The Grayson County Commissioners Court had quite a busy year in 2016.
Commissioners started the year by talking about the state’s new open carry law, something that would come up repeatedly over the beginning of 2016. The eventually approved a motion to allow county employees who are licensed to carry a concealed handgun to do so as long as no state law forbids it.
In January, the commissioners appointed Dr. Jerry D. Bennett to his third two-year term as the Grayson County Health Authority. Grayson County Health Department Director Amanda Ortez was also on hand to ask the court for its approval of Bennett continuing in the position. Bennett is board certified by the Board of Emergency Medicine and American Family Board of Medicine with a specialization in geriatrics. His term will end in January 2018.
In February, the commissioners approved giving TAPS Public Tranist $20,000 to help pay for someone to overlook the process of getting proposals to bring an outside company in to run the beleaguered transportation company.
Also in February, the commissioners approved the county’s participation in a regional Veteran’s Court to help local veterans address service related mental health issues that might lead to their involvement in the criminal justice system. Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said the county considered starting its own Veteran’s Court but found it made more sense to join the regional court.
In March, commissioners approved tax abatements for four parcels of property that had been declared as tax reinvestment zones in hopes that solar energy projects would be located on those properties. Commissioners approved the abatements which cover ten years, starting in 2017. The first two years will see the taxes abated for 70 percent of improvements to the land. Then in 2019, the abatement will go down to 50 percent where it will stay until 2022 when it goes down to 40 percent. In 2024, the abatement will go down to 37 percent. In 2025, the abatement amount will drop to zero.
With one vote against, Grayson County Commissioners approved a $377,000 grant in March for Panda Power Funds. The cost of the grant will be offset by decreasing the amount the power provider’s taxes were supposed to be abated in 2017 under an agreement previously approved by the county. The action came after Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton told commissioners that the city of Sherman had already approved such a grant. The city gave Panda $275,000 which will also be recouped with a modification to the city’s abatement agreement with Panda.
“The largest taxpayer in the county, Panda LLC, has asked for some assistance,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said in introducing the matter to the court. “The city of Sherman has taken the lead on this issue and as we have done in the past, on most every occasion, they have asked for us to partner with them.”
In late March, then-Grayson County Sheriff Keith Gary announced to the commissioners that he was planning to take an early retirement. His separation from the county went into effect on Sept. 1.
“I am both honored and grateful to the citizens of Grayson County for allowing me to serve and protect them for almost 20 years,” Gary said to commissioners.
In July, the commissioners filed their annual road and bridge reports, which discuss work that has been done in the past year and work that is planned for the coming fiscal year.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Whitmire said he needed $2.1 million to maintain the roads in his precinct for the coming fiscal year. Precinct 2 Commissioner David Whitlock said there were 43 signs torn down or defaced in his precinct and there were no new roads planned to be opened. Precinct 3 Commissioner Phyllis James said she would need $2.35 million to maintain her roads in 2017. And Precinct 4 Commissioner Bart Lawrence said he would need $1.9 million to maintain the roads in his precinct in the coming year.
In August, the court decided to cut the tax rate for the first time in two decades. County commissioners cut the tax rate by 3.5 percent and approved a 3.5 percent raise for county staff, including elected officials. Those same officials also approved a 3.5 percent increase in the amount of money the county pays to local fire departments and ambulance companies for services in the unincorporated areas of the county.
During the budget sessions, the county also approved six new people for the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office and nixed requested raises for the justices of the peace and some constables. The commissioners also approved money in the budget for delayed maintenance for county buildings.
In late September, Grayson County resident Irene Crain, 91, who lived in Denison, became the first person in the county to be confirme d to have died of the West Nile virus since authorities started keeping records on human cases in 2012. Family members said Ms. Crain was sick for about two weeks before she died at her home. In addition to West Nile, the county also began testing for the type of mosquito known to carry the Zika virus this past summer.
In October, the county approved the hiring of an engineer who would split his time between being the director of the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization and being the county’s engineer. In November, commissioners hired Clay Barnett, the city of Sherman’s long-time engineer, to fill that position.
The Grayson County Commissioners Court approved a proposal in December to participate in Denison’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 3. Under the agreement, Grayson will contribute 75 percent of the county’s future increased tax revenue on the reinvestment zone to the TIRZ fund.
After the meeting, Denison City Manager Jud Rex said the county’s support of the TIRZ will make a huge difference in terms of what improvements the city is able to make to help spur reinvestment and private investment in downtown.
“Without county support, it really cuts in half what we can do downtown,” Rex said. “So I’m certainly appreciative of the support from the Commissioners Court and the county for helping us redevelop downtown.”