Weatherford College Wise County Dean asks county to accept proposed budget

Duane Durrett, Dean of Weatherford College Wise County (WCWC) asked commissioners Monday to accept the college’s proposed $6.2 million budget, a slight increase over last year.

Perhaps most notable about this year’s budget is the change in the calculation of the indirect costs, which comes in at $849,176. The change in calculation has 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, just to name a few.

Indirect costs were previously figured according to a formula based on the number of student contact hours and the budget of the main campus. This year, it was computed by multiplying WCWC’s budgeted expenditures from last year by 15.82 percent, which represents the actual institutional support/administrative costs reported to the state during the previous fiscal year.

“They did reduce campus security, technology and learning resource center expenses,” said county Auditor Ann McCuiston. “They’ve been working with us trying to get better numbers. Our suggestion is to go ahead with this, and we’ll have discussions and see what we can do in this next year.”

This is also the first year the college’s indirect costs have been itemized, giving county officials more accurate information as to how these funds are used.

Durrett asked commissioners to consider approving the current rate for the branch campus maintenance tax – 4.6 cents. The effective rate, 4.4 cents, would raise the same amount of tax dollars as last year, applied to this year’s property values.

Commissioners took no action on Durrett’s requests and did not discuss the budget. Those talks will occur in workshops planned for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, and Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office training room, 200 Rook Ramsey Dr., in Decatur.

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Shelter to cover adoption costs Saturday

The Wise County Animal Shelter will host “Empty the Shelter Day,” Saturday.

The event is designed to encourage pet adoption by sponsoring all costs.

Linda Bryan, the Shelter’s supervisor, said events like this do wonders for the shelter, where space is an expensive commodity.

“We’re considered an urgent shelter all the time,” Bryan said. “On any given day, we have as many as 25 animals come in at a time. We have 33 kennels.”

Bryan said adoption fees are covered by a group of local women deemed the “Shelter Buddies” who support the shelter year-round.

Staff and volunteers will be present at the shelter, located on Farm Road 51 South, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m.

There will also be an off-site adoption event at Tractor Supply from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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More money, fewer meetings; Weatherford College board keeps tax rate flat, cuts meeting dates in half

The Weatherford College board of trustees Monday approved a proposal to keep its property tax rate at 11.464 cents in Parker County.

With an increase in property values, that rate will bring in about $400,000 more in tax revenue than it did last year.

The rate includes 10.741 cents for maintenance and operation expenses and 0.723 cents for debt services.

Because of the increase in revenue, two public hearings will be required. Those will be held Aug. 19 and Aug. 22, and the board is expected to take a final vote on the budget and tax rate at a noon meeting Thursday, Aug. 28.

The new $54.7 million budget goes into effect Sept. 1.

“At 11.464 cents, our tax rate is a full nickel below the state average for community college districts,” said Dr. Kevin Eaton, WC President. “We have one of the lowest tax rates in the state of Texas as it is.”

Trustees Frank Martin, Don Allen, Dr. Luke Haynes and Mac Smith voted for the proposed rate. Joel Watson voted against it, and Dr. Trev Dixon and Betty Jo Graber were absent.

The public can view a detailed proposed budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year online at www.wc.edu/wc-budget.

In other business, the board voted to cut back from 12 to six regular meetings a year in the new fiscal year. They will meet in even-numbered months with the option of called meetings when needed. Regular meetings will be Oct. 9, Dec. 11, Feb. 12, April 9, June 11 and Aug. 13.

The board also:

  • Listened to an update on the remodel of the old Allied Health Building and the Business Building. Both projects are nearing completion.
  • Approved bids for food services products and supplies for 2014-15; and
  • Authorized an interlocal cooperative contract with Education Service Center Region 20 for participation in the PACE Cooperative Purchasing Program.

In his president’s report, Eaton:

  • Gave an enrollment update noting that total enrollment for the two 2014 summer sessions was 2,878 students – down slightly from 2013. Early indications for this fall indicate similar numbers after the record-setting fall of 2013, which totaled 5,717 students at all of WC’s sites.
  • Recognized volunteers and participants for the Peach Pedal Bike Ride in July, which added about $40,000 to WC’s scholarship funds.
  • Recognized Kay Young, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development, and the Workforce and Continuing Education staff for receiving another Texas Workforce Commission Jobs and Education for Texas (JET) Grant. The $336,090 grant will be used to purchase equipment for the WC welding program. With this grant, the department is closing in on $900,000 in JET Grant funding over the past four years.
  • Presented the annual report on GED testing.

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4-Hers tout benefits of organization to county officials

County commissioners were given a glimpse of the impact 4-H is making on local kids at their July 28 meeting.

Several 4-Hers were recognized, and state scholarship winners Anne Marie Wells with Slidell Greenwood 4-H and Lacey Erwin with Bridgeport 4-H explained to commissioners what the money means to them and their families.

Wells and Erwin, along with Paradise 4-Hers Olivia Bettesworth and Monika Qualls were each awarded $18,000 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarships at Texas 4-H Roundup earlier this summer.

Wells said she hopes the funds will help her family realize the goal of sending her to college without taking out student loans.

“This 4-H scholarship will lighten a huge burden on my family financially,” she said. Wells plans to attend North Central Texas College for one semester and then transfer to the University of North Texas in Denton to major in film.

Erwin said the money will also provide financial relief to her family as she goes off to school.

“4-H has taught me how to be a well-rounded person and has given me a sense of community,” she said. “I really don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Extension agent Todd Vineyard said Wise County was one of only a few counties to bring home four large scholarships.

Caitlin Pruett and Morgan Barnes, both with Slidell/Greenwood 4-H, also spoke, telling commissioners about their recent experience at 4-H Congress. Pruett said it was a great opportunity.

“I learned a lot about the legislative process and what it takes to pass a bill in Texas,” she said. “It’s something I never thought I’d learn in 4-H.”

Barnes said it was by far, “the best 4-H experience (she’s) had.”

“It was a long process, but it was fun,” she said. “We learned how to debate respectfully … We got to debate a lot of bills that other 4-Hers had submitted.”

Extension agent Chrissy Karrer said these were a few of the shining stars in Wise County 4-H and many more would be recognized at an awards banquet to be held this week.

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Boy dies in motocross accident

A 13-year-old Rhome boy died Sunday, Aug. 3, in an accident while making a practice run at River Valley Motocross park in southern Wise County, near Boyd.

Tanner David Sims

The victim, Tanner David Sims, was a student in Northwest ISD.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said the call came in at 1:29 p.m. Sunday from the park, which operates closed-circuit tracks for the sport of motocross on County Road 4757.

“It came in as a medical call, so EMS and the fire department were dispatched and Life Flite was put on standby,” Walker said. Two deputies also went to the scene.

The sheriff said the accident happened as several bikers were making a practice run.

“The victim jumped and wrecked, then someone else jumped behind him and landed on him,” Walker said. “They transported the victim to Texas Health Azle, where he was pronounced dead.”

River Valley Motorcross has an outdoor track, a super-cross track and a kids/beginner track.

The track was closed Thursday, when it is normally open for practice, for Sims’ funeral.

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School districts hit targets; Two campuses rated ‘improvement required’

Wise County’s eight school districts all received a “met standard” rating in the state’s 2014 Accountability Summary.

The numbers were released Friday.

Only two campuses – Decatur’s McCarroll Middle School 7th and 8th grade campus, and Northwest’s Seven Hills Elementary in Newark – were rated “improvement required,” but those ratings did not prevent those districts from meeting the standard overall.

Under the old system, districts and campuses were rated unacceptable, acceptable, recognized or exemplary, based mostly on test results and a few other criteria.

With the new system, districts throughout the state are rated either “met standard” or “improvement required.”

The accountability summary analyzes whether districts and individual campuses met the state standards in four areas:

  • student achievement (target score 55) – basically, students’ scores on the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests throughout the year;
  • student progress (target score 16) – students’ improvement from year-to-year in basic subject areas;
  • closing performance gaps (target score 28) – measuring to see that all ethnic and socioeconomic groups are making progress; and
  • postsecondary readiness (target score 57) – graduation rates.

Districts were also eligible to qualify for special honors called distinctions. Seven possible distinctions were available, in academic achievement for reading/English/language arts, math, science or social studies, for earning the top 25 percent in student progress or closing performance gaps, or for postsecondary readiness.

No Wise County school district earned any distinctions, and Slidell ISD, because of its size, was not eligible.

Individual results for Wise County school districts looked like this:

ALVORD ISD

All three campuses met standard.

On Index 1, for student achievement, the district earned an 86.

For student progress, the district scored 36.

On closing performance gaps, the district’s score was 41.

And in postsecondary readiness, the district’s score was 66.

For the distinction designation, Alvord ISD had one out of nine eligible measures in the top 25 percent.

On the system safeguards, which measure performance rates, participation rates, graduation rates and whether a district met federal limits on alternative assessments, Alvord’s score was 32 out of 32.

BOYD ISD

All four campuses met standard, and Boyd ISD had three of 10 eligible measures in the top 25 percent for the distinction designation.

In student achievement, Boyd’s score was 77.

For student progress, Boyd ISD hit 40 – tied with Northwest for the top score in Wise County.

In closing performance gaps, Boyd’s score was 39.

On postsecondary readiness, Boyd scored a 65.

Boyd ISD met the state’s indicators on 33 of 35 system safeguards.

BRIDGEPORT ISD

All four campuses met standard, and Bridgeport made the top 25 percent in two of its 10 eligible measures for distinction.

Bridgeport’s student achievement score was 73.

The district’s student progress score was 39.

In the area of closing performance gaps, Bridgeport ISD scored a 33.

And in postsecondary readiness, the score was 59.

Bridgeport hit 21 of its 28 performance rate measures and was 37-for-45 overall.

CHICO ISD

Chico met standard, landing one of its nine eligible measures for distinction designation in the top 25 percent.

On student achievement, Chico scored an 85.

For student progress, Chico’s score was a 38.

In closing performance gaps, the score was 47 – highest of the county’s school districts.

In postsecondary readiness, Chico scored a 66.

The district hit all 37 of its system safeguard indicators.

DECATUR ISD

The Decatur district had one campus – the McCarroll Middle School sixth grade campus – that was rated “improvement required.”

Overall, the district’s rating was “met standard” as it exceeded state targets in student achievement (78), student progress (38), closing performance gaps (36) and postsecondary readiness (71).

The sixth grade campus missed the state target on student progress.

Decatur ISD had two of 13 eligible postsecondary readiness measures in the top 25 percent statewide and met 44 of 51 indicators on the system safeguards.

NORTHWEST ISD

Wise County’s biggest school district, which also extends into Denton and Tarrant counties, had two campuses that showed improvement needed.

Both Seven Hills Elementary at Newark and J. Lyndal Hughes Elementary in Roanoke missed the state target on student progress.

But overall, the district hit 74 of its 75 indicators.

Northwest’s scores were 87 on student achievement – highest in the county – 40 on student progress, 45 on closing performance gaps and 73 on postsecondary readiness.

Northwest had three of 43 eligible measures in the top 25 percent.

PARADISE ISD

All four of Paradise ISD’s campuses met state standards, and in postsecondary readiness, the district had the highest score in the county.

Paradise’s student achievement score was 82.

The district earned a 37 in student progress and a 41 in closing performance gaps.

Paradise met state indicators on all 35 of its indicators but had no eligible measures in the top 25 percent for the distinction designation.

SLIDELL ISD

Slidell ISD, with one campus, met standard with a score of 85 on student achievement, 41 on closing performance gaps and 69 on postsecondary readiness.

The district was not eligible for distinction designations but hit 22 out of 22 on its system safeguards.

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Weatherford College board to meet Monday

The Weatherford College board of trustees will propose a tax rate of just under 11.5 cents in Parker County to support next year’s operations when they meet at noon Monday, Aug. 11, on the Weatherford campus.

For the current fiscal year, Wise County taxpayers paid a 4.6-cent branch campus maintenance tax, raising more than $3.5 million of the budget for the Wise County campus, which totaled just under $6 million.

WC trustees will also consider proposals on food service and supplies, an interlocal agreement with Education Service Center Region 20 for participation in a cooperative purchasing program, and hear reports on construction, enrollment, finances and investments. In addition, they are expected to set dates for meetings Aug. 19, 22 and 28 for required public hearings and adoption of the 2014-15 budget and tax rate.

The board’s meetings are open to the public.

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Grand jury indicts 20 on drug charges

A Wise County grand jury met July 24 and returned 48 felony indictments against 38 suspects. Twenty of those indictments were drug-related – 19 for methamphetamine possession.

Jordan Ray Herbert-Newman, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (three counts)

Larry Dane Boykin Jr., possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Scott Wayne Burdine, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams

Michael Eugene Campbell, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Cody Barton Hale, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Gerardo Fernandez, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Joshua Martin Gonzales, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair

Jose Hernandez, possession of a controlled – methamphetamine, substance less than 1 gram

Justin Michael Hinchcliffe, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams (one count); tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair

Benjamin Joseph Hipps, possession of a controlled substance – amphetamine, 1-4 grams (one count); possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram (one count)

Michael Aaron Hothouse, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Kevin Clayton Hubbard, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Jonathan Eric Jordan, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Brett Walter Kennan, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Gustavo Adrian Lopez, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Haylee Nycole McDaniel, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram in a drug free zone

Jennifer Marie McVean, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram in a drug free zone

Clarissa Eileen Overstreet, possession of a controlled substance – amphetamine, less than 1 gram

Samuel Portillo, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Ashley Nicole Steiger, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Christopher Earl Waller, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Chance Wade Williamson, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Soren Linus Anderson, theft of property $20,000-$100,000 (two counts)

Jose Enrique Rocha, assault intentional/reckless breath/circulation family member

De Ann Lynn Shoshanah, deadly conduct discharge firearm

Wesley Wayne Wade, burglary habitation intend other felony (one count); aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (one count)

Barry Jamal Walker, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon

Matthew Warren Alexander, driving while intoxicated with child under 15 (three counts)

Jayne Michelle Anderson, burglary of a habitation

John Cecil Burris, burglary of a habitation

Lauren Rebecca Veber, burglary of a habitation

Brent Andrew McChesney, driving while intoxicated with child under 15

Sean Wayne Minor, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Tracy Lynn Mosley, credit card or debit card abuse

Gustavo Ramirez-Garcia, driving while intoxicated third or more

Roy Don Wablington, driving while intoxicated third or more

Janet Lee Wilson, driving while intoxicated third or more

Julie Danielle Betts, burglary of a habitation.

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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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Transportation Coalition to meet Tuesday

The first meeting of the Wise County Transportation Coalition is 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Decatur City Hall.

Organizers said the meeting is for all who may be stakeholders in improving public transportation services.

The intent is to see if there is enough interest in forming a coalition of Wise County stakeholders on this subject. The coalition would then meet regularly to discuss transportation issues in the county.

The agenda includes a review of local transportation needs such as veterans access, access for the disabled, Weatherford College access, Workforce access and medical access.

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All over the map: Wise County cities continue to see mixed sales tax results

The numbers appear almost contradictory.

Two Wise County cities – Bridgeport and New Fairview – are short of last year’s sales tax numbers by a combined $157,590.

But the county’s 10 other sales-tax-collecting cities are up by a combined $136,744 – ranging from $23 in Lake Bridgeport to more than $60,000 in Newark.

Altogether, Wise County’s dozen cities are $20,846 below last year through eight months of 2014.

But the county, which collects a half-cent tax on sales within its boundaries, is $159,104 ahead for 2014 over 2013.

Go figure.

For the calendar year, the city of Bridgeport is down $134,953 compared to last year. The city of New Fairview is off $22,637.

Every other Wise County city is up for the year.

Percentage-wise, the biggest gainer is Newark with an 88.7 percent jump. But Aurora is up 27.2 percent and Chico and Alvord are both up more than 16 percent. Runaway Bay is up almost 15 percent, and Paradise is up 5.4 percent.

Boyd’s increase is modest at 2.78 percent, while Rhome is up nearly 1.5 percent, and Decatur and Lake Bridgeport both have increases of less than a half-percent.

It’s hard to make sense of those kinds of numbers, other than to say that the economic recovery continues in most places – but gets a little spotty in Wise County.

State Comptroller Susan Combs said this week state sales tax revenue in July totaled $2.34 billion – up 6.3 percent compared to July 2013.

She attributed the growth to strength in both business and consumer spending.

“The increase was led by remittances from the construction, services and oil and natural gas-related sectors, as well as from retail trade and restaurants,” she said. “Fiscal year-to-date, state sales tax collections are now up 5.3 percent.”

The August sales tax figures represent monthly sales made in July as well as April, May and June sales by businesses that report tax quarterly.

Winnser and Losers

CUTLINE

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Water suppliers watching use, rates

Water suppliers watching use, rates

Rainfall in July was up, temperatures were down and water use continued to shrink as residents buy into the need to conserve water.

That scenario presents cities and utility districts with some unique challenges.

Looking for the Big Ones

LOOKING FOR THE BIG ONES – A fisherman plies the waters just below the dam at Lake Bridgeport, surrounded by the circles of turbulence created by aerators put in to improve water quality around the water intakes placed in the deepest part of the lake. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

For Walnut Creek Special Utility District, the biggest challenge is getting the water it needs to serve its 6,000 or so customers.

The Springtown-based utility is currently working on a project with Brazos Electric to move its intake structure about 150 feet further out in the lake, into deeper water.

“If the lake gets another two or three feet low, the existing pump station probably won’t be able to pick up water,” General Manager Jerry Holsomback said. “There’s plenty of water in the lake. We just have to get out further.”

Several Metroplex cities, including Fort Worth, have announced plans to raise rates, as the success of conservation efforts has put them in a financial hole.

Tarrant Regional Water District, meanwhile, has just announced another 12.5-cent hike in raw water costs to its customers – everyone who draws water out of Lake Bridgeport.

Holsomback said Walnut Creek isn’t planning on adjusting rates anytime soon.

“It’ll probably be the first of the year when we do our budgeting that we’ll look at maybe raising it a little,” he said. “We’re doing OK for now.”

He said water use is down about 10 percent – welcome relief for a utility that is operating at close to capacity.

BRIDGEPORT TO HOLD THE LINE

In Bridgeport, City Administrator Brandon Emmons said water use is down about 8 percent – something he attributed to both conservation and the cooler, wetter summer – but the city has no plans to raise water rates for its customers.

“This has not had a significant impact on our operations,” he said. “When our revenues are reduced from lower than normal water sales, our expenses are also reduced proportionately. A large portion of our water rates are comprised of a combination of wholesale costs and treatment expenses.”

Emmons said the city has adjusted its projected expenses as a result of the increased TRWD price for raw water.

“We will not be increasing our retail water rates this year as a result of the increased costs associated with providing water to our customers,” he said. “We have achieved increased operational efficiencies that will offset these new expenses.”

DECATUR LOOKING AT A RATE HIKE

In Decatur, fixed expenses and the increased cost of raw water will prompt another rate increase in this year’s budget.

It’s not so much because of lower use – although Decatur’s raw water use has been down every month this year compared to 2013 – but because of increases in raw water and electricity costs.

The city had been paying just over 97 cents per thousand gallons for raw water out of Lake Bridgeport until May – about $45,000 month. The city council approved an $8,000-a-month bump in the city’s payment to Wise County Water Supply District for June, July, August and September, and will budget an addition $4,000 a month for fiscal 2014-15, which begins in October.

On top of that, electricity costs are going up just more than 8 percent – another $51,000 hit.

City Manager Brett Shannon said the water fund has to balance income and expenses. It’s not run to make a profit, but it can’t operate at a deficit for long.

“The hardest part, for everybody – we get in a drought and you ask people to conserve water, and they do that, and then you raise the rates,” he said. “That rubs some people the wrong way. But if it’s taking this many dollars to provide the service, and we’re only getting this many dollars, we can’t do that.”

Lake Bridgeport remains about 41 percent full, a little more than 22 feet below its normal conservation level.

TRWD has not released water from the lake since last June, and having only one 100-degree day in July certainly helped slow the drop in water level.

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Sales tax ‘holiday’ is this weekend

Texas’ annual sales tax “holiday” is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 8-10.

State law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales tax, saving shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend during the weekend.

State Comptroller Susan Combs estimates that this year, shoppers will save an estimated $82.7 million in state and local sales taxes over the weekend.

The tax holiday weekend has been an annual event since 1999.

All sales of qualifying items made during the holiday period qualify for the exemption, including items sold online, by telephone or mail. Layaway plans can be used again this year to take advantage of the sales tax holiday.

The exemption applies to each eligible item that sells for less than $100, regardless of how many items are sold at the same time. For example, if a customer purchases two shirts for $80 each, both items qualify for the exemption even though the total purchase is more than $100.

The exemption does not apply to the first $99.99 of an eligible item that sells for more than $99.99. For example, if someone buys a pair of pants that costs $110, sales tax is due on the entire $110.

The exemption also does not apply to special clothing or footwear primarily designed for athletic activity. Golf cleats and football pads are examples. Tennis shoes, jogging suits and swimsuits, however, are commonly worn for non-athletic activity and thus qualify.

The sales tax holiday does not include rental of clothing or footwear; nor does it apply to alteration or cleaning services performed on clothes and shoes.

Additionally, tax is due on sales of accessories, including jewelry, handbags, purses, briefcases, luggage, umbrellas, wallets, watches and similar items.

Backpacks priced under $100, sold for use by elementary and secondary students, are exempt during the sales tax holiday. This includes backpacks with wheels, provided they can also be worn on the back like a traditional backpack.

The exemption does not include items that are reasonably defined as luggage, briefcases, athletic/duffle/gym bags, computer bags, purses or framed backpacks.

Texas families also get a sales tax break on most school supplies priced at less than $100 purchased for use by a student in an elementary or secondary school.

School supplies that qualify for the exemption (if priced less than $100) are:

  • binders
  • book bags
  • calculators
  • cellophane tape
  • blackboard chalk
  • compasses
  • composition books
  • crayons
  • erasers
  • folders; expandable, pocket, plastic, and manila
  • glue, paste and paste sticks
  • highlighters
  • index cards
  • index card boxes
  • legal pads
  • lunch boxes
  • markers (including dry erase markers)
  • notebooks
  • paper; loose leaf ruled notebook paper, copy paper, graph paper, tracing paper, manila paper, colored paper, poster board and construction paper
  • pencil boxes and other school supply boxes
  • pencil sharpeners
  • pencils
  • pens
  • protractors
  • rulers
  • scissors
  • writing tablets

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Back to work: Wise teams hit the field running

Back to work: Wise teams hit the field running

After months of waiting, Wise County high schools hit the practice field all day Monday to assess talent and get in shape for the upcoming season.

Early to Work

EARLY TO WORK – Paradise players warm up shortly after sunrise Monday morning on the first day of practice for all Wise County teams. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Monday was the first day the University Interscholastic League (UIL) allowed schools to start practicing. Teams that did not participate in spring football – schools below the new 5A level – took the field in shorts and helmets. Teams aren’t allowed to work out in full pads until Friday.

But even without full equipment, coaches and kids were glad to be back at work.

“It’s fun. It’s something the kids get excited for,” said Paradise coach Scott Broussard. “They’ve worked really hard in off-season. This is what we’ve worked five to eight months for.”

Joining the Ranks

JOINING THE RANKS – A dog sprinted with Paradise players during conditioning drills Monday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

A big part of the first day is teaching.

“Our primary focus today was to just start the process of learning and getting in shape,” said Bridgeport coach Danny Henson. “But we had a good first day today, and we’re just focused on getting ready for that first game.”

Henson will be working with a relatively young squad this year, most of whom experienced playing time as a result of the injuries that plagued last year’s 0-10 team.

Snap To It

SNAP TO IT – Decatur quarterbacks catch snaps during the Eagles’ first practice. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The Alvord Bulldogs were up-and-at-’em bright and early Monday morning as head coach Pete Hart focused on offense. He said his team looked “a little tired” at first, but they’re on their way to getting in good shape.

“I have a rule – I don’t blow my whistle at all,” Hart said. “Only time I do is to signal that practice is over or to tell them to get on the line and start running. They see my whistle come up, they quit loafing.”

Hart was named Alvord’s head coach three weeks ago.

Broussard and the Panthers were also on the field early Monday.

Getting a Grip

GETTING A GRIP – Bridgeport’s Raby Hawkins pulls in a pass during the Bulls’ first practice. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“The kids are working hard,” Broussard said. “I’m impressed with their work ethic.”

He added that the team showed a much better grasp of the offense and defense than last year.

At Chico, more than 50 players took part in the first workouts. Coach Stephen Carter said the team was busy learning a new run-oriented offense.

Taking a Break

TAKING A BREAK – Chico players catch their breath between practice sessions Tuesday morning. More than 50 players turned out for the team’s first workouts. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur and Boyd were among the last teams to take the field for practice. Decatur Eagles head coach Mike Fuller started his session in the afternoon, around 4:30.

“Right now we’re just focusing on seeing what everyone can do and get in shape,” Fuller said.

HOPPING TO START – Alvord quarterback Cassidy Patterson goes through an agility drill at practice Monday. Messenger Photo by Mack Thweatt

Fuller became Decatur’s head coach in March and is looking to implement an entirely new offense and defense this season.

“I’m pleased with the effort. Everyone has a good attitude,” Fuller added. “We have a lot of questions to answer and a long ways to go.”

Decatur will hold an intersquad scrimmage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Meet the Eagle Night will not be held with the scrimmage.

In Boyd, Hopkins said the numbers were down as 50 players turned out. He said the school has several smaller classes around a junior class that has 23 players.

“There’s 27 in the three other classes,” Hopkins said. “The sophomore class has only 60 kids and there’s not a ton of kids in the freshman class. We have eight seniors.

“We don’t have much depth. We looked good. We’re just having a problem number-wise.”

He added that much of the first workouts were focused on pace – just playing faster.

“We want to play a lot faster and practice faster,” Hopkins said. “We have great kids, and they’re buying into it.”

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Drought persists despite record rainfall

Drought persists despite record rainfall

Wise County received a record amount of rain in July, but it wasn’t enough to end the drought.

Weather watcher Doyle Green of Decatur recorded 8.08 inches of rain for the month. That easily broke the old record of 6.78 inches set in 1996 (based on records that date back to 1974).

The average amount of rainfall for July is 2.51 inches.

Welcome Rain

WELCOME RAIN – Yards and pastures are usually yellowed by heat and high temperatures this time of year, but the local countryside is remarkably green following record rainfall in July. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Most of July’s rainfall came in one day – July 17 – when a storm system dumped 6.65 inches of rain in Decatur, according to Green. Northern parts of the county recorded close to 10 inches of rain from that storm.

Even record rainfall was not enough to bring the year-to-date total up to the average amount for the first seven months of the year. For the year, Wise County has now received 20.95 inches of rain, still more than 2 inches below the average of 23.17 over the past 40 years.

The rainfall also did little to put a dent in the ongoing drought conditions for our area. The northern part of Wise County that received the heaviest amount of rain in July is in a “severe drought” designation while the rest of Wise County remains in an “extreme drought” designation, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Thursday.

Lake levels at Lake Bridgeport, which saw a slight rise after the July 17 rainfall, are now back close to pre-storm levels.

Temperatures stayed unseasonably cool for much of the month. We hit 100 degrees for a high on one date, July 14. The high temperature stayed below 90 degrees eight days during the month with highs under 80 for three of those dates.

The average high temperature in the month was 91.3. Oddly enough, that’s the exact same average high temperature as in July of 2013.

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Commissioners eye proposed budget, tax rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

They include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TAPS plans rides for Medicaid patients

TAPS plans rides for Medicaid patients

Local Medicaid patients who need a ride to the doctor can now begin scheduling those rides through TAPS Access.

Reservations may be made for health care trips on Sept. 1 or later.

Roll Out

ROLL OUT – A new fleet of Ford Transit Connect passenger vans like the one pictured will provide transportation to local Medicaid recipients through TAPS Access. Submitted Photo

TAPS (Texoma Area Paratransit System) was awarded a Medicaid contract by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission earlier this year. TAPS created a whole new operating unit called TAPS Access to provide non-emergency medical transport services to an estimated 55,000 Medicaid recipients in a 16-county “super region” that includes Wise County along with Archer, Baylor, Clay, Collin, Cooke, Cottle, Fannin, Foard, Grayson, Hardeman, Jack, Montague, Wilbarger, Wichita and Young counties.

TAPS Access began scheduling appointments Friday, and transportation services will begin in one month.

TAPS has provided Medicaid transport in the past, but this is the first time the Sherman-based public transportation service has been directly awarded a Medicaid contract. In previous years, Medicaid contracts have been awarded to private transportation companies, which has led to complaints about poor service and possible Medicaid fraud.

Due to those complaints, Senate Bill 8 was passed in the last session of the Texas Legislature aimed at reducing Medicaid fraud. TAPS CEO Brad Underwood said he worked closely with legislators who were crafting the bill. The final bill included language that would make TAPS eligible to apply for the Medicaid contract.

Local Medicaid recipients, Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) program members or Transportation for Indigent Cancer Patients Program (TICP) members in need of a ride can now call the expanded TAPS call center at 1-877-633-8747 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to schedule a ride. To check on your ride, make a change or to return home from your appointment, call the Ride Assist Line at 1-866-339-5290 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday or 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

For information on TAPS Access, visit tapsaccess.com.

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Judge suggests declining state stipend

County Judge Glenn Hughes thinks Wise County should no longer accept a state stipend for the county judge’s salary.

He told commissioners in a special meeting Thursday that it would be best for the entire salary to come from county coffers.

The state of Texas pays county judges $15,000 per year if they spend 40 percent of their time on judicial duties. Wise County has accepted this stipend for several years, but Hughes thinks it’s in the best interest of the office to no longer go that route.

“I’ve done some research on this since being in this position, and on other counties and what they’re doing, because I was wondering how you could spend 40 percent of your time taking care of judicial duties and take care of your county financial duties,” he said. “It puts the judge in a bad place to require him to do 40 percent of his time on judicial duties when we have two court-at-laws now taking care of a lot of that.”

Ellis County Judge Carol Bush is currently under investigation for filing the affidavit with the state to receive the money but not hearing any cases. According to the state comptroller’s office, Bush and Ellis County have repaid the money but a special prosecutor had been assigned to the case earlier this month to determine if a crime had been committed.

Hughes did not reference this case Thursday, but he indicated he wasn’t comfortable committing 40 percent of his time to those endeavors. He suggested on his behalf and that of future county judges that “rather than having a judge jeopardize his position, I would suggest putting that money on his salary and would have the judge and all four commissioners at the same salary level.”

The county will only have to pitch in $9,750 – not the full $15,000 – and the judge’s and commissioners’ proposed salaries will be the same at $77,250. This would be a slight pay cut for the county judge post. In fiscal year 2014, the county judge salary was $82,500, which included the county’s portion ($67,500), plus the $15,000 stipend.

The late County Judge Bill McElhaney received the stipend, but he often filled in for County Court-at-Law Judge Melton Cude, especially before the second county court was created. He also handled a significant number of mental commitments for the county court.

This issue, along with other budget concerns, will be discussed further at workshops Aug. 19-20. They are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office training room, 200 Rook Ramsey Dr., in Decatur. The meetings are open to the public.

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Wise Regional hires architect for Fit-N-Wise facility

Wise Regional Health System has hired an architect to begin design and engineering work on the new free-standing Fit-N-Wise building to be constructed on the hospital campus off Farm Road 51 South – just north of the current facility.

The hospital’s recent refinancing of $87.6 million in bonds from its 2004 construction project allowed the borrowing of an additional $10 million for the project, while receiving a better interest rate and lowering its payments by about $100,000 a month.

That money, as well as savings, is available for the construction of the new facility which will house therapy, wellness, aquatics and sports medicine.

Marketing director Shannon Puphal said moving Fit-N-Wise is the first step toward being able to add on the hospital’s patient towers.

At Monday’s board meeting, directors approved a service contract with architect Mike Hale to provide architectural, civil engineering and structural engineering services for the project.

Hale recently met with the hospital’s building committee and provided a timeline overview on the project. He said the next few months will include additional site visits, interviews with pool consultants, development of site schematics and interviews with general contractors.

Construction should begin in January 2015.

OTHER BUSINESS

The board also:

  • heard from CEO Steve Summers that the sale of the property near the Dialysis Center in Decatur is expected to close in August after required re-plats are approved. Summers also said Wise Regional’s Dialysis Center in Saginaw had its initial survey by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), passed its inspection and has begun accepting Medicare patients.
  • heard from Summers about a collaborative effort with local pediatricians to dedicate an area on the second floor of the Decatur East campus specifically for pediatric patients. The new pediatric area will have a dedicated nursing station and pediatrics-trained nursing staff.
  • heard a financial report from CFO Jim Eaton, who noted the hospital system saw an overall increase in net position of $316,000 for June. That was after recording $2.8 million in bond issuance costs related to refinancing the 2004 bonds. The hospital system’s net revenues were $16.2 million in June, with volumes down in all major services except surgery, compared to the prior month. Outpatient surgery volume was up 13.2 percent.
  • heard from Chief Nursing Officer Sue Sewell that the retention rate for nurses is improving. Tracie Inglis, RN was appointed the Cardiovascular and Stroke Coordinator and Daniel Aranda, RCIS, was selected as the new Director of the Cardiac Cath Lab in Decatur.
  • heard a report from Sewell that Pre-Op Assessment has moved to a new suite on the second floor of the East campus Fit-N-Wise building and will include radiology and laboratory. The change is designed to allow patients to address all their pre-op needs at one location within the hospital.
  • approved proposed amendments to the bylaws, as well as a resolution designating and assigning places to board members.
  • after a closed session, approved several new appointments to the medical staff based on the recommendations of the Medical Executive Committee. They also accepted reappointments and first-year reviews.

The next regular meeting is Monday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. in the Administration board room at the hospital.

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County to upgrade IT system

Wise County’s information technology (IT) system needs a bigger pipe, according to Prince Computing Corp.

Commissioners Monday approved a contract with the company to update the county’s IT system and help them devise a five-year plan. The contract is capped at $35,000, which is less expensive than County Judge Glenn Hughes anticipated.

“According to what they’ve already determined, we have a little bitty pipe to send all of our technology through, and we need a bigger pipe,” he said with a laugh. “And that pretty well sums it up. People who know more about IT than I do were really impressed [with their July 16 presentation to department heads] and said it was something we should do.

“After the meeting, everybody felt great and seemed excited about some of the things we could do right away that weren’t earth-shattering,” Hughes said.

He indicated Wise County’s system doesn’t match up with those in other counties of similar size, but he hopes this action will get the county up to speed.

Another piece of equipment that needs updating is the elevator in the courthouse. Hughes told commissioners it doesn’t meet modern-day standards.

“We have to put in a double cylinder,” he said. “And it’s very expensive.”

He said Otis Elevator, the company that currently maintains the elevator, estimated the cost at $60,000.

“But that seems astronomical to me,” he said. He asked commissioners to approve seeking bids for the work.

In other business, commissioners:

  • presented a plaque to Craig Johnson honoring his wife, the late Terri Johnson, and her service to the county as justice of the peace in Precinct 2; and
  • accepted donations including $500 from the Alvord Cemetery to Public Works and $550.56 from Cans for Canines to the animal shelter.

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