County retail study to help identify, recruit businesses

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 21, 2022

The Hill County Commissioners Court approved a county-wide retail study and recruitment program in conjunction with the City of Hillsboro at a meeting held Tuesday, July 12.

The Hillsboro City Council approved the proposal earlier this month, agreeing to put $10,000 toward the effort with the county paying the remainder of the $35,000 total cost.

The county has money for the project in its economic development fund due to capital credits from the state comptroller’s office.

The Retail Coach will perform a market analysis and identify retailers and developers that would be a good fit for Hillsboro and Hill County and work to recruit businesses to the area.

“I think it’s going to provide us some valuable information about what’s going on in Hill County as we continue to grow,” County Judge Justin Lewis said.

The company will identify retail demand for more than 70 categories and work for a 12-month period to identify retailers and developers for recruitment, including national and regional brands.

While the City of Hillsboro is pitching in financially as the largest population center in the county, the study is expected to be beneficial county wide and help determine what types of businesses would best serve residents.

Commissioners also held a budget workshop at the meeting as Lewis prepares to file a proposed county budget for the coming fiscal year at the end of this month. The draft spending plan will then be reviewed and revised during a series of budget hearings with county department heads and elected officials.

County Auditor Susan Swilling reported that most departments are on target this year, having used about 70 percent of their budgets for the fiscal year that ends September 30. The exception is their fuel budgets, which have been exceeded due to high prices.

Looking at the year ahead, fuel budgets and possibly vehicle policies will be reassessed as the budget process moves forward.

Each year, employee pay raises are a common request as department heads work to recruit and retain employees. Balancing the effects of inflation on both the county budget and the county’s employees is expected to be a challenge this year.

Lewis said that sales tax revenue has been up but with indicators pointing to a possible recession, that is likely to decrease.

“One concern is with inflation running over eight percent, we gave a three-percent cost-of-living increase last year, but we’re going to have to do something more than that this year,” the judge said.

The loss of employees to higher paying jobs has been an issue, particularly in the area of law enforcement. Lewis pointed out that the county does not have the resources to compete with nearby larger counties but the county should work to move in the right direction.

“No one is going to get everything they ask for,” Lewis said. “It’s just not possible with the numbers, but I think what we can do together is come up with a plan.”

Commissioners are expected to continue having regular budget workshops through until the plan is finalized and adopted by the court.

In other action, the court held public hearings on the addition of First Street in Irene to the county road maintenance map and the implementation of a 30 mile-per-hour speed limit on Live Oak Loop in the Whitney area. Both agenda items were approved.

A preliminary plat was approved for property being purchased by Emergency Services District (ESD) 2 off of Interstate 35 in the southern part of the county near County Line Road. The district is purchasing the property for a possible future ambulance station if the call volume makes it necessary as the county grows.

A preliminary plat was also approved for GOFWIAH Estates at the intersection of HCRs 4307 and 4251 involving a total of six lots.

Commissioners ratified a previous order authorizing the sale and issuance of Hill County Tax Note, Series 2022. The action required four voting members of the court to be present, and only three were in attendance when the court initially took action.

A contract with Thomson Reuters for legal books in the county’s law library was approved. The county has significantly reduced the amount of legal books it must purchase through online legal research contracts, but this contract will cover the few books that must be kept on hand.

The court’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be Tuesday, July 26.

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