As we approach a New Year, today’s column looks back on some of Wharton County’s many 2021 accomplishments.

Continued Improving Taxpayer Awareness and Involvement: Through biweekly radio interviews, monthly newspaper columns and various civic and stakeholder gatherings, elected county officials continued sharing important information and solicited taxpayer input into how and why local tax dollars get spent.

Adopted 11th Consecutive Deficit-Free Operating Budget: Once again, commissioners successfully kept the county’s operating expenses at or below anticipated revenues while continuing to lower the annual tax rate. Wharton County’s $0.42479 rate ranks eighth out of our 23 local taxing entities and comes in 189th of Texas’ 254 counties (lowest 25 percent).

Continued Commitment To Remain 100 Percent Debt Free: Wharton County has remained 100 percent debt free since February 2012. This commitment ensures all county tax dollars are directed toward daily operations and nothing is spent on interest rates, bank fees and bond premiums.

Purchased $4.2 Million In Much-Needed Equipment Without Raising Taxes Or Borrowing Money: Elected representatives are using surplus savings to fund a $400,000 murder trial, purchase needed precinct and drainage equipment, seven sheriff patrol cars, law enforcement radios, LED lighting upgrades, power washing of courthouse, computer upgrades and construct a Training & Emergency Operations building on the Wharton County Sheriff’s Department grounds.

Continued Upgrading County-wide Drainage Systems: County officials expensed more than $2.6 million in 2021 drainage improvements that include significant clearing of trees, widening ditches and in some places installing new culverts and drop pipes.

The projects list includes Pecan Valley, Bear Bottom, West Mustang Creek, FM 1161 at U.S. 59, CR 111; Lake Nett, CR 133; CR 130, Peach Creek, Jones Creek, Blue Creek and the Stavena Addition.

Continued Seeking And Promoting County-wide Cost Sharing Projects: Precinct commissioners and local municipalities continue collaborating through the sharing of expenses, machinery, and manpower.

Recent collaborations include:

Continued working with cities to develop a county-wide transportation plan that promotes, protects and prepares Wharton County for I-69 expansion projects.

In January 2020, the Texas Department of Transportation awarded $208 million in construction contracts for I-69 expansion from Kendleton to Hungerford. By September 2023, TxDOT will award another $225 million in bids to extend I-69 beyond Hwy. 60 (Hungerford) to FM 961 (the Wharton road to Crescent);

• Sponsored approximately $650,000 in Texas Community Development Block Recovery Grants to replace sewer lines in Louise and purchase emergency generators for the Boling Wastewater, Louise Wastewater and Louise Water Districts;

• Assisted county-wide municipalities with labor and the cost of street repaving projects. The $240,000 Boling Street project was completed in early 2021;

• Contributed $98,000 to Wharton County Junior College for the county-wide Senior Citizenship Program (Meals On Wheels).

Obtained $15 Million In State And Federal Grants To Enhance County Revenues: In early November, a large group of Wharton County leaders came together to update the Wharton County Community Plan which provides needed statistical information for grant applications.

Recently Awarded County-Sponsored Grants Include:

• $8.1 million U.S. Department of Treasury Rescue Grant that will enable commissioners to refurbish approximately 85 miles of county roads.

• $2,243,000 HUD Community Development Block Grant for local floodplain buyout program;

• $788,000 Texas Community Development Block Grant funding will provide Lake Nett with a new diversion channel that drains this region to the north into Baughman Slough.

• $613,000 CDBG-DR grant will upgrade the CR 130 Diversion Channel which lies within the Jarvis Creek watershed.

• $427,000 CDBG Grant for improvements to Caney Creek near waterhole.

• $285,000 CDBG-DR Grant will provide cross-culvert drainage improvements on CR 150 and CR 133.

- $480,000 Indigent Defense and Attorney General Grants will provide added funding to local judicial courts;

• $368,000 Texas Juvenile Justice Dept. Financial Grant that funds more than 80 percent of Wharton County’s Juvenile Probation Services;

• $250,000 State Law Enforcement grants for radios and mitigation activities;

• $120,000 U.S. Elections Assistance Grant for security software;

• $100,000 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Solid Waste Grant for new building at Transfer Station;

• $79,000 in combined library support grants from the M.G. & Lillie Johnson Foundation $34,200; Mary Louise Dobson Foundation 4,500, Gulf Coast Medical Foundation $4,500 and others.

Precinct Commissioners continued their participation in TXDOT’s Bridge Replacement program and received $1.2 million in grant funding for major bridge construction on CR 403, 407,448 and 465.

My fellow citizens, 2021 was another tremendous year of achievement and opportunity despite the economic hardships and uncertainties still lingering from COVID-19.

Locally elected commissioners are committed to making further improvements to the county wide drainage and roadway systems through the use of $8.5 million in federal grant dollars ... not directly from the pocketbooks of local taxpayers.

Have a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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