Manning appointed Precinct 2 JP

By Kristen Tribe

Wise County commissioners Thursday appointed Callie Manning of Alvord interim Precinct 2 justice of the peace.

She will replace Craig Johnson, who is joining the sheriff’s office Aug. 21 as chief deputy.

The appointment came at the recommendation of Johnson and County Judge J.D. Clark.

“Judge Clark and I reviewed some outstanding applicants,” Johnson said. “We’ve had some good interviews, and we feel like the person we’re recommending to you is a clear cut favorite and will do an outstanding job, is active in the community and will represent Precinct 2 very, very well.”

Manning said she was honored by the recommendation.

“I will work very hard and diligently to know everything I need to know within the time period I’m allotted,” she said. “I’m honored to be selected.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance wanted to know if anyone else was being considered.

“That’s pretty well the way the process works?” he asked. “Y’all figured it out, and we’re going to vote on it? Is that the way it’s going to be?”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said he “didn’t realize the leg work would all be done.”

“I didn’t know we were ready to appoint today,” he said, “so I’m a little surprised, but I’m willing to go with Craig’s recommendation.”

Johnson said multiple candidates were interviewed and at the conclusion of the process he felt strongly Manning was the best choice.

Manning has worked for Boyd Powers and Williamson since April 2001 and is the head legal assistant to the senior partner. She has served on the board of directors for United Way of Wise County since 2004 and is president of the Alvord Economic Development Corp.

She has previously served on the Alvord City Council and Wise County Teen Court. Manning has also been part of Alvord Friends of FFA and the Decatur Junior Women’s Club.

Burns eventually made the motion to appoint Manning to the post, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy gave it a second. Burns, Kennedy and Clark voted in favor of the appointment. Lamance abstained.

The office of Precinct 2 justice of the peace, along with all other JPs, will be on the March 2018 primary ballot.

Read more in the weekend Messenger on newsstands Saturday.

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Sheriff announces plan to charge state for jail use

In response to last week’s announcement by the Texas Department of Public Safety that the agency will begin charging fees to local sheriff’s offices and police departments for use of the DPS crime labs, a service that has been offered in the past for free, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin has announced new fees of his own.

Akin, who has previously worked for DPS, announced late Tuesday that effective Sept. 1, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office Jail will charge DPS and all other state agencies $50 per day/per inmate to house their prisoners. The WCSO also plans to charge DPS for medical costs, court transport, extra blankets, toiletries and any injuries their prisoners may cause the jailers, Akin announced in a Facebook post.

“We are only passing along our cost,” Akin wrote. “We have no intent to profit from our law enforcement relationship.”

Last Thursday, DPS Director Steven McCraw announced that their agency has been directed to collect up to $11.4 million in fees from entities that use forensic analysis services provided by the agency. DPS will charge for forensic analysis performed on controlled substances, toxicology, DNA evidence submissions and biological specimens to detect the presence of alcohol, McCraw announced.

Sheriff Lane Akin

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Certified tax values released

Certified tax values rose throughout most of the county this year, buoyed by increases in real estate values across the board.
According to the certified values released by Chief Appraiser Mickey Hand, Wise County will see an overall increase of 3.1 percent, bringing total taxable values to $6,434,419,903. The county’s real estate values increased by 11.1 percent with $135,043,569 in new construction.
All Wise County cities and all school districts with the exception of Slidell ISD saw an overall increase in values.
The city of Newark saw the most positive growth with an overall increase of 18.3 percent. The town will earn 19.7 percent more in real estate value this year. Bridgeport sits at the bottom of the list, but the city still saw an overall increase of 1.2 percent for a total of $363,692,278 in taxable values, with nearly $3 million in new construction.
Decatur’s values increased by 5.4 percent overall, bringing the city’s total taxable value to $644,701,301, the most of any Wise County town. Decatur’s real estate values were upped by 7 percent.
For more, see the Wednesday, July 26 edition of the Messenger.

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Rain leads to lake, road closures, again

Rain leads to lake, road closures, again

Stop us if you’ve heard this recently: heavy rain has caused flooding issues around the county, forcing the closure of Lake Bridgeport and several roads.

FAMILIAR SIGHT – Tarrant Regional Water District closed Lake Bridgeport again Friday after the lake rose to 1 -feet above conservation level. Weather forecasters expected the rain to end by Saturday. Messenger photo by Brian Knox

A low pressure system that has moved slowly through Texas this week has pulled moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, meaning we’ve received several days of rain.

Luckily, Wise County has avoided some of the heavier totals that other parts of Texas have received, where flooding has led to major damage and even deaths.

Dating back to last Friday, May 27, unofficial rainfall totals for areas around the county include the following:

  • 5.82 inches in Rhome
  • 5.75 inches in Alvord
  • 5.57 inches in Bridgeport
  • 4.43 inches in Decatur
  • 3.6 inches in Greenwood
  • 3.5 inches in Cottondale

Rain in the Lake Bridgeport watershed has also led to rising lake levels. When the lake reached 1 -feet above conservation level Friday morning, the Tarrant Regional Water District announced that the lake was closed to boat traffic until further notice.

The rate of discharge from the lake was also increased, which did little to ease flooding issues downstream along the West Fork Trinity River.

As of Friday morning, the following roads were closed in Wise County:

  • Farm Road 3259 at the bridge
  • Brammer Road
  • County Road 4421 at FM 2264
  • CR 3701
  • FM 1810 1 miles east of Chico
  • FM 730 north of Boyd
  • CR 3250
  • CR 3581 (bridge out)
  • CR 4668 (Bobo Crossing) (bridge out)
  • CR 4757 at the bridge

A flash flood watch for Wise County was supposed to end at midnight Saturday morning as drier weather is expected to prevail this weekend and into next week.

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South Wise leads population growth

South Wise is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the county, according to the 2016 population estimates by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The Wise County community showing the most growth according to percentage was Boyd.

Messenger illustration by Joy Carrico

The estimated population on Jan. 1 was 1,350, a 3.8 percent increase from Jan. 1, 2015. This translates to 50 new residents.

Boyd City Administrator Greg Arrington said he wasn’t surprised by the numbers. He’s seen evidence of the growth come through city hall.

“We’re busier. I see the permits that come through here, the inspections that have to happen and the water and sewer taps,” he said. “For a small town that’s been dormant for so long, we have seven things under construction.”

Arrington said there are currently seven homes being built in the city, seven more about to break ground and he’s working with a developer on another 22.

While the growth is exciting, Arrington said it presents a few challenges, such as the impact on the water supply and sewer capacity.

“I have about 400 more connections, and I have to start building another sewer plant,” he said. “To me, that is the big challenge, getting ahead of the curve.

“There’s two ways of looking at it: build it and they will come or let them get here and be behind. We’ve done a bit of both.”

Arrington said he has worked to make the city operate more efficiently, and they have found savings in electric, banking and wrecker rates.

“The things I’m concerned about is an increased service demand because of higher population with decreasing revenue and the water and sewer infrastructure,” he said. “But the growth is coming, and I’m excited.”

Falling in line with Boyd is its neighbor, Aurora, which showed a 3 percent increase with an estimated population of 1,380, up 40 people.

New Fairview came in at 2.1 percent. Its estimated population is 1,440, up 30 people. The city of Decatur’s estimated population is 6,490, a 1.6 percent increase from last year. NCTCOG estimates 100 people moved to the county seat in the last year.

Bridgeport increased only .3 percent from 6,080 to 6,100.

The city of Runaway Bay grew an estimated 1.5 percent, up 20 residents to 1,360. Ten people moved to Newark, reflecting a 1 percent jump.

Rhome, Chico and Alvord remained flat.

Wise County’s population was estimated at 62,240, a .4 percent increase from last year’s estimate of 61,970.

According to NCTCOG’s published report, the population for the 16-county NCTCOG region is 7,058,290. The region experienced growth of 116,580 since Jan. 1, 2015. Forty-one cities experienced estimated population growth of 3 percent or more.

Population estimates are based on current housing inventories. There were more new residential housing units added to the NCTCOG region last year than any other year since 2008.

The continued resurgence in the housing market added 39,500 new housing units to the region last year. Of that total, there were 21,500 single-family completions and 18,000 multi-family units added. Dallas built more multi-family units than any other city with 7,500 new units, accounting for 40 percent of all multi-family units added to the region.

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Local voters go 1-for-5 in runoff choices

Wise County voters, at least the 503 who cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary runoff elections, only went with the statewide winners in one of five races on the ballot.

According to unofficial results from the Wise County Elections Office, a total of 393 voters cast ballots in the Republican primary runoff – which featured four races on the Wise County ballot – and 110 in the Democratic runoff – which featured one race.

On the Republican ballot, Wise County voters chose Gary Gates by a 60.5 to 39.5 percent margin over Wayne Christian in the Railroad Commissioner race. Christian won the race by a slim 51 to 49 percent margin statewide.

Local voters preferred Ray Wheless over Mary Lou Keel by a 52.5 to 47.5 percent margin in the Place 2 Court of Criminal Appeals judge race. Keel won the statewide race by a 51 to 49 percent margin.

The only race where local voting reflected the same results as those across the state was for Place 5 Court of Criminal Appeals judge. Scott Walker was the choice of local voters by a 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent margin compared to a similar 58 to 42 percent margin statewide.

Wise County voters chose Dabney Bassel over Elizabeth Kerr for Place 3 Second Court of Appeals District justice by a 51 to 49 percent margin. Kerr won the election by a 55 to 45 percent margin.

On the Democratic ballot, local voters gave Cody Garrett a one-vote edge over Grady Yarbrough for Railroad Commissioner. Yarbrough won the election by a 54 to 46 margin among all voters.

The overall voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was a far cry from the primary elections in March when voting records were set with more than 12,500 Wise County voters casting ballots.

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County to sell Bridgeport office space

A few county employees in Bridgeport will soon be moving to Decatur.

Wise County commissioners Monday approved selling the building that houses the adult probation office at 1203 Halsell Street.

County Judge J.D. Clark said the sale will affect three employees. They will move to the Decatur office at 105 E. Walnut Street.

“What we want to do is sell the building and not have that overhead,” he said. “We could maximize potential bidders with a broker for that property.”

Commissioners approved selling the property and agreed to seek bids for a real estate broker.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy pointed out it’s “not the best time in the world to sell property, especially in Bridgeport.”

“It’s kind of desolate over there since oil and gas moved out,” he said.

But he agreed the county would not benefit from keeping it.


County Treasurer Katherine Hudson reported on the current status of the sick leave pool.

She said as of Monday, 87 employees had signed up to participate and 29 had declined. Donated time totaled 1,195 hours at the beginning of the week.

Initial enrollment is open until end of the month. Employees will have a second chance to join in September.

The program will run according to the fiscal year, and starting in 2017 open enrollment will be held once annually – Sept. 1-30.


Marshall Fox addressed commissioners during community forum at Monday’s meeting and asked that the county adhere to a mowing schedule that would protect milkweed for migrating Monarch butterflies.

“(The butterflies) don’t use it for eating or anything. They only use it for breeding purposes,” he said. “They lay their eggs on it, and if you mow milkweed, I’d like you to consider a mowing regiment I have that would make milkweed available.

“When you’re mowing them in the ditch, that’s the last place they have,” he said.

Fox explained that the migrating Monarch population has grown since proactive steps have been taken to plant more milkweed and preserve current outcroppings.

Sandy Smith, who contacted Fox and Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns with her concerns about mowing milkweed, thanked Burns for making an allowance on her road.

“I was the one on Jay Kelley [Lane] who called him …,” she said. “He graciously said you can do the brush and you can do the cutting, but don’t do the mowing. So my street was saved, and I want to thank him for doing that. It’s got to be a win-win.

“I know you have to do the brush and trimming, and it’s safety for our roads,” she said. “I understand that. But there has to be a way that we can still keep our milkweed and wildflowers in the spring.”

In other business, commissioners:

  • proclaimed May 2-6 Jury Appreciation Week;
  • approved the final plat for Hilltop Acres, lots 1-10 in Precinct 1;
  • approved the final plat for Vista Oaks, lots 5R and 6R, in Precinct 1;
  • approved the final plat with a drainage variance for Garvin Addition, lot 1, in Precinct 3; and
  • agreed to grant a septic permit to a landowner although his property has not been platted. The action also includes reprimanding the developer who did not plat the property as he should have.

Commissioners’ next regular meeting is Tuesday, May 31. The county is closed Monday, May 30, for Memorial Day.

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EMS sick leave reduced, management questioned

Wise County commissioners Monday reduced Emergency Medical Services’ sick leave and put EMS Administrator Charles Dillard in the hot seat, grilling him about exorbitant amounts of overtime.

After a heated back-and-forth about management of the department, commissioners eventually approved reducing sick leave to eight hours per month from 10. The change was made in connection with the county’s new sick leave pool program.

“In looking at sick leave hours, we also had discussions come up on EMS overtime and how much some employees are getting,” County Judge J.D. Clark said. “Let’s start out first just by talking about the sick time and them getting 10 hours.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said he thought EMS employees should get eight hours like all other employees.

“Please understand, Charles. This is not about any one department,” he said. “But I feel like eight is what everyone else gets, and I don’t think they should be held to a higher standard just because they have an EMS job.”

Until last month, all county employees received 3.43 hours of sick leave per month, but it was changed to eight hours per month when the sick leave pool program was approved April 25.

Commissioners discussed reducing EMS sick leave at that time but tabled the issue. County Treasurer Katherine Hudson said EMS employees had received 10 hours of sick leave per month since the inception of the department in 1991. No one knows why it was set at 10 hours, but it’s assumed to be related to the nature of medics’ 24-hour shifts.

Before a motion could be made or there was any further discussion of sick leave hours, White began another line of questioning, expressing his concerns over the amount of overtime being paid.

At the last commissioners meeting Dillard said his employees average 56 hours per week with an average 16 hours paid at time-and-a-half.

“How many ambulances are we now running?” White asked.

Dillard said the department runs four ambulances 24 hours, seven days a week. A fifth ambulance (Medic 5) runs 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday for patient transfers. There are 29 full-time EMS employees and 26-part-time. They work an ABC shift schedule of 24 hours on, 48 off.

White said he didn’t understand why there was so much overtime being worked with that many employees.

“According to what I’ve seen, one employee came back daily and put in time after working three, 24-hour shifts consecutively,” he said. “If we’re in a budget crunch, Charles, and we are, we need to get part-time employees to fill in for other ones, so we’re not building up a lot of overtime here.”

Dillard agreed with White and said that’s what they try to do. He explained that some overtime comes up because as people call in sick or take vacation and part-time employees can’t pick up those shifts, full-time employees have to work them.

“We do have one or two (employees) that will jump on it real fast,” Dillard said. “We have several others that don’t put in for it. We’ve always allowed it to be someone who wanted it instead of making someone work overtime.”

Dillard told the Messenger Tuesday that his goal is to have all the ambulances running at all times.

“My No. 1 goal is to keep the ambulances going and not take one out of service because we have one sick,” he said. “If I exhaust my part-time availability, then I go to full-time.”

He said he put a mandatory overtime policy in place recently so that if an ambulance was going to be shut down due to understaffing, someone would be required to come in and work.

“There’s no way I want our service cut,” White said. “We have to provide it. We want that service. Don’t misunderstand me, but when you have employees getting the excessive amount of overtime that I’ve seen, it certainly makes me wonder why.”

Dillard said he recently hired eight new part-time employees who are undergoing training. They’ll be released to work in the next two weeks and should alleviate some of the strain.

He explained that the ambulance that runs primarily transfers is usually staffed by part-time employees. One shift on Medic 5 is 10 hours. Federal law says part-time employees can work no more than 30 hours. If a part-time employee works one 10-hour shift early in a week, they’re unable to step in and take a 24-hour shift if it opens up later that week.

Dillard said he plans to try some split shifts to curtail this in the future.

“It’s a hard balancing act with how many part-timers you need,” he told the Messenger. “You can’t guarantee they’ll be available every time.”

Judge Clark expressed frustration that at least one employee had recently worked several days in a row, despite the 24-hour on, 48 off schedule.

“I don’t understand how anybody thought it was a good idea for an employee to work every day in a pay period except one,” he said.

Dillard said he was not aware that had happened until the judge recently brought it to his attention.

“I’ll be keeping a better eye on that,” he said. “They do have down time, but still they shouldn’t be working more than two or three shifts in a row. We do have a policy that I put into effect last week that does not allow them to work over two shifts in a row.”

“That was put into place after I raised this issue?” Clark asked, exasperated. “We pulled time cards to Jan. 1, and it’s not a new problem.

“I think if we have that many people not showing up for work, let’s get rid of them and get some people that will show up for work,” he said, referencing shifts that are frequently up for grabs.

Dillard tried to explain that his staff is showing up for work and that the overtime was coming from extra shifts.

“If I’m looking at someone able to work, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, that’s a whole lot of people not showing up for work,” Clark said. “On all our trucks, except the Medic 5 truck, in all our payroll areas, we’re over where we should be at this point in the year.”

County Auditor Ann McCuiston confirmed Clark’s statement and said it’s “been going on for quite a few years.”

“We put it in the audit, ‘watch the payroll, watch the payroll, watch the payroll,'” McCuiston said. “Of course, Katherine and I watch it, but no, this is not a new problem.”

Clark began peppering Dillard with questions.

“Who sets the schedules?” he asked.

Dillard said he sets the original schedules, but if someone calls in sick or takes vacation, the supervisors are tasked with filling their shifts.

“Who approves payroll?” Clark asked.

Dillard said the supervisors handle the time sheets for the employees in their shifts, and he admitted he does not regularly check the time sheets.

“Why is that?” Clark demanded.

“It’s a task that I gave to the supervisors, and that’s something I have not been watching,” Dillard said. “This is not a schedule that I made up. This ABC schedule is the way most EMS and fire departments …”

He was interrupted by Clark: “I understand the ABC shift if it’s actually being run right, and I don’t think it is. I think we’ve got maybe a lack of oversight on scheduling out there, and it’s not a true ABC shift when this guy is working every day of the pay period except one.

“The supervisors are not the EMS administrator, and if you’ve known, year after year, you’ve been told, ‘watch your payroll, watch your payroll,’ by gosh, I’d be watching my payroll. And that’s where my frustration is …

“I just think we’ve got some lax management out there whether it’s with the shift superintendents or with you.”

Clark said the only reason there were any new policies was he brought the issue to Dillard’s attention, and he wanted “the court to be aware of the problems out there.”

The judge said that last week’s paychecks (for a two-week time period) included one to an EMS employee for $4,200. That was for 80 regular hours and 118 overtime hours.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance piped up: “That’s a lot, $8,000 per month. If I was young enough, I might want in on this. No offense, Charles, but something doesn’t look right.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy tried to reign in the conversation.

“We can discuss this longer and longer, but I think he’s aware of the problem,” he said, referencing Dillard. “I think maybe he’s going to try to fix the problem of overtime. I think he’s working on it, and I don’t know of any other things we can do here.

“All we need to do is discuss the sick leave time,” he said. “I think you’ve made us aware of the problem here.”

Clark insisted he had more questions.

“So if the shift supervisors schedule the employees and the shift supervisors handle the time cards, what is your responsibility as EMS administrator?” he asked.

Dillard said he runs the day-to-day operations of the department.

“What does that mean?” Clark continued.

Dillard explained that he ensures the department meets the rules and regulations of the Texas Department of Health, he monitors billing and makes sure the department is prepared for various state surveys.

“Are you here daily?” Clark asked, pointedly, to which Dillard replied he was not. White jumped in on the questioning, as Dillard explained he is also a full-time firefighter for the Denton Fire Department. He works every third day in Denton.

“So with that being said, were you under the impression when you were appointed our EMS director that this was a part-time position or full-time position? How can you justify working a full-time position when you’re not here every third day?”

Dillard said he also works weekends and some evenings. He’s paid $64,400, plus an $11,000 vehicle allowance.

“So you’re getting paid for being a firefighter every third day and a salary as EMS director?” White quizzed. “As a department head, I don’t hold you to any different standard than I do an elected official.

“If I got a part-time job, doing something else, is that serving the people of Wise County?” he asked. “I’m not asking you to quit your job in Denton, but maybe we need to talk about what your job description is here.”

Dillard was appointed EMS administrator in 2000, and he said commissioners at that time OK’d him keeping his firefighting job.

“I think that’d be OK if everything was running like clockwork out there,” Clark said.

Kennedy acknowledged Dillard’s additional job might be one of the problems.

Clark abruptly shifted back to sick time.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

Kennedy agreed with Commissioner White.

“Let’s keep everyone the same at eight hours all the way across the board,” he said. “I know they work longer hours and they get more money, but when you’re sick, you’re sick. You’re lucky you even get sick leave. I think eight hours would make it simpler for everyone.”

Burns and Lamance agreed with lowering it to eight hours.

“With the pool, they’ll be fine,” Lamance said. “No person will be left without something to fall back on.”

Clark added that he wasn’t picking on EMS employees that have been working the overtime.

“I just think they shouldn’t have been allowed to,” he said. “The bottom line is we can come up with all sorts of excuses why people are working overtime, but the thing is it shouldn’t be happening. It’s not being done right and I want it fixed – two weeks ago.”

Burns added that previous county judges have expressed the same sentiment.

“I’m throwing you under the bus here,” he said to Dillard, “but we’ve had conversations about this. I’m frustrated.”

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Decision time: City, school races on Saturday ballot

Nine local entities have contested races in this weekend’s city council and school board elections.

Early voting ended Tuesday, and election day voting is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

Listed below are the candidates running in each entity and the voting location for each race. Incumbents have an asterisk next to their name.


  • Place 3 – Kirk Gibson*, Royce Gastineau III
  • Place 4 – Debra McKelvain*, Cody Swinford
  • Place 5 – Jim Enochs*


  • Place 3 – Candace Raines Mercer
  • Place 4 – Larry Nivens*, Daniel Ruddick
  • Place 5 – Mark Gose

Voting for both races is at Alvord City Hall, 215 W. Elm St.


  • Mayor – Randy Singleton
  • Place 1 – David Correll*
  • Place 2 – Calvin Coursey*, Kevin Lopez


  • Place 4 – Jim Bost*, Jared Keith McComis
  • Place 5 – Robert Marlett, Duane Sutherland
  • Place 7 (one-year term) – Veronica Torres Cervantes, Marci McKinzie Craddock

Voting for both races is at Bridgeport City Hall, 900 Thompson St.


Three at-large seats – Greta McDaniel*, Roger Mead, Maryalin Bridges, Joe Evans, Jimmy B. Counts


  • Place 3 – Steven Cox
  • Place 4 – Lori Clark*, Bradley North
  • Place 5 – Bill Hand*, Mike Maddux

Voting for both races is at Chico City Hall, 113 W. Decatur St.


  • Place 1 – Hans Wilson*
  • Place 2 – Jerry Lyn Palmer, Jenny Wilson
  • Place 3 – Chris Raines
  • Place 5 (one-year term) – Eric Fleischer

Voting is at Newark City Hall, 209 Hudston St.


  • Mayor – Michelle Pittman*, Chip Kowalski, David Wilson
  • Two at-large positions – Jeff BeCraft*, Sam Eason, David Gilbert, Leanne Mackowski, Patricia Mitchell

Voting is at Rhome City Hall, 105 First St.


  • Mayor – Robert Ryan*, John W. Boyd
  • Two at-large positions – Roland Ray*, Janice Sivley

Voting is at Runaway Bay City Hall, 101 Runaway Bay Dr.

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Here to help: Children’s advocates combat child abuse in Wise

An average of 170 children are victims of child abuse in Wise County every year.

HERE FOR THE KIDS – CASA volunteers Marcella and Dennis Rhine have worked nine cases over eight years with the children’s advocacy group. CASA is always recruiting new volunteers. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Many of those children’s cases will pass through the doors of a red building on Pecan Street in Decatur, the home of CASA.

CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, are volunteers who act as a go-between for abused kids and the state agencies who are trying to help them. CASA volunteers talk to kids and relatives of kids and CPS workers; they attend hearings before the court and give testimony to judges; they make sure their appointed child does their homework and gets to the doctor when necessary.

And they all worry about the children – although statistics from the Texas Department of Child Protective Services show that Wise County’s number of victims hasn’t changed drastically over the last five years, CASA is seeing a steady rise in number of abused children from Jack County, which they also cover.

“As families become more fragmented, children become the victims,” CASA Director Serene Smith explained. “Poverty rates have risen, so child poverty has risen.”

CASA’s ultimate goals are to have one advocate assigned to every child before their CPS case is completed, and to keep the community aware that abuse happens around them. Abusers are often people you might not expect, Smith said.

“Real abuse, real neglect – those are the things we need to get a handle on,” Smith said. “It’s OK to call and say, ‘I’m concerned about my neighbor’s child’ or ‘My school kid came to school with bruises.'”

According to CPS, in Wise County in 2015 a total of 472 cases with children were completed. Thirty-three cases ended with children in substitute care, and 41 resulted in family preservation. The remaining 398 were not open to services.

Cases where the child has been removed from their home, however temporarily, are the cases that CASA volunteers are assigned. Frequently they last up to 18 months.

Marie Riley, a third-year CASA volunteer and former board member, said that regardless of whether children stay with their families or end up in substitute care, the process of earning the guardianship of a child is rigorous.

“We just want to make sure the kids are in the best place possible,” Riley said.

Riley has worked four cases in the past three years, some with multiple children from one family. In one case, four children were returned to their mother after she went through parenting training.

Riley currently has two open cases with children still in the system, waiting to be adopted.

Almost all of her cases, she said, involved parental drug abuse in some form. Dennis and Marcella Rhine, fellow volunteers who have worked nine cases with CASA since 2008, have also seen their share of children taken away from parents because of drug use.

The Rhines recalled one mother who actually got her children back after she quit using and completed the court-required programs. They dropped in on her unannounced one day to bring by an air conditioning unit and check on the condition of the home, and were happy to see she’d purchased a vacuum.

“We always go into it saying, ‘We’re here to help you,'” Marcella said. “And she straightened her life out.”

But although the volunteers want to help the parents when they can, they stress that they stand for the children and work for the judge.

“We truly try to help the families,” Marcella said, “but our main goal is to make sure the children go back to a safe environment.”

“We support the child,” Dennis added. “They have to know we’re here for them.”

The first case the Rhines were assigned lasted three years. They said there’s a high turnover rate at CASA, which they understand – it’s not meant for everyone.

In the process of working a case, volunteers might have to drive across the state for their child. They spend long hours in the courtroom, and meet with everyone who might have an impact on the child’s life, including doctors and teachers.

For many children in the state system, school has never been a priority. They’re often left behind their peers, and CASA volunteers spend a good deal of time trying to help them catch up.

Riley, who previously worked for Bridgeport ISD, recalled seeing many kids in the alternative program falling asleep at their desks instead of doing their homework. It’s the same with the kids she works with now, she said – they haven’t received adequate food or sleep at home, so they’ve never been able to fully concentrate on their school work.

Once they’re in substitute care, though, Riley said they can usually catch up.

“The people who adopt them get the credit, because they work with them and work with them,” Riley said.

Though volunteers spend 10 to 15 hours per month with their assigned children, they might rarely see them after they’re adopted and settled in a good home. The Rhines have kept in touch with a few of the children they’ve helped, but Riley has only seen one of her kids after they were adopted, a young girl whose aunt took her in. She ran into them at a grocery store in Fort Worth, where the little girl was playing with her cousin. They wore matching dresses.

“She looked at me, and she said, ‘I know you,'” Riley said. “I said, ‘I know you, too.’ She was just as happy as can be.”

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Flooded roads, lakes reopen

Flooded roads, lakes reopen

Measuring the Flow

MEASURING THE FLOW – Curtis Baker and Rebecca Ball with the U.S. Geological Survey launch equipment from the U.S. 380 bridge into Big Sandy Creek to measure the stream stage (the height of the water surface) and discharge rate (the quantity of water passing a location along a stream) during last week’s flooding. The information is used for a variety of purposes, such as flood prediction. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Storms continued to bring rain and some small hail to Wise County this past week, but flooding conditions have nonetheless improved.

Farm to Market roads that had been closed for a week or more following storms two weeks ago opened in the last few days, including Farm Road 730 north of Boyd, Farm Road 3259 near Paradise, Farm Road 920 and Hovey Street in Bridgeport.

As of Friday afternoon, a handful of county roads, mostly ones that cross the West Fork Trinity River, remained closed, including Bobo Crossing (County Road 4668), County Road 3250, County Road 3225 and County Road 3390. County Road 1590 near Alvord also remained closed.

The water level of Lake Bridgeport continued to decrease throughout the week, and the lake reopened to boat traffic Wednesday. Eagle Mountain Lake also reopened Friday morning.

With the lake level returning to near-conservation levels, the discharge rate of water from the lake into the West Fork Trinity River decreased, easing the flooding issues downstream.

Storms brought rain Tuesday night, early Friday morning and more rain Friday afternoon.

Storm chances continued into Friday night. The National Weather Service forecast included a 40 percent chance of rain Sunday night and Monday.

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Sick leave pool approved, EMS hours debated

After discussing the issue at two previous meetings, Wise County commissioners Monday approved a sick leave pool program for county employees.

Through the program, employees can voluntarily donate accrued sick leave hours to a pool that can be used by other employees dealing with a catastrophic illness or injury.

As part of County Judge J.D. Clark’s proposal, he also suggested changing the sick leave policy so that full-time employees earn 8 hours of sick leave per month instead of 3.34 hours.

“I think it’s a good benefit for our employees in a year when we’re not going to be able to do much else for them,” he said.

The judge explained that it would also enable employees to more easily participate in the pool if they so choose. To enroll, an employee must donate a minimum 8 hours but is required to maintain a sick leave balance of 24 hours.

Since the program is starting mid-year and some employees may have already used a significant amount of sick time, the 24-hour balance requirement will be waived for the initial enrollment period May 1-30. A second enrollment period will be at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 1-30, and employees who join during either time frame will be a member of the pool through Sept. 30, 2017.

While all commissioners were on board with the sick leave pool program, the discussion got sidetracked as they debated what number of hours constitutes a work day.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White questioned if the new policy would state “one work day” per month or 8 hours per month because he noted precinct crews work four, 10-hour days.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said: “It’s 8 hours per month, regardless of how many days a week you work or how many hours a day you work.”

County Treasurer Katherine Hudson said currently sick leave is figured at 3.34 hours per month to equal 40 hours (or five days) over the course of a year with the exception of Emergency Medical Services. They receive 10 hours per month due to the fact they work 24-hour shifts.

Clark recommended everyone get 8 hours across the board, but he wanted to first hear from EMS Administrator Charles Dillard and the commissioners.

“I know we’re a different animal,” Dillard said, “but I think it should be based off our employees take off a full week at a time, and it’s paid straight time.

“They’re built-in overtime every paycheck so in order for them to take off and their pay be the same, they have to add more time to it. Otherwise their checks will be less,” he said.

Dillard said his employees average 56 hours per week with an average of 16 hours paid at time-and-a-half.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy said sometimes his employees question why they have to put 8 hours on their time card for a holiday, when they normally work 10-hour days. But he explains to them that the county gives 8 hours for a holiday. If they want to be paid two more hours for that day, the employee has to use vacation time.

“I think this needs to be the same way,” said Burns. “It’s easier, quicker.”

Dillard said, “If your guy takes off a week sick, they take home a regular paycheck. If my people do this, they lose pay or they have to eat up more of their [vacation] time.

“We don’t work 40-hour weeks so everything over 40 is time-and-a-half,” he said. “But we don’t get paid our sick or vacation back at time-and-a-half, so we have to get more on the backside to bring that up.”

Hudson said it was cleaner for her department if everyone is the same.

“I understand what Charles is saying, but I also feel like it’s fair to an extent to be across the board,” she said. “We set it years ago in a policy that a work day is 8 hours, and that’s how we came to 8 hours on holidays because we had all the different shifts – 8, 10, 12 and 24.”

Kennedy said if medics are sick, they’re not working and therefore, not working overtime hours.

“If EMS employees are sick, they’re off, and they’re using the sick leave pool, they will not be in the rotation,” he said. “They won’t be making as much as they normally do. But they’re not working as much as they normally do either.”

Burns said if they want to be in the sick leave pool, they need to agree to 8 hours per month sick time.

“I kind of look at it this way,” he said. “If you want to be involved in this sick pool, you need to get 8 hours, and if you don’t want to be in this sick pool, you keep your 10 hours.

“If you want to be in my sick pool, it needs to be fair.”

Clark stopped that line of thinking, saying he doesn’t want departments having their own sick leave pools.

“Are we misunderstanding something?” he asked Dillard.

“I understand what you’re saying, but I go back to if you have an employee that’s sick,” Dillard said, “they take off a week, 40 hours, and their paycheck looks exactly like they worked.

“My employee does it, and they put down the exact hours they were sick, and they’re shorted.”

Kennedy reminded everyone that the sick leave pool is a backup for employees.

“It’s not there to max them out and make sure they make the same amount of money all the time,” he said. “I look at it that way. So I think 8 hours is the way to go, across the board.”

The room was silent for a few moments until Commissioner White asked Sheriff Lane Akin if he had any thoughts about the issue.

“I have lots of thoughts, and I tell you, I am exceedingly proud of our EMS. They do a wonderful job,” he said. “I started my career as a firefighter and EMS at DFW airport, so that’s kind of one of the perks of the job, being able to work 24 [hours] on, 48 [hours] off. There’s some time built in there where those employees get to sleep. It’s something, obviously, we don’t allow our deputies to do, and you don’t allow your hands to do, so it’s kind of one of those things that’s accepted in their world because most of them have jobs beyond what they do working for the county.

“They have other businesses on the side … and most of our folks and your folks, too, may not have that opportunity,” he said. “And again, when you start talking about the money that comes from the sick leave pool, you guys allow 8, and those guys are on a different schedule pulling 12 or 24 for a day. I see a little bit of difference there as well. There’s not a lot of uniformity in that so that everyone is treated fairly.”

Hudson said if EMS employees are out on workman’s comp, they’re paid 56 straight hours because it’s based on their previous 13 weeks of wages.

“None of it is overtime,” she said. “It’s just 56 straight hours.”

She said after six weeks, workman’s comp will pay an additional amount to the employee.

Kennedy asked if any other county employees get paid overtime, but Hudson said EMS are the only ones. Everyone else, even deputies, get comp time instead.

“(EMS) is a whole different animal,” she said.

Kennedy seemed to agree: “Well, they have a different job.”

The discussion lasted almost 45 minutes, and when it appeared no progress was being made, Judge Clark suggested they go ahead and approve raising the sick leave earned per month to 8 hours but not change EMS hours at this time.

“I think that’s fine,” White said. “I don’t have a problem with it. We can look at it down the road.”

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Special athletes take center stage at Olympathon

Work of Art

WORK OF ART – Chico cheerleaders help student participants create large bubbles. There were 512 registered competitors and nearly as many volunteers at Tuesday’s Wise County Olympathon. Messenger Photo by Mack Thweatt

A softball thrown by Cody Hollingsworth soars high in the air before landing 30 feet away.

His family and a group of volunteers go wild, patting him on the back and cheering as the 20-year-old grins.

TAKING AIM – Bridgeport student Cody Hollingsworth winds up during the softball throw after finishing his running events. Messenger Photo by Mack Thweatt

Hollingsworth, along with 511 other Wise County students with special needs, competed in the Wise County Olympathon Tuesday at Bull Memorial Stadium in Bridgeport.

“I think it’s neat because of what it does for the kids,” Cody’s father, Tim Hollingsworth, said. “When we first did, it I actually had to run the races with Cody to get him to do it when he was little. I would run backward, and he would run forward. Now he just goes out and runs.”

The annual event is primarily coordinated by Wise County Shared Services, which manages special education for nearly all Wise County schools.

Director Carla White said the day has changed since its inception 34 years ago. It’s more focused on fun now, rather than just competition.

“Things have changed for these kids through the years,” she said. “The expectations on state tests and things like that are more. This is the day that they just get to enjoy and be around their peers from other districts – no pressure. It’s all fun.”

While many students, like Hollingsworth, seemed to prefer track and field events, others flooded the face-painting booth and carnival games.

White said the Olympathon relies on volunteers, whose numbers almost rival the participants. Students from all Wise County schools and staff from several local businesses and churches helped out.

“We try to match one up with each kid,” she said. “Not everyone has a volunteer, but we’re very close. We have almost as many volunteers as we do participants. The Decatur Lion’s Club cooks about 1,200 hot dogs, and we eat about 1,200 hot dogs.”

Tim Hollingsworth said his family has made the Olympathon a yearly tradition. To them, and many other Wise County families, this day is big.

“For some of these kids, this is the closest thing they’ll ever get to a track-and-field type event with ribbons,” he said. “So for them, it’s special, and that’s what makes this day so special for me is just seeing what it does for the kids and how excited they are when they get to go get their awards.”

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County positions cut

Wise County commissioners approved Monday the absorption of seven open, unfilled positions for a savings of $389,548, at the recommendation of County Judge J.D. Clark.

The positions being cut include:

  • a clerk in the county attorney’s office, $30,000 salary, plus benefits
  • two positions at the sheriff’s office – one clerical, $36,400 salary, plus benefits; and one in jail industries, $42,681 salary, plus benefits into the general fund
  • four road-crew members (one in each precinct), $42,700 salary, plus benefits

The money saved by eliminating the positions in the county attorney’s office and sheriff’s office will return to the general fund, and the dollars saved by cutting road crew members will go into the road and bridge fund.

Clark said Auditor Ann McCuiston worked on the changes with County Attorney James Stainton, as well as Sheriff Lane Akin and Chief Deputy Kevin Benton. They will impact the current budget and carry over into fiscal year 2017.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if Clark had looked closely at all departments.

“My population has grown, and it’s tougher down there to maintain,” he said. “We may get in a bind.”

Clark reassured the commissioner that every open position in the county had been considered.

“You’ve got two openings, but I’m just proposing one,” the judge said. “And I’ll tell you, there’s an empty patrolman position, and I don’t want it.”

Clark noted that he’s heard “cuts better be fair across the board,” but he said that’s a tough task.

“Everything’s not apples to apples in this county,” he said. “I’d much rather take an open clerical position than an open patrol position in terms of public safety.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy asked Lamance how many employees he had.

“Six, I mean 10,” Lamance replied. Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said he has 13 employees, and Kennedy noted he has nine.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White cracked a joke but never stated his number of employees.

Kennedy said he asked only out of curiosity, and he realizes that different precincts have different numbers of road miles and therefore, varying numbers of employees.

The cuts ended up passing with a unanimous vote.

Clark commended department heads for cooperating in alleviating what could be an $8 million shortfall in FY ’17.

“That’s a really good start …,” Clark said. “I also think that coming from our two biggest departments – our road and bridge and our sheriff’s department – that shows a great deal of sacrifice and leadership on your part when it comes time to find some things to give.

“It won’t be the last thing I ask you for, but I appreciate this if you’re willing to do it.”


Systems administrator Steven Melton reported to commissioners his efforts to streamline the county’s CenturyLink accounts, resulting in a $24,337 annual savings.

He said the biggest savings was found by eliminating shortcut dialing, which enables a telephone call to be made by dialing only three or four digits versus the entire number.

“That saved us over $16,000, just eliminating that one part,” he said.

It was also discovered that long distance service is cheaper than the cost of a metro line, so four metro lines will be eliminated.

Melton noted that McCuiston and her office manager, Pat Trail, helped him seek out the savings.

“There are things for us to be looking for and finding, and I appreciate Steven and Ann looking into that,” Clark said. “I know the shortcut codes are going away, but we can dial a few extra digits for $16,000.”

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Policy to share sick leave in the works

For years, county employees were wrongly allowed to trade comp and vacation time.

Now a sick-leave pool policy is in the works to remedy the situation.

“There were some things brought to light that we need to correct,” County Judge J.D. Clark said at the March 29 commissioners meeting. “The wrinkle is it’s earned income that can’t be passed between folks.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns added that “you can’t trade it like poker chips.”

The sick-leave pool policy is being created at the recommendation of the Texas Association of Counties. Although wording was struck from the employee handbook at the March 29 meeting to stop the trade of comp and vacation time, the new policy permitting the transfer of sick days is not yet in place.

A sick-leave pool allows employees to share sick days with co-workers who have been struck with a catastrophic illness and will need more than their alloted number of days to recover. To draw from the pool, an employee must have donated time to it.

“Can we donate comp time and vacation time to the sick leave pool?” asked Sheriff Lane Akin.

Clark said it’s not allowed under the local government code.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White wasn’t opposed to donating sick time, but he didn’t understand why the county chose only one type of leave to include in the policy.

“I’m not opposed to donating sick time. Don’t misunderstand me,” he said. “I’m just trying to figure out why we’re singling out one leave and letting them donate that one.”

County Treasurer Katherine Hudson said it’s all the government will allow.

“It’s against the law to do the other,” she explained.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg said the exchange of compensatory and vacation time is allowed only in counties with a population over 1 million.

The policy was discussed again at the commissioners meeting this week, but a final draft was not yet available for approval.

Hudson said the policy as currently proposed sets the pool up according to the fiscal year.

“Since we’re trying to start in the middle of the year, I’d like the first one to run through September 2017,” she said.

Employees must donate at least eight hours per year to be eligible to withdraw time.

“So that eight hours you may give is kind of insurance. You just throw that in and forget it,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance said.

There was discussion about how much time an employee could use from the sick pool, and although the details weren’t outlined, it was noted there are limits.

Judge Clark said one person couldn’t drain the pool.

“So no matter if you have the cancer or you’re nervous as all-get-out, you either have to come back to work or quit, basically,” Lamance said of the pool limitations.

Sheriff Akin wondered if employees who are already experiencing catastrophic illness would be grandfathered in.

Aaberg said it was a good question and something he would look into.

“So this has been researched that this is the best thing?” Lamance asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Clark said. “Because it’s our only option.

“The idea of transferring time has been very valuable to employees that have had catastrophes come up and just because maybe we haven’t had it set up quite like it should be, I don’t want to penalize the employees and say you can’t ever do this again,” Clark said at the March 29 meeting.

“So let’s set it up the right way, so if they choose to participate, they can put time in to help people out or with the thought that if something happens to them, they can draw from it for themselves.”

Clark hopes the final draft will be ready for commissioners’ approval at the next meeting April 25.

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County could lose $8 million for FY ’17

County Judge J.D. Clark painted a bleak financial picture for fiscal year 2017 at a budget kickoff presentation Monday morning.

“A lot of what you’re going to hear today is not good news,” he told department heads. “[But] I hope we can find some optimism in it, and it is an opportunity to work together as an entire county government to meet the needs we have with what we’ve got.”

According to projections by the Wise County Appraisal District, total taxable values could decrease from $7.56 billion in 2015 to $5.33 billion in 2016.

That is a 29.56 percent drop and a possible $8 million loss to the county budget. This includes $6.9 million from the general fund and $1.3 million from the road and bridge fund.

Clark said numerous economic factors are to blame, including the downturn in the oil and gas industry, declining property values, declining sales tax, and decreases in the collection of local fines, fees and royalties.

“All of us are aware it’s going to be a tough one,” he said.

Mineral values are projected to take the biggest hit with a 50 to 60 percent decrease. In 2015, they stood at $2.1 billion, but in 2016, could fall between $827 million and $1.03 billion as the price paid for petroleum products has plummeted.

Personal property values and industrial/utility values are projected to decrease 40 to 50 percent. In 2015, personal property values were $405.6 million, but in 2016 could drop between $202.8 million and $243.4 million. Industrial/utility values were at $1.8 billion in 2015 but will likely fall to between $922.4 million and $1.1 billion for 2016.

The only projected increase in value is for real property at 4 to 6 percent higher.

“Historically with the appraisal district, numbers come in better than the early numbers, but they’re not going to come in 30 percent better, I guarantee you that,” Clark said. “That’s not a good starting place for us to be.”

In fact, the projected values are similar to those 10 years ago, a time period during which the population has grown by 10 percent and the county government workforce increased by 25 percent.

“So when you talk about taking the budget back to where it was 10 years ago, you’re talking about a lot of people and a lot of jobs,” Clark said. “So that’s something we all need to keep in mind.”

The general fund is 70 percent larger than it was in 2006.

Adding to financial frustations is decreased sales tax revenue. For the first quarter of 2016, it’s down almost $180,000 or 17 percent from where it was during that same time period last year.

Other financial notes shared by Judge Clark about the first six months of FY ’16 include:

  • Beer, wine and liquor revenues are at $9,198, down $10,484.01 from last year.
  • Fees of county offices are at $820,259.52, up $98,490.09 from last year but down $15,296.65 from fiscal year 2014.
  • Fines and forfeitures are at $238,676.96, up $32,500.37 from last year but down almost $20,000 from FY ’14.
  • Solid waste disposal fees are up $87,851.77 at $310,154.79.
  • Oil and gas royalties are down $104,982.49. This year they’re at $95,741.62, down from $200,724.11.
  • Fines from justice of the peace offices are up slightly at $289,448.64, a $7,745.72 difference.

Clark also pointed out the county’s recent financial audit for FY ’15 was good, but noted that reserves are dwindling due to continued declining revenues that were not budgeted.

“The audit recommendation was not ‘you need to raise taxes dramatically.’ It was not ‘you need to increase all these fees,'” he said. “The recommendation was that the county continue to reduce expenditures and transfers in subsequent years’ budgets because we’re talking about such a shortfall, this isn’t something that we can make up somewhere else off the taxpayers’ backs or off the fines we charge.

“We’re talking about a huge hole, and the only way to get out of that is to spend less money. Period.”

Clark closed the meeting suggesting how to cut individual budgets.

“You’re the department heads. You know how your department works and what services you need to provide and how you need to provide them,” he said. “And you’re going to know better than I am and the comissioners’ court about how within your individual offices you can make some changes. So just some food for thought here.”

Clark’s suggestions included:

  • lower non-personnel expenses as much as possible, although he admitted there isn’t much left to cut after last year.
  • look for new ways to do regular tasks such as going digital in any area that has not already and instead of sending employees to out-of-town classes, bring an instructor to Wise County for on-site training.
  • re-visit how services were provided when the budget was smaller. “I’m not saying you can just look back 10 years and make your budget look like that, but it might get your wheels turning,” he said.
  • investigate the use of special funds within a department that are not designated for a specific use. “Sometimes those aren’t being tapped,” he said. “See if you can incorporate revenue to alleviate the general fund.”
  • consider personnel numbers. “I don’t see how we can cut $8 million from our budget in non-personnel costs. (Personnel) has to be on the table. It has to be a discussion,” Clark said.

“If a position is currently open or becomes open, I would strongly encourage you leaving it unfilled and absorb those duties with existing employees.”

Clark acknowledged this might be “unpleasant,” but said it was better than the alternative of “hiring someone and then Oct. 1 having to cut them loose because we’re looking at layoffs or furloughs.

“If every unfilled position in the county right now were to go away, with benefits, it would save us over $600,000,” he noted. “Please consider that as an option.”

Clark pointed out that capital fund money would continue to be spent according to the previously approved plan, despite general fund cuts. That money cannot be used for salaries and is specifically for capital improvements only.

“I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but it probably does,” he admitted. “I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘How about instead of cutting jobs, you don’t buy a new road maintainer?’ We’re talking about different pots of money, folks. It’s not the same.”

At the end of the meeting, department heads were given annual budget worksheets to be completed by May 13. Clark and County Auditor Ann McCuiston will begin meeting with them individually May 18.

“I don’t care what you had last year or the year before,” Clark said before everyone left. “I want to know what you need this year to make your office work and provide the services you have to provide.”

He urged everyone to be creative and seriously consider how the same services can be provided with fewer dollars.

“I want us to be united in this,” he said. “A reduced budget is not simply a hope or a wish. We have to have a smaller budget, folks. You’ve seen the numbers, and I don’t know any way around it.

“We’re in this together. I don’t want it to be department versus department,” the county’s chief executive cautioned. “I want every department pulling together for the common goal of providing services to the citizens of Wise County and figuring out how to do that with what we’ve got.”

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Hail of a storm season

Hail of a storm season

Mondays Storm

MONDAY’S STORM – Storm clouds near Alvord can be seen looking north from the U.S. 81/287 and U.S. 380 intersection in Decatur Monday afternoon. Some parts of the county received baseball-size hail stones. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The deeper into spring we get, the larger the hail seems to grow.

A thunderstorm Monday afternoon brought large hail and rain, particularly in the northern part of Wise County.

“The damage is widespread from Alvord north into Montague County,” Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said. “Near Alvord, hail stones were golf ball to tennis ball size. Near Sunset it was baseball or softball size.”

Several car windows were knocked out in the area on U.S. 81/287, and Beard said two or three people were injured by the hail.

Two or three accidents were also reported, he said, although none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.

Rainfall totals included 0.65 of an inch in Decatur, 0.6 in Greenwood, 0.51 in Rhome, 0.38 in Alvord and 0.2 in Paradise.

More rain was in the forecast for Tuesday night, but it was not expected to be severe, according to the National Weather Service. However, hail was a possibility.

If it seems like North Texas is receiving more hail than normal this year, the NWS says that is indeed the case, according to their numbers. By the end of April, this area normally sees an average of 157 reports of hail 1 inch in diameter or larger. So far this year, 188 cases of severe hail have been reported.

There also seems to be evidence that the hail is indeed larger than normal as well. In 2016, the NWS has had 30 reports of hail 2 inches or larger in diameter. The average through the end of April is 14.

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Wise has Zika case

One case of the Zika virus has been confirmed in Wise County.

Specifics such as when the person contracted the virus or how it was contracted are not available, but the Texas Department of State Health Services lists Wise County as having one of the 27 cases confirmed in Texas.

Other nearby counties with confirmed cases of Zika include Dallas with four and Tarrant with three.

DSHS says 26 of the cases were in travelers who were infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home. The other case involved a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who was infected while traveling abroad.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 346 cases of the Zika virus have been reported nationally as of April 6.

Dr. Jon Walker, who serves as the Wise County health authority, said Texas has the second highest number of cases behind New York.

“You have cases in South America, but it’s marching up through Central America,” he said. “There’s nothing active in the United States yet. It’s all travel – you get it somewhere else and bring it back.”

Most people who get the Zika virus don’t even know they have it, Walker said. If people do get sick, it is often similar to a cold, possibly accompanied by a fever or rash.

But it is a possible connection between the virus and a type of birth defect that has caused such alarm.

According to the CDC, a possible association between the Zika virus and cases of microcephaly was discovered in Brazil last year. Microcephaly is a birth defect where the baby’s head is smaller than expected.

“The main warnings are, number one, if you’re pregnant, don’t travel to those endemic areas, or (two), if you are thinking about getting pregnant, don’t have sex with someone who recently traveled to those areas – just common sense things like that,” Walker said.

Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Because of that, health officials suggest taking the same kind of precautions as with another type of arbovirus that many are familiar with: West Nile virus.

That includes emptying out any standing water around your property where mosquitoes are likely to breed, wearing long-sleeves and pants, making sure window screens are in good repair and putting on mosquito repellent.

Kellye Souther, director of emergency services at Wise Health System in Decatur, said the hospital is kept up to date on the latest information about Zika and other health-related items through regular regional advisory council meetings. Our region has 19 counties and includes Dallas and Fort Worth.

“They’ve recently added an infectious disease coordinator, so on a regional basis they are trying to get ahold of it and have everybody on the same page,” Souther said. “I want everyone to feel comfortable knowing we are involved in doing the same things that Dallas and Fort Worth are doing.”

Souther said when the Ebola cases were being seen in the United States a couple of years ago, the hospital began asking ER patients if they had traveled outside of the U.S. in the last 30 days. That same question is asked to help screen for possible Zika virus cases as well.

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Deputy finds hydroponic pot

Deputy finds hydroponic pot

Unexpected Find

UNEXPECTED FIND – A Wise County deputy discovered marijuana growing inside a metal building while responding to an unrelated call last weekend. Investigators seized 521 plants. Submitted photo

An officer trying to find a possible domestic disturbance last weekend instead discovered a rather unique marijuana grow.

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said dispatchers received a 911 call around 4 p.m. Saturday, April 2, from a woman who said she was involved in a disturbance with her male partner. The caller hung up, and the dispatcher called her back and could hear her crying.

Because dispatchers had not yet been able to get an address, they “pinged” the cell phone to try to find an approximate location.

A deputy was sent to a home in the 300 block of Hidden Meadow Court near New Fairview in an attempt to find the woman. After knocking on the door, he heard a noise in a metal building on the property and went to investigate.

“The door came open, and he saw hundreds of marijuana plants growing in a heavily lit area,” Akin said.

The deputy backed out and obtained a search warrant for the structure.

Officers then went in and discovered more than 500 marijuana plants growing hydroponically, a way of growing plants in water without soil.

Akin said his officers were assisted by an investigator with the Texas Department of Public Safety who called the setup, “one of the most sophisticated hydroponic grows he had seen.”

Ronald Gene Fergason

In total, officers seized 521 plants.

Akin said the size of the setup indicated it was likely more than just for personal use.

Ronald Gene Fergason, 42, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana 5 to 50 pounds, a third degree felony.

As for the original domestic disturbance call, Akin said officers did not locate the caller, and it was later determined that the call came from a home in Denton County.

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Commissioners to consider sick pool policy

Wise County commissioners will be in meetings all day Monday.

They’ll start at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur to consider riders to several Western Surety Co. bonds for various county offices and officials.

They will also discuss and consider a county sick leave pool policy. The meeting will end with a closed session to discuss potential pending litigation with commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg and County Attorney James Stainton.

At 11 a.m. commissioners, along with other county department heads, will attend a budget presentation by County Judge J.D. Clark and Auditor Ann McCuiston. The meeting is at the Elections Administration office in Decatur.

No action will be taken. It’s an informative session in which Clark and McCuiston will go over the county’s financial status, including projected values, to start the budget-planning process.

The group will break for lunch but again gather at the EA’s office for a 1 p.m. meeting with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to discuss potential changes to the county’s thoroughfare plan.

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