Public officials share goals, plans for 2022

Ground has been broken on the new Emergency Operations and Training Facility, one of the top goals for Wharton County and the sheriff’s office to complete this year.

The Wharton Journal-Spectator asked several public officials from across the county to look at their calendars and crystal balls and to provide a preview of their plans and projects for 2022.

Their responses indicate this will be a busy and prosperous year in Wharton County. Below are responses from several officials (edited for style and space):

Wharton ISD, Superintendent Michael O’Guin:

This semester we will be recognizing our outstanding students at our Awards of Excellence ceremonies.

Our third graders are expected to have met the board adopted goals in both math and literacy at the end of the spring semester.

Our FFA students are utilizing our new WISD Ag Project Center with their animals for the WCYF.

The cosmetology/dance studio is expected to be complete this month (January).

The Wharton Junior High School construction is in progress.

We are excited about our new athletic director, Alvin Dotson II, and what he will bring to our sports programs.

We are looking forward to the upcoming softball/baseball season and are rooting for our Wharton Tiger basketball team, hopeful to make it to playoffs.

Graduation is May 20.

We are in the process of adding a radio/TV/film class at the Wharton High School, graphic design and principles of arts, audio/visual technology, it is a sub-chapter.

Boling ISD Superintendent Keith Jedlicka:

As we begin 2022 and embark on the second semester of school, our administrators, teachers, staff and board of trustees are devoted to working collaboratively to provide our students with a complete education.

It is our desire that our students continue to develop a strong foundation in academics so they may be successful in all aspects of life. We are proud of the students recent successes in UIL academics. The Iago Junior High sixth grade students were the UIL academic district champions. The seventh and eighth grade district UIL academic championship was also won by Iago Junior High. Newgulf Elementary students were UIL academic district runners-up.

Teachers and students at Newgulf Elementary have enjoyed the addition of our new early childhood center. We are looking forward to our spring sports of basketball, baseball, softball, powerlifting, tennis and track.

We have been very pleased with the implementation of our new school resource officer through our partnership with the Wharton County Sheriff’s Department. This partnership has allowed us to strengthen our security measures while keeping the safety of our students as a primary focus.

Wharton County Sheriff Shannon Srubar:

Great things are happening at the Wharton County Sheriff’s Office in 2022. We begin with breaking ground on the new WCSO Emergency Operations and Training Facility. The 3,200-square-foot facility will include a training room to comfortably seat 35 people, an emergency operations center, an area for deputies to conduct physical fitness training, and a search bay for evidence collection. The facility is being built on the east side of the jail. Completion of the facility is projected to be in the summer.

Another big project that will be completed in February is the delivery and installation of a new generator that will successfully provide enough power to run the entire facility (jail and WCSO), including air and heat. The current generator that is located at the sheriff’s office is over 30 years old. It provides enough power to run a few lights and fans for the facility. The generator will not cost the tax payer any funding as it will be paid for out of commissary funds.

The Wharton County Sheriff’s Association is bringing back the Wild Game Supper on Saturday, Feb. 19. There will be fun for the whole family that will include a raffle, auction, and a delicious meal. Proceeds benefit the community and nonprofit organizations.

The sheriff’s office applied for and received grant funding (approximately $250,000) from the Office of the Governor to participate in Operation Lone Star. Operation Lone Star was launched by Gov. Greg Abbott to help combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas. Through this grant the sheriff’s office will receive a completely outfitted Chevrolet Tahoe that will serve as an interdiction unit, along with other equipment. The remaining money will be allocated to personnel expenses.

Deputies will be able to work overtime, which in turn will put additional deputies on the roadways to help deter crime in Wharton County. By participating in Operation Lone Star, we expect to see an increase in our drug seizures in 2022. 

Most importantly, we will strive to keep members of this office safe and equipped with the needed tools to complete the task.

Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath:

Your elected commissioners and dedicated county employees remain committed to providing well-trained law enforcement, dependable roads and drainage, and low, manageable county taxes.

Wharton County remains debt free for a 10th consecutive year while providing $4.2 million in funding for multiple murder trials, needed precinct and drainage equipment, seven sheriff patrol cars, law enforcement radios, LED lighting upgrades, power washing of the courthouse, computer upgrades, and construction a Training and Emergency Operations Center.

Your county leaders have budgeted for $2.5 million in 2022 drainage improvements that include significant clearing of trees, widening ditches, and in some places installing new culverts and drop pipes. Our projects list includes Pecan Valley, Bear Bottom, West Mustang Creek, FM 1161 at U.S. Highway 59, CR 111; Lake Nett, CR 133; CR 130, Peach Creek, Jones Creek, Blue Creek, Jarvis Creek, and the Stavena Addition.

We will continue working with our cities to develop a county-wide transportation plan that promotes, protects, and prepares Wharton County for I-69 expansion projects. Your county is currently sponsoring $650,000 in Texas Community Development Block Recovery Grants to replace sewer lines in Louise and purchase emergency generators for the Boling Wastewater, Louise Wastewater, and Louise Water Districts. Wharton County will again contribute $98,000 to WCJC for our county-wide Senior Citizenship Program (meals on wheels).

County officials are hopeful that new federal legislation will allow our commissioners to use $6 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury Rescue Grant to refurbish approximately 85 miles of county roads. Wharton County representatives continue assisting the General Land Office with $2.2 million in local land buyouts for county residents whose homes are situated in the floodplain and have repeatedly experienced serious flooding and devastation.

My fellow citizens, 2022 will be another tremendous year of achievement and opportunity for Wharton County despite the economic hardships and uncertainties still lingering from COVID-19. 

El Campo Mayor Chris Barbee:

El Campo has forever had a housing shortage. That is finally changing. In 2022 we are anticipating construction to begin on a new luxury apartment complex. Groundwork has begun on a new “cottage” subdivision planned for 17 houses, a nice manufactured housing subdivision will soon start renting lots and a local developer is making plans on building another residential subdivision. Additionally, groundwork has begun on a new Hilton Home2 Suites on U.S. Highway 59.

The Public Works Department has added new equipment that will help to repair and pave more roads, so I hope we are aggressive this year on improving our roads. The city was blessed with $17 million in grants in 2021 to be used to improve water and sewer lines, drainage and public safety. It is our goal to continue to aggressively pursue grant opportunities.

It is our goal to make sure our police, fire and EMS departments have the equipment and trained personnel needed to effectively keep the public safe.

El Campo has done a good job incentivizing business and industrial expansion. We want to continue being proactive. Industrial development takes cooperation from other entities. I would like to see Wharton County Commissioners Court become more of a team player in this regard.

City council wants to continue to make El Campo a nicer, cleaner-looking community. We have a Blight Committee that is tasked with bringing recommendations to council.

Wharton Mayor Tim Barker:

The City of Wharton is excited for the upcoming changes and growth that 2022 will bring. Here are a few of our current and on-going projects and their status:

1. Grant projects:

Downtown sidewalk improvements: City staff in conjunction with GrantWorks, Inc. and KSA Engineering submitted an application of up to $350,000 for downtown sidewalk renovations/additions. Preliminary scoring is out on the applications. The city was notified that the application for this project was awarded on Oct. 29, 2021.

Santa Fe channel outfall improvements: City staff has been working with USACE for emergency repairs and funding to make repairs to the outfall channel. City staff is currently acquiring needed property and USACE will be submitting for construction bids as soon as acquisition has begun finalization.

Infrastructure: Method of distribution has been approved by the General Land Office and HUD. The city has received an award of $1.6 million for infrastructure projects related to Hurricane Harvey. Jones & Carter has completed surveys and staff is currently working on easement acquisition and project budget. Acquisition is currently ongoing.

FEMA shelter/dome: Wharton ISD minutes from Aug. 10 show that the board approved cancellation of the Wharton ISD Community Safe Room Project and authorized the superintendent to take all actions and terminate all agreements as necessary to effectuate cancellation. City staff has not received any communications from WISD at this time.

South East Avenue sanitary sewer repairs: The city received funding and has finalized agreement and completed a kick-off meeting with the Texas Department of Agriculture. Design is in progress and construction begins soon.

Flood reduction project: The Lower Colorado River Basin Phase I, Texas Wharton flood risk management project. The city was notified that the flood reduction project was funded in the early part of 2018. HDR was selected by the city council on June 14, 2019, for acquisition services. Phase 2 is currently under design. Acquisitions are still proceeding. All current ED has been completed with DTRG. One ED is pending with Winstead.

TxDOT Safe Routes to School: The city staff was notified of the award for this project on April 30, 2021. City staff is currently procuring the administration and engineering services. Kickoff meeting with TxDOT occurred June 29. City staff and TxDOT are executing an advanced funding agreement for the project. 

2. Housing:

Buyouts/acquisitions: Method of distribution approved by GLO and HUD. City has received an award of $1,693,784 for buyout/acquisition projects related to Hurricane Harvey. The guidelines have been approved by the General Land Office and no public comment was received during the required posting period. Intake meetings continue with property owners and GrantWorks. Acquisition is under process with HDR, who was selected by city council.

Housing elevation/reconstruction: Notification of $2 million funding was received Feb. 4, 2019. Three applications have been approved and are in home build selection phase. City issued notice of grant in utility billing, resulting in 12 new inquiries and a new total of five applicants, with two overall program applicant withdrawals. Construction completed on two homes in May 2021 with one beginning in December 2021. City staff received a one-year extension on the grant funding in order to complete construction and allow any additional possible applicants to expend the funds. At the close of the current application period, we are currently processing 40 new applications.

3. Disaster recovery (non-infrastructure or housing):

Critical facility generators: The city received notification of award by TDEM on Feb. 18, 2020. Kick-off meeting conducted with TEDM on Aug. 6, 2020. Engineering and design are currently underway. Installation anticipated to begin soon.

2021 American Rescue Plan - coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery funds: Local governments will receive funds in two tranches, with 50% provided in May 2021 and the balance delivered approximately 12 months later.

4. Studies:

Hazard mitigation plan: The city entered into a memorandum of understanding with Wharton County, City of El Campo, and City of East Bernard to complete a multi-jurisdictional update to the current hazard mitigation plan that is required to be updated every five years as a FEMA requirement. The last plan was adopted in November 2016 and the plan must be updated and maintained to remain in good standing for many grant programs. Staff from each jurisdiction are coordinating through a steering committee to complete the update for submission to FEMA for approval. Once approved by FEMA the plan will be presented to each jurisdiction for adoption.

Internal drainage study and drainage improvements: Application submitted under the TWDB Flood Infrastructure Fund to study flood risks inside the city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction and move forward with the most critical projects in Phase 1. The application is being reviewed by TWDB and one RFI has been completed. The project was approved by TWDB on July 7, 2021, for funding. City staff is working with TWDB on the contract and beginning implementation.

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