County’s reserves on the rise

Wise County’s finances are in good condition, according to outside auditor Snow Garrett Williams.

Kathy Williams, a representative of the firm, gave a report on the audit for fiscal year 2014 at Monday’s commissioners meeting, and she said the firm issued “a clean opinion” of the county’s financial records.

Financial reserves are slowly rising, and the county is nearing its goal of having 20 percent of its budgeted expenditures in reserves. The county closed out FY 2014 with 17 percent in reserves, an 8 percent increase over fiscal year 2013.

Capital assets, which include land, buildings, roads, bridges, machinery and anything that the county uses daily to function, totaled $77.8 million at the end of fiscal year 2014 – a slight decrease from last year. Annual depreciation for capital assets was $5,583,725.

Williams said the county’s major capital “events” in FY 2014 included the addition of bridges and roads, an upgrade to the jail security system and the purchase of vehicles and equipment – nine for public safety, two loaders, two truck tractors, an asphalt distributor and an asphalt zipper.

The county did see a $12 million increase in outstanding debt due in large part to tax notes, according to Williams. At the end of FY 2014 the county’s debt totaled $45.3 million.

“You have $14.3 million in tax notes and then you had your regularly scheduled debt payments that offset that, so that’s why there was a $12.2 million increase in debt,” she said.

The tax notes were used for the remodeling of existing buildings and the purchase of land and equipment.

Total assets for fiscal year 2014 were at $35.8 million, and total liabilities were $3.6 million.

The county’s revenues for FY ’14 were $50.7 million, and expenditures were $52.1 million, reflecting a $1.4 million deficiency before financing from outside sources such as transfers, grants and the sale of capital assets.

The county’s largest expenditures were for public safety at $16.3 million, public transportation at $7.1 million and general government at $7 million.

“The good news is the general fund increased by over $1.7 million and the lateral road fund balance increased by just over a million dollars,” Williams said.

“It’s good to see that those funds are building up some reserves and getting more for that fund balance if the county needs it for future purposes,” she said.

The lateral road fund, which includes all four county precincts, closed the year at $4.7 million. Total revenues for the fund were $9.1 million, and total expenditures were $8.7 million.

Williams also noted that the county’s total revenue has increased $22.3 million in the last 10 fiscal years. In 2005, revenues were at $28,210,956, and in 2014, they had grown to $50,698,531. Expenditures mirrored the change in revenues.

Williams’ presentation hit the highlights of the 65-page report given to commissioners.

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Man injured in weekend knife attack

A confrontation over vandalism turned into a vicious knife attack near Lake Bridgeport Sunday night.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said investigators responded to a call about a stabbing near the intersection of Farm Roads 1658 and 2952 around 11 p.m. March 29.

Jason Kyle Gee

According to information gathered from witnesses, Clifton Alan Skinner, 33, of Decatur and Jason Kyle Gee, 27, of Runaway Bay were engaged in a verbal argument when Gee cut Skinner’s throat.

“It appears Gee was trying to vandalize Skinner’s vehicle, and when Skinner went to confront him, Gee slashed Skinner’s throat,” Walker said.

Skinner’s girlfriend drove him to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur where it was determined Skinner had a deep laceration to his throat and a small puncture wound to his bicep. Skinner was then flown to a Metroplex hospital.

Gee was arrested Monday and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He remained in the Wise County Jail Tuesday with bond set at $35,000. He’s also being held on a parole violation charge with no bond.

“Once Skinner gave a statement to investigators, they arrested Gee, and he gave an admission in a statement that he did in fact cut Skinner’s throat,” Walker said.

The sheriff said investigators are continuing to talk to witnesses and trying to determine what might have led to the confrontation between the two men.

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Charity raises more than $30,000 for veterans

Charity raises more than $30,000 for veterans

The third annual Heroes Night Saturday raised $30,497 to provide mortgage-free homes to military veterans across America.

The event was planned by WC Challenger Charities (WCCC), the Military Warriors Support Foundation and 1,000 Miles Till Home, a local charity started by Wendell Berry after he ran 1,000 miles to raise awareness about the plight of veterans without homes.

One Home at a Time

ONE HOME AT A TIME – Retired Army Sgt. James Rivara (center) holds a key representing the mortgage-free home he will receive from 1,000 Miles Till Home, WC Challenger Charities and the Military Warriors Support Foundation. Also pictured are (from left) Retired Army Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, professional bull rider J.W. Hart, and WC Challenger Charities’ Andrew Rottner, Calvin Jackson, Wendell Berry, retired Sgt. James Gordan and Alan Sessions. Berry is holding a check representing a money raised Saturday at the third annual Heroes Night. Messenger photo by Jake Harris

Berry said Saturday he started the charity with the goal of getting just one veteran in a mortgage-free home. Since then, the organization, along with WCCC and the Military Warriors provided homes for 640 families in Texas, New Mexico and North Carolina.

“What started out as a dream to give one soldier one home led to this, and what a ride it’s been,” Berry said.

The organization has a newly designed website and a TV commercial that will play in every city where the charity is trying to house veterans.

“We always say, ‘Ordinary people can do extraordinary things one house at a time,’ and that’s all because of donations from people like you,” Berry told the crowd.

Retired Army Sgt. James Gordan, who received a home through the organization after he was wounded during his second tour in Afghanistan in 2006, shared his story with the crowd.

“We were having trouble making payments while I was in rehab, and I met [retired U.S. Army Lt. General Leroy Sisco with the Military Warriors Support Foundation] and he told me about the program. Now my wife and I don’t worry about mortgage payments anymore,” Gordan said. “We can focus on other things because we’re not arguing about how we’re going to pay the mortgage.”

In November, Gordan will receive the deed to the North Texas house he received through 1,000 Miles Till Home and the Military Warriors. He and his family have lived in it for three years while they worked to eliminate other debt, as required by the program.

“We teach every family that gets one of our houses how to care for the house and how to live in this great gift they’ve been given,” Sisco said. “And we’ve eliminated more than $9 million in debt since we started this.”

The night concluded with a check presentation to 1,000 Miles Till Home and an out-of-state house giveaway to another veteran, retired Army Sgt. James Rivara.

“This means a lot to me, I’m so thankful for this,” Rivara said.

Berry said the charity is looking to grow even bigger in the coming years with a veteran service hotline and a rehab center for Vietnam veterans in Wise County.

To learn more about 1,000 Miles Till Home, visit its website at 1000milestillhome.com.

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Upcoming Easter events

Upcoming Easter events

BOYD

BUNNY-PHOBIA – Reagan Seidel, 1, of Chico screams while trying to wiggle away from the Easter Bunny at Eggstravaganza in Bridgeport Saturday. The event was hosted by Bridgeport Parks and Recreation and included a carnival and egg hunts. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

EGG HUNT – The First United Methodist Church of Boyd will have an Easter egg hunt and lunch with the Easter bunny 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 4.

DECATUR

EGG HUNT – The Hills Nursing and Rehab in Decatur will hold an Easter egg hunt 4 p.m. Friday, April 3, featuring the Easter Bunny and refreshments.

BUNNY VISIT – Governor’s Ridge Retirement and Assisted Living will host an egg hunt 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 4. The event will include age-group hunts, photos with the Easter bunny, a free picnic lunch and gifts for the children. Call 940-627-1104.

PARADISE

MULTIPLE HUNTS – Grace Fellowship Church will hold Easter egg hunts in conjunction with weekend services. They include an egg hunt at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 4, with church service to follow at 6, and an egg hunt at 9:15 a.m. prior to the 9:30 service Sunday, April 5. A second service is 11 a.m. Sunday followed by another egg hunt.

RHOME

EASTER EVENT – The Rhome Easter egg hunt is 1 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at Family Park, 400 S. Virginia. There will be egg hunts for different age groups, prizes, free raffle tickets and a bounce house. Cookies and punch will be served, and the Easter bunny will be available for photos. Call Jo Ann Wilson, 817-638-2388.

Filling Their Baskets

FILLING THEIR BASKETS – Young egg hunters dash across the Decatur Civic Center lawn Tuesday morning at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office Easter egg hunt. The Easter Bunny also made an appearance, posing for photos with children. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

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Cops make drug arrests

Wise County narcotics investigators believe they have caught a major supplier of drugs to Wise County.

Jason Eric Peek

Sheriff David Walker said Deputy Jason Sorrow received information about a possible drug dealer headed to the Boyd area on Wednesday. Officers set up surveillance on Jason Eric Peek, 32, of Springtown and stopped his vehicle on Farm Road 730 near the south Boyd city limits. Peek was found in possession of 16 grams of methamphetamine and 19 Xanax pills.

He was arrested for manufacturing/delivery of a controlled substance in penalty group 1 4-200 grams and manufacturing/delivery of a controlled substance in penalty group 3/4 less than 28 grams. He posted $75,000 bond the same day and was released, according to jail records.

“He cooperated with our investigators to give up who he was getting his methamphetamine from,” Walker said.

He identified his supplier as William Brandon Crane, 39, of Bedford.

William Brandon Crane

Using this information, investigators working undercover set up a drug buy with Crane, who agreed to meet at the Dairy Queen in Rhome that day. When he arrived at the restaurant, instead of a buyer, Crane found a team of officers who placed him under arrest.

Walker said officers found 117 grams of methamphetamine, 511 grams of GHB (also known as a date rape drug) and 46 grams of Xanax in Crane’s possession.

Crane was arrested for manufacturing/delivery of a controlled substance in penalty group 1 more than 400 grams, manufacturing/delivery of a controlled substance in penalty group 1 4-200 grams and possession of a controlled substance in penalty group 3 28-200 grams. His total bond was set at $225,000. He remained in the Wise County Jail Friday.

Officers also seized Crane’s 2014 Toyota Tundra pickup and $1,300 in cash.

The arrests continue a trend of people bringing drugs from outside the county into our area, Walker said.

“We’ve seen more and more people from the Metroplex area coming up to Wise County as drug suppliers,” he said. “We will continue to do covert operations like this and seize everything we can.”

Walker said more arrests connected to the case could be made in the near future.

“We’ll continue to gather intelligence on anyone who is connected to these guys,” he said.

Wise County investigators were assisted by Boyd and Rhome police departments on the two arrests.

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Eagles dominate district UIL academic meet

Decatur captured the sweepstakes title at the 8-4A University Interscholastic League academic meet Tuesday in dominating fashion.

HARDWARE COLLECTION – Decatur High School won seven team titles and 12 individual gold medals on the way to winning the 8-4A University Interscholastic League academic meet Tuesday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur won seven team titles and 12 individual gold medals on the way to piling up 551.83 points at the meet held at Weatherford College Wise County. Second-place Springtown finished with 306.83. Bridgeport garnered 209.

Thirty-four Decatur students advanced to regionals, placing in the top three in individual events or as part of teams. The regional meet is April 24-25 at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

“In my 20 years, we’ve never come close to advancing that many kids to regionals,” said Cindy Berry, Decatur UIL coordinator. “We have a lot of kids that put in a lot of practice and went to practice meets. It really paid off Tuesday.

“We have good, dedicated coaches that have been working with kids. A lot of coaches coach multiple events.”

Decatur’s team titles include: current issues, journalism, literary criticism, number sense, science, speech, and spelling and vocabulary.

Decatur individuals swept the top three spots in four events. Brooklyn Blaylock, Payton McAlister and Allan Allsbrooks swept the medals in computer applications. Rachael Ussery, Nancy Torres and Mickey Drewry went first through third in feature writing and news writing. Sarah Crouse, Tucker Garrett and Taylor Yates garnered the top three spots in prose.

Decatur’s Brett Edwards and Truman Young finished first and second in current issues.

Meghan Darst and Payton Carroll took the top two spots in literary criticism. Luke Thomas and Truman Young won gold and silver in persuasive speaking.

Decatur’s Gavin Buchanan won physics and number sense. Karl Davila took gold in science and Kendall Hubbard in ready writing.

Bridgeport won the team crown in computer science. Noah Peterson won the event with Joshua Martz taking third.

Peterson also took gold in mathematics.

Dawson Smith and Yanet Ortiz finished first and second in poetry interpretation. Natalie Smith and Brianna Polk went one and two in spelling and vocabulary. Regi Lane added a district crown for Bridgeport in social studies.

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Dream team: Decatur writers sweep 2 events

Following her trip to the University Interscholastic League Academic state meet last spring, Rachael Ussery painted a picture of herself with Mickey Drewry and journalism sponsor Cindy Berry.

The painting was named the “Dream Team.”

EAGLE WORDSMITHS – Decatur High School writers (from left) Mickey Drewry, Rachael Ussery and Nancy Torres prepare for regional competition after sweeping the top three spots in feature and news writing at the 8-4A District UIL academic meet. Ussery is holding her painting, “The Dream Team,” which she created last year after her trip to the state academic meet in Austin. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

But after Tuesday, the figures in that tremendous trio have changed.

“Now, Nancy [Torres] has replaced me,” Berry pointed out.

Ussery, Torres and Drewry swept the top three spots in feature and news writing at the 8-4A District UIL academic meet, leading Decatur to the journalism crown.

“It was cool. We didn’t expect it,” Torres explained.

Drewry added: “We walked out proud of the medals.”

But they also felt the envious stares of competitors after watching the trio walk up twice and carry away medals.

“You could feel the haters,” Ussery said. “It’s deja vu with us going one, two, three.”

Of the dream team, Ussery and Drewry are the seasoned veterans as juniors. Both advanced to regionals last year with Drewry in news writing and Ussery in feature. Though only a first-year journalism student, Ussery advanced to the state meet.

“It was really unexpected considering that I had not finished my Journalism 1 class,” she recalled.

“I barely made it to state. I got third every time.”

This year, she took first in feature and news writing at district. She also took second in headline writing.

Drewry, who is on her second year on yearbook staff, claims she’s not a writer. Her accomplishments prove otherwise – winning bronze medals in news, feature and headline writing.

“I’m on the yearbook staff as a designer. I don’t write anything,” Drewry said. “I like the UIL contests. It’s more formula writing. Mrs. Berry told me I’d be good at it, and it’s my third year to do it.”

Of the three events, Drewry quickly points out that headline writing is her favorite.

“I love headline writing,” she said. “You can be more creative.”

Though she’s the senior, Torres is the rookie on the Dream Team.

“It’s my first year doing UIL academics,” said Torres, who serves as the editor of The Decatur Journal. “I wish I did it before.”

Torres finished second in news and feature writing and fourth in editorial.

“Feature is my favorite because you can take a subject and make it your own point of view,” Torres said.

Berry points out all three have varied backgrounds and experience.

“They really are an eclectic group,” she said. “Two are on the newspaper staff and another on yearbook. They all don’t write the same. But they know what it takes to be successful.”

All three point to Berry as a pivotal part of their success.

“She’s helped so much,” Torres said.

Drewry adds that Berry’s past success with writers also gives them a little motivation.

“We have a big reputation to live up to,” she said. “There’s a standard we have to be at.”

In the contests, the three are competing against each other. But they refuse to look at it that way.

“It’s us against everyone else in the room,” Ussery said.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” Drewry adds.

Now, the dream team moves on to regionals.

UIL RESULTS

Sweepstakes:
1. Decatur 551.83; 2. Springtown 306.83; 3. Bridgeport 209; 4. Castleberry 125.33; 5. Lake Worth 92.

Accounting:
4. Christopher Perez, Bridgeport; 5. Bronson Burks, Bridgeport; 6. Kayla Morgan, Decatur

Accounting Team:
1. Springtown; 2. Bridgeport

Calculator Applications:
4. Emily Baker, Decatur; 5. Gavin Buchanan, Decatur

Calculator Applications Team:
1. Springtown, 2. Decatur

Current Issues:
1. Brett Edwards, Decatur; 2. Truman Young, Decatur; 3. Tyler Hamblin, Bridgeport; 4. Michaela Cross, Decatur; 5. Carlos Arevalo, Decatur; 6. Jacob Mogus, Bridgeport

Current Issues Team:
1. Decatur

Computer Applications:
1. Brooklyn Blaylock, Decatur; 2. Payton McAlister, Decatur; 3. Allan Allsbrooks, Decatur; 4. Brandon Gatica, Castleberry

Computer Science:
1. Noah Peterson, Bridgeport; 3. Joshua Martz, Bridgeport; 4. Dimitri Gilbert, Decatur; 5. Chris Casey, Bridgeport; 6. Zane Brown, Bridgeport; 6. Jennifer Shaffer, Decatur

Computer Science Team:
1. Bridgeport; 2. Decatur

Editorial Writing:
3. Maddison Kyle, Decatur; 4. Nancy Torres, Decatur; 6. Vanity Johnson, Bridgeport

Feature Writing:
1. Rachael Ussery, Decatur; 2. Nancy Torres, Decatur; 3. Mickey Drewry, Decatur; 4. Vanity Johnson, Bridgeport

Headline Writing:
2. Rachael Ussery, Decatur; 3. Mickey Drewry, Decatur; 4. Lexie Chapman, Decatur

Informative Speaking:
1. Trey Dale, Decatur; 3. Jesus Gam, Decatur; 4. Jake Warren, Decatur

Literary Criticism:
1. Meghan Darst, Decatur; 2. Payton Carroll, Decatur; 5. Allison Garland, Decatur; 6. Kendall Martin, Decatur

Literary Criticism Team:
1. Decatur

Mathematics:
1. Noah Peterson, Bridgeport; 4. Maddi Waskom, Decatur; 5. Emily Baker, Decatur

Number Sense:
1. Gavin Buchanan, Decatur; 3. Noah Peterson, Bridgeport; 4. Ancelmo Galindo; 6. Dimitri Gilbert; Decatur

Number Sense Team:
1. Decatur

News Writing:
1. Rachael Ussery, Decatur; 2. Nancy Torres, Decatur; 3. Mickey Drewry, Decatur; 6. Wendy French, Bridgeport

Journalism Team:
1. Decatur

Persuasive Speaking:
1. Luke Thomas, Decatur; 2. Truman Young, Decatur

Speech Team:
1. Decatur

Poetry Interpretation:
1. Dawson Smith, Bridgeport; 2. Yanet Ortiz, Bridgeport

Prose:
1. Sarah Crouse, Decatur; 2. Tucker Garrett, Decatur; 3. Taylor Yates, Decatur

Ready Writing:
1. Kendall Hubbard, Decatur; 5. Madison Reed, Decatur; 6. Cody Teague, Bridgeport

Science:
1. Karl Davila, Decatur; 4. Gavin Buchanan, Decatur; 6. Brianna Jacobs, Decatur; 7. Patrick August, Decatur

Science Team:
1. Decatur

Physics:
1. Gavin Buchanan, Decatur

Social Studies:
1. Regi Lane, Bridgeport; 2. Chloe Morris, Decatur; 6. Kayla Morgan, Decatur

Social Studies Team:
2. Decatur

Spelling and Vocabulary:
1. Natalie Smith, Bridgeport; 2. Brianna Polk, Bridgeport; 4. Riley Keller, Decatur; 6. Lexi Chapman, Decatur

Spelling and Vocabulary Team:
1. Decatur

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WCHC raising awareness of child maltreatment

The Wise County Coalition for Healthy Children (WCHC), in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, will be putting up blue ribbon replicas across Wise County Sunday. The action is to raise awareness of child maltreatment, an issue that includes child abuse, as well as neglect, bullying, human trafficking and other related trauma.

WCHC will place the first replica 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur. From there, they will travel to Boyd, Bridgeport, Chico, Paradise and Slidell.

“A strong family is the foundation of a strong community,” said WCHC chair Teresa Graves. “I believe there is no cause more important than giving every child the best chance at a successful life. Please join us in bringing awareness to the issue of child maltreatment during the month of April and help us to prevent it year-round.”

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Local church helps man rebuild house

Local church helps man rebuild house

A new home is on the horizon for a Sunset resident after his house burned last fall.

Mark Kelley, along with members of Trinity Fellowship Church in Decatur, are rebuilding his house on County Road 1790 northwest of Alvord.

Blueprint for Success

BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS – Mark Kelley examines the blueprint for his new house on the first day of construction on County Road 1790 northwest of Alvord. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Kelley lost his home following a chicken brooder fire in November but made it out unscathed with his two dogs.

“The fire was a lot bigger than I thought it was, and even as I was dialing 911, I knew nothing was going to be salvaged.”

Bill Henderson, who works with Kelley at Lowe’s in Decatur, attends Trinity Fellowship. When he learned of Kelley’s hardship, he shared the story with a Trinity outreach group – the Kingdom Workers. With the church’s help, they started work on the new house in February. About 12 people were on site the first day to assist in construction.

“We just try to help out with whatever the community needs, and that could be helping build a house or helping someone in other ways,” Henderson said.

Kingdom Workers

KINGDOM WORKERS – Two members of Trinity Fellowship Church’s Kingdom Workers group examine blueprints before starting work on Mark Kelley’s new house in Sunset. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

As of this week, the house is framed, but recent inclement weather halted the building process. Kelley said once a roof is in place, he’ll move in while continuing work on the inside.

“As long as it has water and electricity and a roof, I’d be happy to just live in it while I work on it,” he said. “Right now, I’ve been working on it in the mornings before work and then after work when I get home. Most of the work happens on the weekends.”

Kelley himself doesn’t attend Trinity Fellowship but said he is extremely appreciative of the church’s help.

“It wouldn’t look anywhere near the way it looks now without them,” he said.

Team Effort

TEAM EFFORT – The Kingdom Workers with Trinity Fellowship Church help Mark Kelley begin construction on his new house. Kingdom Workers is an outreach group that helps meet the various needs of community members. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

This is Kelley’s first time building a house, and he said he gets a lot of help from his brother who lives in Florida.

“He’s the one that made the blueprints and everything, so sometimes at night I’ll just sit and examine it and look at the plan and then look it up online to figure out how to build something if I get stuck,” Kelley said.

Kelley hopes to complete the construction by the beginning of April. Until then, he’ll still be working with the Trinity Fellowship volunteers right beside him.

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Employment rate shows increase for February

The price of West Texas intermediate crude oil hit $50.58 per barrel in February. That number is up about $3 from January, but it’s still $50.24 less than the same time last year.

Recent data from the Texas Workforce Commission shows that Wise County’s unemployment rate also decreased from 4.2 percent to 4.1 percent in the first two months of 2015, although the two statistics aren’t necessarily related.

“[There’s not] any rapid response data showing recent layoffs in Wise County, and it’s common for statistics to be revised the month after publication,” Renee Moffett, North Central Texas Workforce research specialist, wrote in an email.

The Workforce Solutions North Central Texas sector serves 16 counties, including Wise. Wise County falls into the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) category.

The Texas Workforce Commission releases monthly newsletters with employment data every third Friday of the month. According to its latest newsletter, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington MSA’s mining, logging and construction sector saw the fifth largest monthly change in employment from January to February 2015, adding 2,800 jobs.

Overall, the state of Texas saw a decrease of 1,100 oil and gas extraction jobs during that same time period.

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington MSA tied for 11th place for best unemployment rate in February with Longview, Sherman-Denison and Waco.

To view more of the commission’s monthly reports, visit www.dfwjobs.com.

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Commissioners travel north for first mobile meeting

The first installment of Wise County Commissioners Court on the Road is next week in Slidell.

The public is invited to the school cafetorium 7 p.m. Tuesday to talk with commissioners and other county officials.

The meeting is the first of four to be held quarterly throughout the county and is part of a community outreach program proposed by County Judge J.D. Clark and approved by commissioners Feb. 26.

“Instead of expecting everybody to come to county government, then [let’s] take the county government out to everybody else,” Clark urged commissioners.

Slidell students will lead the Pledge of Allegiance to begin Tuesday’s meeting, and Clark will report on upcoming county issues.

Commissioner Danny White will talk about projects in Precinct 1, and Sheriff David Walker will explain the county’s K-9 program.

Community members will have the opportunity to address commissioners during open forum. The rules are the same as a regular commissioners meeting: A speaker should first identify himself or herself by first and last name. There is a three-minute limit, and large groups interested in the same topic should select a spokesperson.

State law prohibits commissioners from deliberating on anything brought up in open forum unless it is on their posted agenda.

Commissioners Court on the Road will be at Alvord City Hall in late June. A specific date and time has not yet been set.

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WRHS unveils new fitness facility plans, budget

The footprint of Wise Regional Health System in Decatur will soon grow even larger with the construction of a new fitness facility.

The Decatur Hospital Authority Board Monday put its stamp of approval on plans and budget for a $13 million new structure to house Fit-N-Wise. The 72,000-square-foot facility will be built just north of the WRHS East Campus on Medical Center Drive.

“It’s almost three times as big as what we have now,” said Travis Fulton, administrative director of therapy services.

The new facility will have two floors with separate areas for physical therapy, occupational therapy, sports medicine and general fitness.

Fulton said this will allow them to offer more services in the various types of therapy, while preventing patients and gym members from utilizing the same space.

“We will no longer have to mix community members with patients,” he said. “All the HIPAA violation risk will be removed. We’re no longer exposing our patients and community members at the same time.”

The facility will also boast two swimming pools – one outdoor and one indoor – and two gymnasiums.

On the second floor, or mezzanine level, an indoor track on one side will overlook the gymnasiums below and the other side will have bleachers overlooking the indoor pool.

This level will also have cardiovascular equipment as well as rooms for fitness classes.

The main workout floor will be on the first level, along with locker rooms, a nursery and a small cafeteria, which will also be accessible from the outdoor pool via a service window.

The board also approved, at the recommendation of the construction committee, appointing Dwayne Hodges with the Skiles Group as construction manager.

Board member Mark Duncum, who is chairman of the construction committee, said after narrowing a list of candidates, they interviewed Hodges and Frank Dale of Decatur with the Frank Dale Group.

“Both were impressive and presented well,” he said. “At the end of the day we believed both were very capable to work on the project, but our recommendation is we select the Skiles Group, based primarily on our long, successful history with Dwayne Hodges. He was involved in the construction of this hospital …”

Duncum went on to say they were “very impressed” with Dale’s group.

“… we believe he’ll have a presence in Decatur for a long time, and we wish him nothing but the best,” he said.

Duncum said the committee has been working on the fitness facility project for several months.

“Our final thoughts were we need to build something to not only satisfy needs now, but also in the future,” he said. “We believe it’ll be useable for a long time and be a great amenity for Decatur.”

There was no discussion of how the current Fit-N-Wise facility will be used, but it was mentioned that moving the fitness center is “necessary to add another wing to this hospital.”

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Johnson given probation for drug crime

A Chico woman convicted last month of trying to purchase drugs has been sentenced to probation.

Shirley Jean Johnson

Shirley Jean Johnson, 56, was facing a punishment range of 180 days to two years in jail for the state jail felony conviction of conspiracy to commit possession of a controlled substance 1-4 grams.

District Judge John Fostel sentenced her to two years but suspended the sentence. He placed her on probation for five years.

Johnson was convicted of the crime by a Wise County jury Feb. 4. At the trial, Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham presented evidence that Johnson agreed to meet someone to purchase drugs near the area of Farm Roads 51 and 2123 around 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 5, 2012.

The meeting was set up using the phone of Josh Weber, who Lapham said was a local drug dealer who had been arrested a few days earlier.

Sgt. Chad Lanier with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office testified that Johnson agreed to meet and pay $100 for 1.5 grams of methamphetamine. But instead of meeting Weber, Johnson met Lanier and other officers at the agreed meeting place a couple of hours later.

During the meeting, which was captured on video, Johnson told officers she was a sixth-grade teacher with the Springtown school district. Officers allowed her to return to class, but arrested her later.

Johnson had pleaded innocent at the beginning of her trial.

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Local charities to host veterans banquet

Wise County residents who want to show their support for veterans will have another chance to do so at the third annual Military Warrior Heroes Night 6 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at the First Baptist Church in Decatur.

The event is sponsored by 1,000 Miles Till Home, Military Warrior Support Foundation and WC Challenger Charities. It raised more than $42,000 for mortgage-free veteran homes last year, and organizer Wendell Berry said they’re looking to top that this year.

“Every cent of all money donated goes toward the homes, and in this day and age, with certain charities not being able to donate everything to their cause and having to spend some donation money on overhead and expenses, that’s rare, and we’re really happy to be able to show our support this way,” Berry said.

His goal for this year is to get at least 400 banquet attendees.

There will be specific veterans honored, and retired U.S. Army Lt. General Leroy Sisco will give a presentation. There will also be a live auction featuring hunting trips and sports memorabilia.

There is no cost to attend the banquet. Those interested must RSVP to the church as soon as possible by calling 940-627-3235.

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Blaze scorches home

Fire ravaged a home on the Wise-Parker county line Thursday afternoon.

On the Line

ON THE LINE – Firefighters responded to a blaze that damaged a home nearly on the Wise-Parker county line. Emergency responders from Boonsville/Balsora, Salt Creek, Poolville, and Springtown helped extinguish the flames. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Boonsville/Balsora, Salt Creek, Poolville and Springtown firefighters responded to the blaze on Texas 199 around noon.

Salt Creek Fire Chief Ken Vise said the small brick home was “pretty much a total loss.”

The owners were not at home when firefighters arrived.

“No telling when it started and how long it was burning,” Vise said.

The first firefighters on the scene found heavy smoke coming from the structure.

“The smoke was so heavy they couldn’t make an interior attack initially until there was additional manpower,” Vise said.

He did not know the cause of the fire.

“We’re not sure where it started,” Vise said. “It was somewhere in the back corner.”

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Rain lowers wildfire risk

On the first day of spring Friday, rain once again fell over much of Wise County.

The 0.32 inch of moisture that fell at Decatur Municipal Airport added to the already saturated soil, helping to mitigate wildfire danger entering the spring.

Spring Showers 1

SPRING SHOWERS – Raindrops linger on the petals of pink flowers following showers on the first day of spring in Wise County. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Since the start of the year, rainfall has ranged from 3.27 inches at Decatur’s airfield to 5.02 at Bridgeport Municipal Airport.

While the rainfall has been healthy, it is still below normal by as much as 2.84 inches at the official Decatur site.

SPRING SHOWERS – Lynn Bruton hurries across the Wise Regional Health System parking lot Friday with an umbrella to stay dry. Although recent showers have saturated the ground, reducing the risk of wildfires, rainfall totals are still well below normal. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The precipitation, including snow and ice in February, has dropped the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) average for the county to 49, with a minimum of 6 and maximum of 319.

The KBDI, which ranges between 0 and 800, measures soil moisture and determines the forest fire danger. Zero represents no moisture depletion and 800 an absolutely dry condition.

While the KBDI shows limited risk of major wildfires, Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard is quick to caution that there is still plenty of dead and dormant vegetation to present a hazard.

“I’m old school. The KBDI is a great tool, but there’s other factors,” Beard said. “The grass is still dead, and when the humidity drops and the winds pick up, there’s still a risk.

“There’s a lot of dead vegetation on top. With that dead stuff on top, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Beard urges citizens thinking of burning to pay attention to conditions.

“Even though it may not be a Red Flag Day, if the wind is 15 to 20 mph, when you call in a control burn they will try to persuade you to wait for another day,” Beard said.

As spring moves into summer with temperatures rising, Beard warns the soil will dry out and risks will increase. He added that residents should take care of high grass and overgrowth while conditions are still good.

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Texas Senate approves open carry of handguns

A bill lifting some of the state’s restrictions on handguns cleared the Texas Senate along a party line vote of 20 – 11 Monday.

Senate Bill 17, from state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry holstered handguns openly. It is the first measure to come to the Senate floor not related to Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items.

“In other states that have taken this step … it’s been deemed pretty much a non-event,” Estes told his colleagues as he introduced the legislation. “We have searched really hard far and wide for problems, and we haven’t found any.”

After the upper chamber takes a final vote on the measure, it will head to the House.

State law currently allows the open carrying of long guns like rifles and shotguns. Handguns may only be carried in a concealed fashion by those who obtain a license.

During a four-hour debate, lawmakers in the upper chamber considered almost two-dozen amendments to the bill. Most were offered by Democrats – who made various attempts to soften the bill including calling for increasing training, background checks and other licensing requirements to obtain a handgun – and almost all failed along straight party lines.

State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) came close to shouting as he argued in favor of an amendment exempting the Capitol complex from open carry if it passes.

Relating his experiences dealing with angry or mentally ill individuals before his committee, Whitmire said it would now be easy for such a person to grab a handgun out of a holster to use it to attack bystanders.

“It’s dead wrong … to say there’s not disturbed people in this building,” said Whitmire, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee. “It’s not if it’s going to happen; it’s when it’s going to happen, and you know it and I know it.”

Estes called such a circumstance “far-fetched.”

Democrats also argued that the change would increase risk to police officers responding to the scene of the crime, who might now be faced with several people with firearms and have no way to determine the bad actors.

“Have you thought about what dangers you’re fixing to expose on law enforcement?” asked Whitmire during the debate, noting the widespread opposition to such a law from the state’s police associations.

SB 17 is among a slate of high-profile gun bills up for consideration this session. So far it is one of two that have made it out of committee. The other is Senate Bill 11, which would allow handgun license holders to carry their firearms on college campuses. Both bills passed along party lines 7 – 2, only opposed by the panel’s Democrats.

Though all 20 Senate Republicans supported Estes’ proposal, at least one did so with reservations.

State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) rose before the chamber took a vote to say Estes’ bill did not go far enough in restoring Second Amendment rights.

“I will vote for SB 17, but I do so with a very heavy heart,” said Huffines, who described the merits of so-called “constitutional carry” legislation.

Favored by vocal factions within the gun rights movement, constitutional carry bills would repeal handgun-permitting rules altogether. It has yet to receive committee hearings in either chamber.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety listened to public testimony on House Bill 910 by Committee Chairman Larry Phillips (R-Sherman). It is similar to SB 17.

The House committee also heard testimony related to House Bill 937 by state Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), which would allow students to carry concealed handguns on a college campus.

The committee did not vote on either bill.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Blaze scorches home

fire_web

Fire ravaged a home on the Wise-Parker county line Thursday afternoon.
Boonsville/Balsora, Salt Creek, Poolville and Springtown firefighters responded to the blaze on Texas 199 around noon.
Salt Creek Fire Chief Ken Vise said the small brick home was “pretty much a total loss.”
The owners were not at home when firefighters arrived.
“No telling when it started and how long it was burning,” Vise said.
The first firefighters to arrive on scene found heavy smoke coming from the structure.
“The smoke was so heavy they couldn’t make an interior attack initially until there was additional manpower,” Vise said.
Vise did not know the cause of the fire.
“We’re not sure where it started,” he said. “It was somewhere in the back corner.”

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Jones arrested for drug, weapon charges

A Rhome man remains jailed after leading investigators on a high speed chase March 3 near Aurora.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said investigators Chad Lanier and Mike Neagle were working a burglary case near Newark when they noticed a motorcycle drive by and then speed away on Farm Road 718. The motorcycle was then seen behind someone’s house, and the homeowner said no one should be there.

Calvin Charles Jones

The officers then attempted to stop the motorcycle operator, later identified as Calvin Charles Jones, 32, of Rhome, but he continued northbound on Farm Road 718. Jones was clocked at over 90 miles per hour.

After passing a pickup, Jones was seen discarding a couple of items.

“The officers observed him reach in his pants and toss a black case,” Walker said. “Sgt. Lanier notified dispatch of the location. They continued to pursue and went around the big curve. The driver reached into the back of his pants, and he tossed a pistol, which slid down the shoulder of the road and went under their vehicle.”

Jones stopped at FM 718 and Green Oaks Road, where Lanier took Jones into custody. Neagle was able to find both the black bag and the pistol that Jones had thrown from the motorcycle. Walker said the officers found what appeared to be methamphetamine and a digital scale.

Jones was arrested on two counts of tampering with evidence, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and a warrant for bond insufficient related to a burglary of a habitation charge.

He remained in the Wise County Jail Tuesday with total bond set at $300,000.

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Proposed bill to help students graduate

High school seniors that failed to pass all of their end-of-course exams may still be able to get a diploma, if the Texas Legislature approves a proposed bill.

Senate Bill 149 would allow a committee made up of the campus principal, teacher of the course in which the student failed the test, counselor and parent or guardian to determine if the student may qualify for graduation.

The bill authored by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), which made it out of the Senate committee, is receiving overwhelming support from a majority of Wise County superintendents.

“I personally think it’s time,” said Rod Townsend, Decatur ISD superintendent. “It’s similar to what we have in fifth and eighth grades.

“I’m not an advocate for standardized assessments and don’t feel they should keep a student from graduating.”

Since 2012 when the new State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness was put in place, students have needed to pass all five end-of-course exams – English I, English II, algebra, biology and U.S. history – to earn a diploma.

The proposed legislation would allow the committee to bypass that requirement if the prospective graduate showed proficiency in the subject with coursework and maintained good overall attendance.

The graduation committee would take the student’s case under review after they failed an assessment twice.

“I’m for it. Standardized testing should not be the end-all and gatekeeper for graduation,” said Bridgeport ISD Superintendent Eddie Bland. “I know smart, creative people that are not good test-takers. For them not to be able to graduate because of the results on a test is too punitive.”

Mike Jones, Chico ISD superintendent, agreed with Bland that the committee would provide a great option.

“The current system is all or nothing,” he said. “There are some students that can take the tests a second or third time and just can’t get over that hurdle. This is another way to show they understand the material. If they’ve completed all the coursework, attended class and not been in any disciplinary trouble, one test should not determine if they receive a high school diploma.”

According to Seliger’s introduction of the bill, approximately 28,000 students will not graduate in the state because they’ve failed an end-of-course exam.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West about the bill. “Having this as a safety net or alternative plan for a kid that has done everything else we’ve asked, how is that not a good thing?”

Superintendents also liked that the bill would bring back some local control for teachers and administrators to determine if a student is ready for graduation.

“We’re very much in support of it,” said Northwest ISD Superinentdent Karen Rue. “It offers an opportunity for the people that know the student the best to determine if they are ready.”

Some administrators also added their criticism of the standardized tests.

“With all the tremendous energy the state uses on STAAR, it’s not something the universities use for admittance,” Rue said. “It’s without a real-world application.”

Townsend, who’s not opposed to the diagnostic data from the testing, said he does not like its punitive nature toward students, teachers, school districts and communities.

“The perception the state wants is that all state schools are failing,” Townsend said. “They are looking for every angle and don’t want you to do well.”

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