Wednesday marks the first phase of the Best of Texoma's 17th year of providing information on local resources as determined by our reader's and the community.

I've relied on Best of Texoma to make some purchasing decisions over the years and after my recent return to the area, I again looked to last year's magazine to make sure I wasn't missing out on anything. Was there a new restaurant I hadn't tried? How had the festival scene changed? Where could I go if my car breaks down?

The Best of Texoma online listings and the magazine compiles valuable information for consumers — local and visiting — with stories on various trends and topics of interest to community members, and the results showing what locals believe is the top 3 and first place in each voting category. Then it all comes together with the Best of Texoma gala to celebrate the community's participation, as well as the category winners as voted by Texomans.

This year's contest includes 177 categories after several categories were added or redefined based on what the people told us during the category nomination process. The Best of Texoma steering committee trimmed this year's categories list to focus on the ones in which more voters showed interest — keeping categories with more total votes, more unique votes, and more interest.

Voting for each category begins today and runs through Feb. 10. You can vote on a printed ballot in the Best of Texoma tab inserted in the Herald Democrat editions today, Feb. 3, Feb. 6 and Feb. 10 — or by voting online at www.bestoftexoma.com.

Runoff voting, for the categories in which there is not a clear top 3, is set for Feb. 15-20, followed by the announcement of the top 3 for each category on Feb. 21.

Winners of this year's Best of Texoma will be announced at the gala on April 27 and the annual magazine will be available April 28.

We want to hear from you, so if you have an opinion on the area's best pet groomer, car dealer, gym, surgeon or any of the other 177 categories, let us know with your votes.

Happy birthday to Susan Armstrong of Savoy; Phelma Jackson of Sherman; and Kenneth Farrington of Gainesville.