Editor: Shannon Cottongame
August 4, 2022
The Hill County Commissioners Court approved a new texting service for the elections office and moved forward with a tax abatement for a solar storage facility in a meeting held Tuesday, July 26.
Hill County Elections Administrator Aaron Torres and Jon Myers of TextMyGov presented information about the texting program designed for government. The goal is to give voters quick answers to frequently asked questions and eliminate the need to hire another individual in the elections office.
County Judge Justin Lewis explained that the elections office is particularly busy at election time and said that he asked Torres to look for technological solutions to assist the staff.
Myers said that multiple cities and agencies use the program, which he said is highly configurable, does not need to be downloaded and comes with training and support.
When the program is up and running, citizens can send a text to get quick answers to their questions about where to vote, voter registration cards and other election information. They can also receive alerts and report any issues with voting.
Lewis said that the program does not replace human interaction and citizens will still be able to contact the elections office for assistance, but it will eliminate some calls to the elections office and be convenient for citizens.
The court approved a two-year contract with TextMyGov at a total cost of $12,000.
Mike Dixon, the county’s economic development attorney, presented information about a proposed tax abatement for the Sun Valley Solar storage facility.
The battery energy storage system is designed to discharge energy generated from the solar facility in the Abbott area. The minimum capital investment of the project is listed at $44 million.
The facility will be located in the reinvestment zone that was created in 2019, before the county decreased the incentives it was offering to green energy companies. This means that the proposed tax abatement will be calculated using the old guidelines.
The proposal calls for a 50 percent abatement in years one and two of the project, followed by 40 percent in years three and four, 35 percent in year five and 20 percent in year six, which is the final year of the abatement. The county does not negotiate on the FM lateral (road and bridge) portion of the tax rate, which means the project will put the full amount of expected tax revenue into that fund immediately.
The project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2023.
The court approved allowing the county judge to provide notice of the proposed tax abatement to other taxing entities and approved the form of the contract. The final vote is expected after a public hearing on Tuesday, September 13.
Commissioners also approved a preliminary plat for Longview Creek Ranch, a planned subdivision involving 56 lots in Precinct 4 off of HCR 4307.
A final 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.
After reviewing options earlier this month, the court voted to approve a medical insurance proposal from Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company’s proposal to provide health insurance to county employees in the coming year was the best offer and considered superior to the county’s current policy.
The court set a public hearing for Tuesday, September 13, on a proposed road change for a portion of HCR 3436. Lewis said that the proposal involves about 700 feet of a road in the unincorporated city of Irene that is not currently on the county’s road maintenance map but has a county road number. The change will allow the county to maintain the section of road.
Commissioners wrapped up the meeting with a budget workshop as Lewis and County Auditor Susan Swilling prepare to file a proposed county budget at the end of this month.
Lewis and Swilling discussed the need to streamline the payscale for road and bridge employees across commissioners’ precincts. Lewis said that employees with the same job duties are paid different amounts from precinct to precinct, which has caused morale issues.
This led to a discussion about the need to amend the county’s overall payroll policy, with Lewis explaining that the goal is not to take pay away from anyone but to identify starting pay for different positions and ensure that employees know how they can move up in a department.
Swilling said that she will draw up ideas for the commissioners to consider regarding their own employees, and Lewis said that he wants to tackle the issue throughout county departments in the coming year.
In other discussion, Lewis and Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hemrick emphasized the importance of adhering to the county’s burn ban, noting the recent increase in grass fires. Hemrick pointed out that in a disaster burn ban there are no exceptions to the prohibition on outdoor burning, and violators will be ticketed by the sheriff’s office.