no changes could be made until fiscal year 2016 once this year’s budget is approved.

“I’ve talked to several people, and I’ve done some research on this,” Hughes said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is in concurrence that they don’t feel comfortable putting their name on the dotted line.

“We’ve talked about Judge Bill (McElhaney) in the past, and in people that I’ve talked to, he would have been the closest to anyone to having done the 40 percent.”

Judges who accept the stipend must sign an affidavit stating that they did dedicate 40 percent of their time to judicial issues.

Lamance asked if McElhaney might have even been “a hair under.”

“If he was, I’d say it’s probably hard to do,” Lamance said.

McCuiston said McElhaney handled many mental commitments and filled in for Court-at-Law Judge Melton Cude.

“Do you think he actually made the 40 percent or even with that hard work, do you think he was under?” Lamance asked.

McCuiston said, “Knowing Judge Bill, he wouldn’t have signed it if he was under. He wouldn’t.”

Hughes said he doesn’t feel like he’s currently able to do 40 percent, and he doesn’t think the next judge will be able to, either.

“I don’t think there’s 40 percent out there, even if you wanted it,” he said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said county judges in less populated counties sometimes have to help their county court-at-law judges, but it’s no longer necessary here.

“It will be a decrease in the judge’s salary, but it’s peace of mind,” Hughes said. “I didn’t feel like there’s 40 percent work out there.”

Instead of accepting the stipend, Hughes wants the county to pitch in and cover part of the difference, enough to bring the judge’s salary equal to that of commissioners.

In the proposed budget, the county judge and commissioners will make $77,250, but overall, the commissioners end up making more than the judge due to vehicle allowances.

The judge will receive a $14,000 vehicle allowance for a grand total of $91,250, while commissioners’ $16,000 vehicle allowance pushes them to $93,250.

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Package thief may have hit Wise

If you haven’t received a package you’ve been expecting, you might want to call the Parker County Sheriff’s Office.

Parker County Sheriff’s investigators recently recovered a large amount of stolen property, including many packages believed stolen from homes in Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties that had been delivered by UPS or FedEx.

Jerry L. Weeks

Jerry L. Weeks, 34, of Weatherford was arrested Aug. 13 and charged with theft $50-$500 and theft $500-$1,500 in connection with the case. If it is determined during the investigation that Weeks stole packages delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, he could face additional federal charges.

According to the Parker County Sheriff’s Office, Weeks implicated himself in numerous thefts that took place throughout the three counties.

During the investigation, officers found numerous suspected stolen items in a hotel room rented by Weeks, who claimed he found a large portion of the property in a trash bin located at a storage facility in Wise County. Most of the packages’ labels had been removed, making it difficult to locate who the packages belong to.

Weeks told investigators that he sold many of the stolen items for drugs and money. Other items were thrown away.

Some of the items reported stolen included ammunition, jewelry, clothing, electronics, guitars, a trumpet, iPhones, rodeo equipment, toys, cosmetics, hunting equipment, souvenirs, home decorations, printer paper and ink, crafts, oil field tools, cleaning supplies and a pipeline Geo phone.

Victims are encouraged to call the Parker County Sheriff’s Office at 817-594-8845 to identify their items.

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Wise Regional performs its first therapeutic plasma exchange; Patient doing well following lifesaving procedure

John Foster of Chico was the first patient to receive a therapeutic plasma exchange at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

This lifesaving procedure “deep cleans” a patient’s plasma, the fluid that carries red and white blood cells and platelets around the body.

Lifesaving Machine

LIFESAVING MACHINE – (from left) Katherine and John Foster and nurse Lisa Lambert, RN, show off the machine used to perform a therapeutic plasma exchange on Foster last month. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

The procedure is necessary when a patient presents with critically high protein levels in their blood. High protein levels can be caused be a variety of conditions involving the blood, nerves or kidneys.

Previously, patients had to be transferred to Dallas to have this advanced procedure.

When Foster was admitted to Wise Regional July 15, his creatinine, or protein, levels were 22 milligrams per deciliter. A typical adult has a creatinine level below 2 mg/dL.

“John had the highest creatinine levels I’ve personally ever seen in more than 20 years of practice,” said Dr. Aamir Zuberi, medical director at Wise Regional’s dialysis clinics.

Initially, Foster had only presented with recurrent diarrhea, but soon after being admitted he began developing additional symptoms, including neuropathy, or numbness, in his hands and feet, as well as vision problems.

“I went to see my family doctor first because I’d been having digestive issues on and off,” Foster said. “[Dr. Richardson] sent me to Wise Regional for blood work. After the blood work, I went to the pharmacy to pick up some medicine he had prescribed.

“Before I even left the pharmacy, the lab at Wise Regional had called me to say I needed to come back and be admitted.”

Zuberi ordered emergency dialysis to filter some of the toxins from Foster’s body, but dialysis alone wouldn’t remove the proteins that were quickly clogging his system. Zuberi also performed a kidney biopsy, which led him to diagnose Foster with multiple myeloma, a condition that results in high plasma cell production.

The plasma cells produce protein, so as their numbers increase, so does protein production.

After consulting with the Critical Care Unit staff and Dr. Maddukuri, medical oncologist with The Cancer Center at Wise Regional, Zuberi decided Foster was a good candidate for Wise Regional’s first use of therapeutic plasma exchange.

Wise Regional acquired the equipment to perform TPE several years ago, and several members of the CCU staff recently underwent training to learn how to administer the treatment. Katy Anderson, RN, and Lisa Lambert, RN, both attended the training and were on duty when the decision was made to treat Foster.

Foster received a total of six plasma exchange treatments over the course of a week. Each time, his blood was removed through a catheter in his neck, filtered and simultaneously replaced with fresh, frozen plasma and human albumin – a common protein important in the growth and repair of tissue.

“During the first treatment, the waste that we filtered out of John’s blood was milky white,” Anderson said. “The process took close to four hours, and we went through three filters.

“The final treatment took about half the time, the waste was clear and we only had to use one filter.”

Foster said other than being cold during the treatment, he experienced little discomfort. After the third treatment, his symptoms had improved significantly. He went from being unable to hold a pen to being able to hold and drink from a cup. His vision also returned.

“When we saw that he was able to read the numbers on his remote control, we were all a little choked up. It was amazing to see how quickly he improved,” said Lambert.

Foster also began receiving additional treatments to eliminate the abnormal plasma cells. He was discharged July 31. He’s continuing dialysis and he and wife Katherine are confident he’ll make a full recovery.

“We trust in God, not only that he’ll heal John, but also that He gave the doctors and nurses the wisdom they needed to provide the best possible care,” said Katherine. “It’s exciting to see that this kind of technology is available so close to home.”

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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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More tax dollars headed to college

Weatherford College Wise County will receive more local tax dollars in 2014-15.

Wise County commissioners proposed Tuesday to keep the branch campus maintenance tax at the current rate of 4.618 cents per $100 valuation, which will generate approximately $170,600 more than last year.

The move came at the request of campus officials, Dean Duane Durrett and Associate Dean Matt Joiner, who had both addressed commissioners over the last two weeks.

“Today I’d like to recommend on behalf of [college president] Dr. (Kevin) Eaton and the board of trustees leaving the tax rate at its current rate,” Joiner told commissioners in a budget workshop Tuesday morning.

The increase in funds will help cover a proposed $6.2 million budget that’s up slightly from last year.

Joiner said it’s a 5.32 percent increase, primarily due to a 20-plus percent increase in benefits and a 3.75 percent raise for all full-time employees. He said part-time instructors will also see a 4.2 percent increase in pay.

Another increase to the budget was a new position – workforce and economic development coordinator, who plans continuing education programs such as Spanish, photography and computer classes.

“Otherwise budgets by and large were very flat or decreased,” he said.

Joiner also noted the change in the calculation of the indirect costs, which comes in at $849,176. That resulted in a $43,656 savings for the county.

Indirect costs are based on actual institutional support and administrative costs provided by Weatherford College to the Wise County campus. The number includes 39 categories such as human resources, communications and public relations, admissions, financial aid and the learning resource center.

County Judge Glenn Hughes thanked Joiner and Durrett during the workshop this week for their conscientious efforts.

“I feel like your interests are with Wise County and with the college,” he said. “I’ve been surprised and pleased with the way you’ve tried to work with Wise County on this. I really appreciate the way that y’all have done.”

The Weatherford College board is expected to adopt the budget Thursday, Aug. 28.

Commissioners will hold public hearings on the branch campus maintenance tax rate 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

They are expected to adopt a tax rate for the college at a special meeting 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 8.

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Proposed changes link injection wells, earthquakes

The Texas Railroad Commission is proposing some rule changes to the permitting process for disposal wells – taking into consideration the possibility that those wells might play a role in earthquakes.

The TRC is the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

Injection wells, used to dispose of fluid recovered from the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process by pumping it into formations deep underground, became the focus of public outcry after more than 30 minor earthquakes struck the area around Azle and Reno – northwest Tarrant, northeast Parker and southern Wise counties – last December and January.

The proposed changes would require a company applying for a disposal well permit to include seismic information on their application in areas designated as “high-risk” for seismic activity.

An area is so defined if it has characteristics that may increase the possibility that fracking fluids would not be confined exclusively to the injection zone – including areas with “complex geology” or a history of seismic events.

Companies applying to operate an injection well in a high-risk area would also be required to submit logs, geologic cross-sections and structure maps, and the proposed changes would allow the TRC to suspend or terminate a permit if seismic activity occurs near an injection well.

The commission can also require more frequent monitoring and reporting of injection pressure and injection rates – information regulators had trouble getting after the rash of earthquakes last winter.

State Rep. Phil King, who represents Wise and Parker counties, said the proposed rules on seismic activity “seem reasonable.”

He said there is a hearing Monday, Aug. 25, of the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity, of which he is a member, and the TRC is expected to testify along with other parties.

“I’ll know more after the hearing,” King said.

Tracy Smith, Wise County Democratic party chair, who has been seeking action on the earthquake issue, was “cautiously optimistic” about the proposed new rules.

“As with all things political, the citizens of Texas have yet to see how the traditionally pro-industry Railroad Commission will interpret the new proposed rules,” she said via email. “It is certainly a step in the right direction.

“The citizens of Texas still have a long way to go to get elected leaders to refocus on the job of protecting citizens as the No. 1 priority,” she said. “The Texas Railroad Commission has earned a reputation of supporting the traditonal industry attitude of denial first, and it will take a while for the public interest to trust both the TRC and the industry again.”

Railroad Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said the link between disposal wells and earthquakes has still not been fully established. Staff seismologist David Craig Pearson was hired in March and is studying the link between injection wells and seismic activity.

“As our agency continues to work with the scientific community to coordinate an exchange of information … we have seen a need for laying the groundwork for some basic industry best practices,” Nye said.

The TRC estimates the proposed regulations would add about $300 to the cost of an injection well permit application.

The rule changes were published Aug. 5 and approved without comment by the TRC in a conference on Aug. 12. They will be published in the Texas Register Aug. 29, and after that, there will be a 30-day comment period.

The public has until noon Monday, Sept. 29, to weigh in on the proposals.

Public comment may be submitted to the Rules Coordinator, Office of General Counsel, Railroad Commission of Texas, P.O. Box 12967, Austin, TX 78711-2967; online at www.rrc.state.tx.us/legal/rules/comment-form-for-proposed-rulemakings; or by email to rulescoordinator@rrc.state.tx.us.

Comments should refer to O&G Docket No. 20-0290951.

The TRC has issued permits to more than 50,000 Class II injections wells in Texas since the 1930s.

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‘Surge’ results in arrests, recovery of stolen items

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office has made numerous arrests for drug offenses – and recovered stolen vehicles and guns – as part of a multi-county special operation conducted last week.

Chief Deputy Kevin Benton said the Sheriff’s Office participates in a program called the Texoma High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which periodically holds “surges.” Wise joined Tarrant, Denton and Cooke counties in such a surge Aug. 13-15.

Evidence

EVIDENCE – Items seized from a traffic stop near Alvord last week included drugs, weapons and cash. Messenger Photo by Richard Greene

On Wednesday, Aug. 13, a traffic stop in the area of the roadside park between Alvord and Decatur resulted in the discovery of numerous illegal items including 3.33 ounces of marijuana, LSD, butane hash oil (derived from marijuana) and brass knuckles as well as a rifle and more than $800 in cash.

Criminals

Alexander Dinsmore, 18, was arrested for possession of a controlled substance in penalty group 1A, less than 20 abuse units, and possession of marijuana, 2-4 ounces.

James Bass-Roberts, 19, was arrested for possession of a controlled substance in penalty group 2, less than 1 gram and possession of marijuana, less than 2 ounces. Christopher Allen Lopez, 18, was arrested for prohibited weapon. All three are from Dallas.

The next day, Aug. 14, Joseph Dwayne Sparks, 31, of Rhome was arrested following a traffic stop at U.S. 81/287 and Farm Road 407 near Rhome. He was charged with possession of marijuana, 4 ounces to 5 pounds, after 4.03 ounces of the drug was discovered.

On Aug. 15, a traffic stop at U.S. 81/287 and County Road 1280 in the Alvord area led to the arrest of Jamie Kristin Mack, 27, of Chico. She was charged with driving while license invalid with previous conviction. Drug paraphernalia was also located in her vehicle.

The surge also resulted in the recovery of a vehicle stolen from Arlington, two stolen motorcycles (one from Monroe, La. and one from Jacksboro) and three stolen firearms from a convicted felon. Because arrests have not yet been made on those individuals, no further information was available.

The three-day operation consisted of a combined effort of the Criminal Investigation Division, Specialized Enforcement Division headed up by Lt. Chuck Gomez, K-9 Deputy J.T. Manoushagian and Sgt. Cavin Riggs of the Traffic Division.

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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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Wins help offset losses for shelter volunteers

Twenty-three Wise County families got a little bigger Saturday.

Wise County Animal Shelter played host to Empty the Shelter Day, a North Texas adoption effort held to encourage pet adoptions by waiving the fees associated with adopting an animal.

Hello Kitty

HELLO KITTY – Twenty-three animals were adopted Saturday as part of Empty the Shelter Day. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Thirteen cats and 10 dogs were adopted out by the shelter – 20 more than on that day last year. The shelter’s sign-in sheet showed that more than 120 people passed through the shelter’s doors Saturday.

Supervisor Linda Bryan said her facility wouldn’t have been able to participate in the event if it weren’t for the efforts of a group of local women, dubbed the Shelter Buddies.

“Since this set of volunteers we have now started, the adoption and rescue rates have tripled,” Bryan said.

These efforts include organizing auctions, bake sales and garage sales to raise funds for events and maintain a standing budget. While this is the first time Wise County has taken part in Empty the Shelter Day, the volunteers have hosted similar events for several years.

“I can’t waive the fees, so the shelter buddies used their designated bank account to sponsor fees,” Bryan said. “On most events, they’ll pay for the adoption, which is about $30, and then they’ll give out a voucher worth about $100 for the spaying or neutering.”

Brenda Argraves has been volunteering with the Shelter Buddies for more than two years. She helps run the group’s online campaign, which includes posting photos and details on Facebook to encourage adoption.

The group’s page, Urgent Animals at the Wise County Animal Shelter, is followed by more than 6,100 people – almost equal to the population of Decatur.

“When I first started going to the shelter, I was just going to drop off food, bleach, and some other supplies, but I saw a need,” Argraves said.

The Wise County Shelter serves the entire county, more than 922 square miles. As many as 25 animals can come in on any given day, Bryan said. The shelter only has 33 kennels.

Initially, Argraves said she worked with the shelter to increase the chances of adoption by doing things the staff doesn’t always have time to do – spend time with each animal.

“They really don’t have the time to take them out and make them feel good and so that’s what we do,” Argraves said. “We get their confidence back.”

While working with the animals, Argraves discovered something she was truly passionate about.

“When we helped get one out, it makes you want to get another out, and another out, and another out” Argraves said. “It’s addicting.”

The group includes seven regular volunteers and several more who help out when they can. Although it can be fulfilling work, Argraves said each of them needs to take the occasional break. Volunteering can be physically and emotionally exhausting.

“When you work really hard and you put hours into organizing a rescue and it falls through, and the dog ends up being euthanized because of lack of space, it’s devastating,” Argraves said. “Some of these ladies put their heart and soul into it.”

As a result of their efforts, the Shelter cleared out most of its residents Saturday. Across North Texas, more than 2,200 animals were adopted and three shelters reported being completely empty.

“Every single one we get out is a win,” Argraves said.

Wise County can chalk Saturday up as a resounding victory.

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Forum set on water, transportation

State Rep. Phil King will host a town hall forum 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, in the lecture hall at Weatherford College Wise County.

Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Director Kathleen Jackson of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will be on hand along with King to discuss transportation and water issues facing the state and how those issues will be addressed during the upcoming 84th legislative session.

Jackson will discuss the TWDB’s role and the need to develop a wide range of solutions, promising technologies and collaborative partnerships to meet the state’s current and future water needs.

“TWDB is actively engaged in a new level of public and community outreach across the state to address the common goal we all share, which is to develop water for Texas,” King said. “Director Jackson will highlight policies and procedures that have changed at the agency since the passage of House Bill 4 and will provide an update on implementing the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT).”

Vandergriff, a member of the Texas Transportation Commission, helps oversee TxDOT’s activities statewide. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry March 26, 2013, and took his seat on the commission on April 30, 2013. He is an attorney and private businessman specializing in business development and legislative issues.

From 2009 to 2013, Vandergriff served as chairman of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board. He was also a board member for the North Texas Tollway Authority from 2007 to 2013, serving as chairman 2010-2011.

The public is invited to the forum.

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Swimming: Swimmers fill pool in growing program

Swimming: Swimmers fill pool in growing program

The lap pool at Fit-N-Wise is in danger of overflowing.

A strong influx of new swimmers has threatened to fill the pool to its edges.

Brooke Huffman, coach of the Fit-N-Wise Muscle Swim Team and leader of the Decatur High School team last year, has watched the squads grow since her arrival last August.

Huffman said most of her high school swimmers are also training with the Fit-N-Wise team.

Hard at Work

HARD AT WORK – Jennifer Morehart does a swimming workout in the gym at Fit-N-Wise. The Fit-N-Wise Muscle swim team continues to grow each year. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“If they want the extra practice time and they’re not involved in anything else, then they’re doing both practices,” Huffman said. “It definitely shows a different level of commitment from these kids.”

Several incoming freshmen have already approached Huffman, hoping to get a leg up on the season. After training with Team Muscle all summer, they’re now ready to compete.

“They’ve been coming in and working hard to get ready for the high school season,” Huffman said. “It’s awesome to see that. These are kids who came in with no experience and, through their own will, have gotten themselves in racing form.”

Huffman started Fit-N-Wise’s competitive swim program in 2001 with a team known as AquaRacers. Later it transitioned into Quest Aquatics, and Huffman led it for seven years before moving out of the area. Her return to Decatur in 2013 came at an opportune time.

“It just happened that when I moved back here, both coaching positions opened up,” Huffman said.

Huffman’s return also coincided with changes in Fit-N-Wise’s sports performance program.

Wendell Berry, sports performance coordinator at Fit-N-Wise, said Huffman’s team is part of a larger effort by Fit-N-Wise to develop several sports teams, ranging from golf to basketball to volleyball.

“We’re building the culture of Fit-N-Wise sports for this town,” Berry said.

Part of this expansion means separating the swim team into four skill-based practice groups, so that Huffman can isolate and work on specific issues with her team. It also means stronger backing and support from the fitness facility, which is based at Wise Regional Health System.

On the high school level, Huffman will be an assistant to new head coach Caroline Renfro. The duo brings a combined 30 years of coaching experience to the poolside. Renfro said she hopes she can become a part of Huffman’s established relationship with the students.

“She’s the backbone,” Renfro said. “I went to the first team meeting and got to see how the kids react to Brooke and they love her.”

In the past year, Huffman said she’s had the chance to grow close with the team. It’s a relationship she hopes will result in faster times in the pool.

“These kids are like family,” Huffman said. “I just want to build on the program and make it stronger.”

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Fingerprint system making its mark on local crime

Fingerprint system making its mark on local crime

Most of us focus on what is taken from a crime scene. Tim Lamkin focuses on what was left behind.

Specifically, fingerprints.

Digital Digits

DIGITAL DIGITS – Tim Lamkin, a crime scene investigator at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, demonstrates how the AFIS system is used to help investigators identify crime suspects through fingerprint technology. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

A couple of weeks ago, sheriff’s officers responded to a report that some stolen vehicles had been found near Paradise. Officers pursued the suspects, arresting one after about an hour’s chase. Another suspect got away.

Lamkin, a crime scene investigator at the sheriff’s office, was called out to search for fingerprints on the recovered vehicles.

“We processed the vehicles and got a lot of fingerprints, especially from the Hummer,” he said.

Back at the office, Lamkin used the new Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to search for the suspect’s identity. It didn’t take long for Lamkin to pinpoint his man.

“Within 3 1/2 minutes of putting the fingerprint in there, I got a hit on the person who was not arrested,” he said.

Pointing at an enlarged fingerprint on the large AFIS screen in his office, Lamkin described how he uses points of comparison to determine if a fingerprint is a match. In this case, he hit on 20 out of 21 marks.

“Most counties, the number of points of comparison it takes to convict someone is about eight, but some have been convicted with four,” he said. “So when I hit on something with 20 points of comparison, ‘Sorry about your bad luck, but you shouldn’t have committed the crime.’”

The suspect’s fingerprint was one of about 14,000 in the system at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. If it hadn’t matched a fingerprint in-house, the AFIS system allows investigators to search other agencies who use the same system.

The number of agencies using AFIS is growing. Locally, 28 agencies in North Texas and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections are now using the system.

If Lamkin wanted to run the fingerprint through the Dallas County database, for example, it could take anywhere from 25 minutes to 24 hours to search through the million or so fingerprints.

While 24 hours might sound like a long time, it is still much quicker than the old system.

“It used to be we took our fingerprints, sent them to the Department of Public Safety, they scanned the prints, and to run it through the DPS system it took sometimes two weeks to identify somebody because of the millions of fingerprints in there,” Lamkin said.

The new system will help even if a suspect is not immediately identified. For example, Dallas may have fingerprints of an unknown suspect, and Wise County may also get the same fingerprint on a case locally. Once the person is identified, the matching fingerprints will tie the suspect to both cases.

When it comes time to take the case to court, the AFIS system also prepares a presentation for the judge or jury showing in detail how the fingerprints match up.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said the new system is a great tool in crime solving.

“Productivity-wise, I think it will really make a difference,” Walker said. “It will save us a lot of time, and I think we’ll be able to solve a whole lot more cases with it.”

Since the first of the year, Lamkin said about 14 cases have been solved based on fingerprints.

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