Phillip Spenrath

Phillip Spenrath, Wharton County Judge

There has been a buzz around Wharton County about a very exciting new refinery project that has the potential to bring many good paying jobs to our region. New job opportunities should translate into new families moving into our communities, schools and churches.

Many county residents have read or heard stories about a refinery being built along the U.S. 59 Bypass just southwest of El Campo (just outside the city limits but within its ETJ.)

It is fair to say that all three county newspapers have covered this story extensively on the front pages of their papers. The newspapers say this $3.4 billion clean energy refinery will create 400-plus high-paying jobs ranging from $60,000-$90,000.

Let me pause and state for the record that I am all for economic development and job creation.

It is important that our county seeks to attract a more diverse variety of jobs ... especially good-paying jobs. Along with the obvious job creation, these new and/or expanding businesses should ultimately take-over paying the bulk of local property taxes thereby shifting the current tax burden off the backs of local homeowners.

At $60,000-$90,000 per position, these are the kind of career jobs that our young people will return home to pursue after college.

Every chance I speak ... every place I go ... I remind county residents that we need to attract and create the kind of jobs that the next generation is desiring and seeking. I personally want my boys to raise my grandchildren nearby so I can watch them grow up and participate in school activities.

Let me repeat ... this refinery project has the potential to significantly increase Wharton County’s local tax base thereby taking-over the tax burden currently needed to pay for our schools, law enforcement, emergency services, streets and drainage.

If this project comes to fruition, the refinery will pay most of our county wide taxes as it becomes the largest taxpayer in Wharton County.

Along with jobs and lower taxes, there can be many additional indirect benefits as local schools can use their increased tax receipts to pay higher teacher salaries, purchase new buses and improve their facilities similar to the ones we see in neighboring industrial districts like Brazosport, Bay City and Industrial ISD.

Our hospital district, fire departments and EMS will also receive needed funding for purchasing new fire trucks and ambulances.

Neighboring Bay City utilized industrial tax proceeds to build a new regional hospital out by their new high school.

Yes, there will be new workers coming to Wharton County looking for homes, more restaurants, clothing stores and possibly even a movie theatre. There is tremendous potential for an array of incredible new opportunities throughout Wharton County.

With all that stated, let’s not lose sight that we are still talking about constructing an incredibly large refinery with several accompanying gigantic storage tanks. This refinery is going to be located at the Front Door ... The Southwest Gateway into El Campo.

What are the ramifications of that ... if any?

Yes, this is supposed to be a clean, green-energy project ... but what are the exact guarantees? We definitely need to better educate ourselves about carbon dioxide emissions and the like. It is imperative that Wharton County remains an Attainment County with clean air and thus exempt from numerous Federal Air Quality permitting guidelines and restrictions.

We have all passed Old Ocean on the way to Sweeny. We have seen the large refineries heading into Corpus Christi. Is this what we want and need?

Many residents of Sweeny will tell you the refinery is good there and they have fancy turf ball fields and lots of jobs. Others will tell you the town and its community have changed and are not the same place they grew up in.

Make no mistake, this refinery project sounds like a very exciting project with the potential of bringing A LOT of good paying local jobs ... but how will it impact neighboring houses and adjoining businesses? Obviously, there are still a lot of unknowns and thus your commissioners court needs to be judicious in asking questions and seeking answers.

My fellow citizens, please know that your elected precinct commissioners will continue to do our business and make our decisions out in the light of day.

As such, we need your immediate input concerning the need and amount of potential tax incentives to offer as we continue abatement negotiations.

As your county judge, my primary objective continues to be preparing Wharton County for the future while always maintaining our unique small-town way of life.

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