Commissioners lower taxes, refurbish courthouse in 2017

Jerrie Whiteley, Herald Democrat
Grayson County Commissioners approved spending more than $148,000 to clean and repair the exterior of the courthouse. (William C. Wadsack / Herald Democrat)

Grayson County had an eventful 2018. For the second year in a row, Grayson County Commissioners lowered the tax rate. Commissioners approved a tax rate of 45.8 cents per $100 valuation.

Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said the tax rate, in conjunction with the county’s growth, would fund a similar budget as was adopted the previous year. The county judge said the 2017-2018 budget would allow for infrastructure investments, some county employee salary raises and even the hiring of six new corrections officers at the Grayson County Jail.

Tax funds weren’t the only things county leaders returned in 2017. They also gave Sherman Independent School District back the deed to the old administration building on King Street. The county had hoped to repurposed the building into office space at one point, but it proved to be financially difficult to do. So, the county gave the property back to the SISD, which in turn hopes to help it be repurposed into affordable housing at some point in the future.

In addition to cutting the tax rate, county leaders proposed using some of the county’s contingency money to make repairs and remodels at the Grayson County Courthouse and Justice Center. At the courthouse, the law library moved across the hall and Grayson County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 moved from the Justice Center to the courthouse. Commissioners also left room in the budget to remodel the fourth floor of the Grayson County Courthouse for office space for investigators of the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office and the former home of the JP 1 in the Justice Center for use by the Grayson County District Attorney’s Office and the Grayson County District Clerk’s Office.

Commissioners also witnessed as Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt debuted new uniforms for his staff.

“I don’t think you can truly be proud until you look the best that you can look. And I think these uniforms look pretty sharp,” Watt told the court.

County leaders sent former Grayson County Commissioner Johnny Waldrip to the state government as a silver-haired legislator. Waldrip served as commissioner for Precinct 1 from 2001 to 2012 and as chief deputy at the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office before that. Waldrip retired from the Texas Department of Public Safety as a Texas Ranger before getting involved in local law enforcement and politics.

During the budgeting process, the commissioners agreed to continue funding North Texas Regional Airport while the county waits to see whether the airport will get into the FFA’s Tower Program. Grayson County pays between $275,000 and $300,000 a year to staff and operate the tower at NTRA and the airport has enough traffic to be a part of the federal tower program. It just has to be added to the list of airports that the FAA funds.

In addition to those changes, the county leaders approved some physical changes at both the Grayson County Courthouse and Justice Center. Some of the changes started when deputies found a man named Joshua Barrier in the county law library after hours. It turned out the the county’s law librarian had allowed the man to remain in the library after hours for a couple of months prior to his being found there on April 28 at 12:30 a.m.

Barrier, who authorities said had a lengthy criminal record, was using a public access terminal at the law library. Several days after Barrier was found in the law library, he was arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor. Authorities said an investigation revealed that Barrier had been contacting a Whitesboro teen via a social networking site using the computer at the law library. The law librarian was fired for allowing Barrier to remain in the courthouse after hours. Barrier was later indicted on three counts of online solicitation of a minor. An indictment is a formal charge and not an indication of guilt and Barrier is represented by Sherman attorney John Hunter Smith. Smith could not be immediately reached for comment on his client’s case.

With the law librarian dismissed, the county took the opportunity to rethink the use of the space on the second floor of the Grayson County Courthouse. County leaders said that the addition of computer aided legal research meant the law library no longer needed as much space as it once did. Therefore, it was moved across the hall on the second floor to a much smaller suite of rooms. That allowed Grayson County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1 to move from the Justice Center to the Courthouse. Grayson County Commissioners also approved budget amounts to allow renovation of the fourth floor to house office space for Grayson County Sheriff’s Office investigators. The fourth floor had previously been used as the county jail and then as storage for county records. Digitization of those records allowed the space to be cleared out for use as office space.

Magers said moving people and offices around in an effort to keep from having to buy or build another office building is one way that the county leaders have tried to be conservative with county funds. Moving the JP 1 office is also expected to allow the Grayson County District Attorney and District Clerk to have more space at the Justice Center, though those changes have yet to take place.

In addition to the changes inside the county buildings, the county commissioners in 2017 also authorized the cleaning and repair of the outside of the courthouse. Commissioners awarded a $148,711 contract in August for cleaning and restoration work on the exterior of the Grayson County Courthouse. Frontier Waterproofing from Denton got the job.