With Christmas rapidly approaching and 2020 looming around the corner, today’s column highlights several of Wharton County’s many 2019 accomplishments.
Continued improving taxpayer awareness and involvement: Through biweekly radio interviews, monthly newspaper columns and various civic and stakeholder gatherings, county officials shared important information and solicited taxpayer input into how and why local tax dollars get spent.
Adopted ninth consecutive deficit-free operating budget: Once again, commissioners court kept operating expenses at or below anticipated revenues. The $24.7 million disbursed in 2019 operations is basically the same amount we operated on a decade ago when we expended $24.2 million in 2009.
Continued commitment to remain 100 percent debt free: Wharton County has remained 100 percent debt free since February 2012. Without raising taxes or borrowing money, elected representatives agreed to only use excess savings to purchase $2.8 million in much-need precinct and drainage equipment, six sheriff patrol cars, a van for the IT department, county wide building improvements and roofing maintenance, library flooring, and 30 new computers.
Remaining debt free ensures county tax dollars are only spent on daily operations and not to cover interest rates, bank fees or bond premiums.
Continued improving local emergency response: Commissioners court recently activated a Reverse 9-1-1 calling system similar to those utilized by cities and local school districts.
The Nixle service provides Reverse 9-1-1 calls, cell phone and land-line texting, and emergency updates through Google, the National Weather Service and social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
County officials continue collaborations with Colorado County, Matagorda County, the National Weather Service, FEMA and LCRA to generate updated LIDAR topographic maps and install additional river gauges to improve the flood early warning system (estimated cost $600,000.)
After several years of declared disasters, commissioners are more concerned than ever that the banks of the Colorado River have changed in structure and integrity. Thus, we are formulating updated regional inundation maps showing potential locations and depths of overflowing floodwaters as they escape into the non-incorporated parts of the county.
Continued upgrading county-wide drainage systems: County officials have expensed over $2.1 million in 2019 drainage improvements.
In particular, the drainage department completed its in-kind assistance commitment for the Tres Palacios drainage project and continues to address many of the immediate concerns associated with the June 5 rain event.
Work has begun on two major projects in Pecan Valley and Bear Bottom (estimated cost $200,000) with the engineering consultant and drainage team restructuring existing ditches and installing three large drainage pipes at each location.
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 early 2020, TxDOT will award $208 million in construction contracts for I-69 expansion from Kendleton to Hungerford. By January 2022, TxDOT will award $168 million in bids to extend I-69 beyond SH60 (Hungerford) to FM 961 (Wharton road to Crescent);
• Assisted county-wide municipalities with labor and cost of street repaving projects;
• Sponsored a $350,000 Texas Community Development Block Grant for water system improvements to the Louise Water Control and Improvements District No. 1;
• Completed $300,590 of in-kind drainage support for City of El Campo’s Tres Palacios FEMA project;
• Sponsored approximately $300,000 in Texas Community Development Block Recovery Grants to purchase emergency generators for the Boling, Louise and Hungerford Water Districts;
• Contributed $98,000 to WCJC for our county-wide Senior Citizenship Program (meals on wheels).
Obtained 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:
• $365,000 Texas Juvenile Justice Dept. Financial Grant that funds over 80 percent of Wharton County’s Juvenile Probation services;
• $287,000 FEMA reimbursements for Hurricane Harvey flood relief efforts;
• $116,000 Juvenile Probation Grant for Just Do It Now’s prevention and intervention programs to help keep young people in school;
• $49,000 FEMA Hazard Mitigation Reimbursement Grant to refurbish local county roads damaged by Memorial Day flooding events;
• $30,000 Indigent Defense Grant from the State;
• $29,000 Juvenile Probation Grant for Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church prevention and intervention programs to help keep young people in school;
• $14,000 in combined library support grants from Dollar General, Walmart and the Gulf Coast Medical Foundation to provide computers and learning resources;
• Precinct commissioners continued their participation in TXDOT’s Bridge Replacement program and received grant funding for major bridge construction on County Roads 135, 252, 268, 309, 335, 360, 389, 463 and Mangum Road.
My fellow citizens, 2019 was a tremendous year of achievement and opportunity for Wharton County.
As we move into 2020, please know your local officials remain committed to seeking taxpayer input, remaining judicious in our spending, and doing what is needed to ensure that Wharton County remains the greatest place on earth to live and raise a family.
Have a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!