Hill County commissioners approve plan to consolidate voting precincts

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

The Hill County Commissioners Court approved the consolidation of voting precincts in the county during a meeting held Tuesday, December 14.

The Hill County Elections Commission reviewed the plan and recommended its approval to the court prior to the court’s action. Hill County Judge Justin Lewis said that the commission and party chairs in the county unanimously agreed on the plan.

The plan will reduce the number of voting precincts in the county from 22 to 13 and even out the populations. “We’re not trying to make it more difficult to vote,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to make it easier.”

Lewis said that there were several reasons for the proposal, including the fact that some precincts have a huge turnout while others see very few voters. The judge said that it is also getting more and more difficult to find election judges and clerks for that many precincts, and some areas no longer have a safe, accessible polling place.

The county is also planning to operate three early voting locations in future elections. In the past, the only early voting option was in Hillsboro.

Lewis said that early voting sites will be operated in Hillsboro, Hubbard and Huron to increase accessibility to residents throughout the county.

Commissioners also reviewed proposed changes to the county’s tax abatement guidelines. Lewis said that he was providing the proposal to get the conversation started, and the updated document is expected to be back before the court for action later this month.

If the proposal is approved, companies seeking a clean energy abatement in the county would receive less of a tax break over the 10-year term.

For companies proposing a capital investment between $100 million and $200 million, the first-year abatement percentage would decrease to 65 percent from the current 70 percent. Years two and three would remain the same, at 60 and 55 percent, but changes are proposed for years four through 10.

Currently, a company receives a 55-percent tax break in year four and that percentage decreases until it reaches 30 percent in year 10. Under the new plan, the abatement is 50 percent in year four and declines until it reaches 20 percent in the tenth and final year of the agreement.

Changes would also be made for clean energy companies investing more than $200 million in the county. The first year of the agreement would still grant the company a 70-percent abatement, but they will pay about five percent more than the current plan in years two through eight, when the abatement percentage falls from 65 percent in year two to 35 percent in year eight.

In the ninth year of the agreement, the company would receive a 30-percent abatement, down from the current 40 percent, and in the tenth year, it would receive a 25-percent abatement, down from 30 percent.

Another proposed change would require that aircraft protection systems be installed on any wind turbines. The system would not activate until an aircraft was in the vicinity of the turbine.

The court held a public hearing on the submission of an application to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for a Community Development Block Grant under the CARES act.

If the county receives the grant, the plan is to upgrade the Exhibits Building at the Hill County Fairgrounds. The proposal includes doubling the size of the building and adding a generator, HVAC system and commercial-sized kitchen.

The expansion could help the county better meet the needs of citizens in a future pandemic or other another emergency, such as when it was used as a warming center during February’s winter storm.

There were no public comments during the hearing, and commissioners also approved an interlocal agreement with the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, which will assist the county with the grant application.

The court also voted to post notice of proposed changes to the county’s road maintenance map involving a portion of HCR 1431 and a portion of HCR 4267. The notices will be posted and public hearings held Tuesday, January 25.

In other action, commissioners approved the purchase of security cameras for the Hill County Fairgrounds and the new emergency management warehouse property, declared old sheriff’s office vehicles as surplus equipment to be sold, and moved the deadline to receive bids on the construction project at the Covington Street annex to February 24.

It was also reported that COVID-19 testing will not be offered at the Hill County Fairgrounds in January, but the need will be reassessed in February. Hill County Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hemrick and Lewis reported that case numbers are currently low in the county, but there had been an increase in positive tests over the previous week.

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