Editor: Shannon Cottongame
March 8, 2023
The Hill County Commissioners Court scheduled public hearings on the creation of two reinvestment zones for Hill County solar projects during a regular meeting held Tuesday, February 28.
Designation of an area as a reinvestment zone is a step that must be taken before the county can provide a tax abatement to a company operating in the area.
Required public hearings were scheduled for Tuesday, March 28, during the court’s regular meeting for the Gransolar-10 solar project southeast of Hubbard and the Ash Creek project northwest of Penelope.
County Judge Justin Lewis said that the companies entered into Chapter 313 school value limitation agreements with area districts before that program expired recently. The judge said that he’s aware of two other projects in Hill County that obtained agreements before the program ended that will likely also be before the court.
As he has before, Lewis emphasized that he was recommending entering into agreements with the companies as a negotiating tool to protect county roads that can be quickly damaged by the heavy traffic.
“A lot of our community doesn’t like these projects and I get it, but they’re coming here whether we like it or not,” the judge said. “We give them as little as possible to get them to the table to get a road use agreement. We’re not giving them tax breaks to lure them here.”
Lewis said that while there are other ways to address the issue, none are as strong as a road use agreement. He also said that the county is reducing the size of reinvestment zones to provide only what is required for a project. With a larger zone, the company is eligible for the same incentive it received for the first part of the project if it expands.
Public hearings were also set for the Tuesday, March 28 meeting regarding a speed limit and stop sign on HCR 2210. Residents of the area have requested a speed limit because drivers use the road to travel from FM 933 to FM 2114 at high speeds. A speed limit of 35 miles per hour has been proposed, along with a stop sign at the intersection of that road with HCR 2207.
In other action, the court approved a user agreement and related fees for other agencies utilizing the county’s new 800 MHz public safety radio system. Chris Jackson, radio administrator for Hill County Emergency Management, told the court that other entities also charge similar fees, and the proposed fees are below what others are charging.
The monthly cost will be $15 per radio and $7 for other devices on the system, like computers and cell phones. The fee will help cover routine maintenance and system improvements in the years to come.
A representative of M.A. Mortenson Company, which is constructing a solar project near Carl’s Corner, spoke to the court asking for the court to approve that the company use the latest building codes during the construction process. Lewis informed him that the court does not have any regulatory authority over the process but added that he welcomed anyone to use the newest codes when constructing a project in the county.
The court also voted to appoint John Sawyer as the public member serving on the Hill County Investment Committee. Lewis thanked the former member serving in that spot, Jim Haddaway, for his many years of service to the committee. The court also approved the county’s investment policy as recommended by the committee.
Commissioners agreed to go out for bid for the county’s bank depository contract. Bids will be due by 3 p.m. Monday, March 20, and will be opened at 3:15 p.m. the same day.
Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission designating the county as a community partner. Lewis said that while the county is required to provide indigent healthcare, there are some individuals who come to the county for help who do not meet the strict requirements, such as not owning a vehicle, to receive that assistance. The partnership provides employee training and helps the county to direct these individuals to other federal and state programs that can help them.
The Child Protective Services Board’s treasurer’s report was observed and recorded by the court, and Lewis once again recognized the board for its work to assist Hill County children. He said that the county is preparing for Child Abuse Awareness Month in April and the annual Go Blue Day at the courthouse to raise awareness.
In other action, a minor plat was approved for a 1.825-acre tract located at FM 2488 and HCR 1421 Loop for the purpose of building a home.
The court also approved a lease purchase agreement for 2022 Chevy Tahoe that was approved for the sheriff’s office in the 2022 budget.
A reimbursement from an escrow account was approved for invoices submitted by Longview Creek Ranch subdivision in the Itasca area. The county establishes the accounts based on an engineer’s upfront estimates of road and drainage costs to ensure that developers abide by the county’s subdivision rules and regulations. They apply for those funds as work is completed. Longview Creek Ranch asked for reimbursement of $200,973 toward road and drainage construction.
Commissioners convened in closed session before voting in open session to take action on two dilapidated properties adjacent to the Covington Street annex. The court gave the county attorney the authority to negotiate for the purchase of 212 Walnut Street and 121 Bois D’ Arc Street. Should an agreement not be reached, the county attorney was authorized to pursue condemnation eminent domain proceedings.