Leaders from Sherman and Denison sat down Thursday to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the region amid unprecedented growth. The talk comes as the region is expected to see 3 percent annual growth or more in the years to come.

Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton and Denison City Manager Jud Rex, along with former Sherman Mayor Cary Wacker, spoke Thursday before students during a public administration symposium at Austin College. The topics covered included ways the cities can support the growth and the challenges that come in preparing for it.

“The more time we can spend in planning a development and look not one or three to five years down the road but 10, 15, 20 years down the road … it would do well for us,” Hefton said after the event.

Recently the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization completed projections for growth within the local metropolitan statistical area. Between 2015 and 2020, the projections showed a 1.5 percent growth each year for the region, but SDMPO Executive Director Clay Barnett said the region is currently outpacing that rate. Barnett said state demographers currently project a 0.5 percent growth based on previous years.

By 2035, the region is slated to see about 3.3 percent growth each year, he said.

The two city managers said this puts the region in a critical time where current leaders are tasked with shaping the world for generations to come. Likewise, many of the choices made today could be hard to undo in the future, Hefton said.

Among the focuses for Sherman is ensuring an adequate water supply for its residents. Hefton said city leaders in the 1980s had the foresight to secure water rights on Lake Texoma. Today, the city has rights to nearly 35 million gallons per day — more than double its current peak usage — through all of its sources, Hefton said.

However, Sherman is still working to secure this resource through expansions to its water treatment plant, he added.

“Our ability to ramp up our water is not short,” Hefton said, referring to the four-year project.

Despite ample water available, Hefton said it is still a concern when Sherman has many large industrial users, with room to recruit more. In the case of some of these users, Hefton said they are the equivalent of nearly 1,000 households coming online all at once.

Rex said a challenge the city of Denison is facing is adequately dealing with the water it has. The floods in early 2015 served as a wake up call about changing climate for city leaders. With growth continuing, Rex said it is important to plan with flood control and drainage in mind.

Other topics included how the cities can prepare for future growth and play a part in honing and encouraging development. Both city managers agreed it is important to incentivize desired growth while also assisting in projects to bring the best amenities to the communities. In some cases, this includes foregoing immediate gains for long term benefits down the road.

Hefton said these incentives can often come in the forms of tax abatements where Sherman can offer the city’s tax revenue from a development back to the developer for a number of years as a way to spur growth. The city may not immediately reap the rewards, but by offering this assistance, the city can ensure it has an asset in the future, Hefton said.

“It is either you do it or nothing happens, and that is the only choice we really have,” Hefton said.

Rex referred to a recent case where a private developer planned to remove an aging church building that had long since been vacant and convert it to a small neighborhood. However, asbestos and other concerns made the project difficult. Denison ultimately elected to demolish the building and provide the land to the developer for the sake of generating growth.

“If we didn’t spend $150,000 to tear the church down, and give the land to a developer, nothing would have ever happened,” he said.

Do you think the area is adequately prepared for growth? Let Michael Hutchins, the Herald Democrat’s Denison-area reporter, know at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com or @mhutchinsHD on Twitter.