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Rod Aydelotte 

Connally Keyonna Lane (11) eyes the basket during their game with Lorena earlier this season

Animal shelter seen as 'shining example' 5 years after city takeover

Adoptions are up, intake is down. Rescue and neutering programs are strong.

But the simplest indicator of progress since the city took over the troubled Waco Animal Shelter five years ago is this: The shelter no longer kills healthy, nonaggressive animals.

At a five-year celebration Thursday at the facility at 2032 Circle Drive, city officials and consultants pointed to that progress with pride.

In 2017, 94.5 percent of animals that came into the shelter came out alive, making it the second year the shelter qualifies for “no-kill” status with a live exit rate topping 90 percent. It is a striking contrast from 2012, when the live exit rate was only 33 percent and the shelter euthanized 6,013 animals, mostly healthy.

Shelter experts who have guided Waco toward its no-kill goal over the last five years said Thursday that the turnaround is astonishing.

“It’s a shining example,” said Sara Pizano a program director for the Florida-based nonprofit Best Friends. “I show Waco slides when I present nationally. The trends are amazing. It’s really my poster child in helping other communities. They don’t have the euthanasia rates or the poverty rates Waco had, but when they see Waco could do it, they say, ‘We can do it.’ ”

The city took over management of the city-owned shelter in late 2012 from the Humane Society of Central Texas, hiring new professional staff, establishing new standards and leaving the Humane Society to focus on the adoption business.

“When I visited the shelter five years ago, it was a place of despair, not happiness,” said Rick DuCharme, founder of First Coast No More Homeless Pets and a consultant on the shelter. “Since then it’s gone from a place of despair to the place of hope you’ve seen today.”

DuCharme credited community and city leaders such as then-Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. and Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem for the turnaround.

Rescue groups from Waco and other Texas cities stepped up their efforts, and lower fees helped drive adoption increases.

The city of Waco got to work planning a renovation and expansion of the shelter, which was completed last year, and passed a mandatory spay-neuter policy that was accompanied by a campaign to connect pet owners with low-cost sterilization procedures.

It hired a full-time veterinarian, Dr. Ron Epps, to improve the health of the animals and start a clinic that provides sterilization and other procedures.

But city and animal welfare officials said the battle is not over when it comes to reducing the surplus of unwanted animals in Greater Waco.

Intake numbers to the shelter have decreased from more than 10,000 in 2012 to 5,509 animals in 2016, but those numbers ticked up last year to 5,798.

Carrie Kuehl, executive director of the Animal Birth Control Clinic, said the community spay-neuter effort is the ultimate solution to animal overpopulation, and it is already starting to pay off.

“We know the problem is not growing, and we are actually making progress,” she said.

Kuehl said the procedure not only results in fewer unwanted puppies and kittens but also keeps animals from breaking out to meet their urge to reproduce.

For the last few years, the city has been funding about 2,700 low-cost and free spay-neuter procedures at the nonprofit clinic. In the current fiscal year, the city is set to spend about $166,000 on the service, which it promotes through the Spay Street Waco campaign.

In all, the Animal Birth Control Clinic performed 12,347 spay-neuter procedures last year, in addition to the procedures done in-house at the shelter.

Pizano, the shelter consultant, said she does not believe Waco is yet at the tipping point when the overall population of animals begins to decline because of spay-neuter services, but it has made a good start.

“Nobody knows what those percentages are, but we know from research, when you do about five subsidized surgeries for those of fixed income per 1000 people in the community, you decrease intake at the shelter,” she said. “So that’s been part of the story.”

Stem, the deputy city manager, said the support of the community, including nonprofit groups, has helped the city succeed in its no-kill aspirations.

“When I started this, I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ ” he said at the event Thursday. “Gifts come wrapped for a reason, and this has been a gift. Who’d have thought we’d do what we’ve done?”

Reshuffled lineups
UIL realignment

Clint Zander Bosqueville head football coach, right, both check their cell phones before the UIL realignment schedules are handout.

Tax bill beginning to deliver bigger paychecks to workers

The contentious tax overhaul is beginning to deliver a change that many will welcome — bigger paychecks.

Workers are starting to see more take-home pay as employers implement the new withholding guidelines from the IRS, which dictate how much employers withhold from pay for federal taxes. Those whose checks have remained the same shouldn’t fret — employers have until Feb. 15 to make the changes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has estimated that the new rules will mean more take-home pay for about 90 percent of American workers.

How much extra cash? It depends on several factors, such as workers’ income, how often they are paid and the number of withholdings allowances they claim on their IRS Form W-4 with their employer.

Those whose employers were quick to make the change welcomed the extra money — anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

Wayne Love, who works in managed care in Spring Hill, Florida, got an extra $200 in his paycheck last week, which he said will help offset a $300 increase in the cost of his health insurance.

“I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it!” Love said by email.

Julia Ketchum, a secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week. She didn’t think her pay would go up at all, let alone this soon. That adds up to $78 a year, which she said will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.

And Todd Anderson of Texas and his fiance, who are both educators, got an extra $200 in their paychecks combined that they plan to use to cover the costs of a second baby on its way.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a middle-income household would on average get a tax cut of $930 this year, lifting their after-tax income by about 1.6 percent. That increase won’t be perfectly reflected in their paycheck though.

That’s because lower tax withholding on paychecks is just a piece of a complicated set of changes to tax law that the GOP pushed through in December.

And what your employer withholds is based on an estimate of your tax obligation that includes many complex factors, but it’s not a perfect measure.

As a result, taxpayers may find they are unintentionally over- or underwithholding for their taxes if they don’t do some legwork.

Senator Ron Wyden, on the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Richard Neal, on the House Ways and Means Committee, both Democrats, have asked the Government Accountability Office to analyze the new tables to make sure workers’ paychecks weren’t being systematically underwithheld, which would make paychecks bigger now but lead to a bigger bill at tax time. Mnuchin, speaking at a White House press briefing, dismissed this notion as “ridiculous.”

Still, experts suggest that all taxpayers take a look the new IRS calculator when it becomes available later in February to ensure they are having the correct amount withheld. And they should update the information on their W-4 after the IRS releases a revised version later this year.

For most people though, no change will be needed.

The IRS said the new withholding tables should produce an accurate withholding amount for people with simpler tax situations. But tax experts say those who will still itemize, have larger families or more complicated tax situations may want to take a closer look.

“If they haven’t done it before, this is a really good year to talk to your tax professional,” said Pete Isberg, vice president of government relations for ADP, a payroll provider.

The IRS, payroll and tax professionals have been scrambling to react to the passage of the new tax law. And the IRS says it plans to make further changes involving withholding matters in 2019. Many in the industry say they expect the IRS to update the W-4 form in 2019 in a more dramatic fashion to fully reflect the scope of the law.

No worker should anticipate a negative impact from the new withholding table if their pay remained the same, said Joseph Rosenberg, a senior researcher at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

However, someone who got a raise may face a higher tax rate as a result. And some corporations have been handing out bonuses and wage increases in reaction to passage of the law. A worker’s net pay may also fall if other factors that go into their paycheck changed — such as an increase in health insurance premiums or higher state taxes.

Still, a little extra money in the hands of most Americans may also help boost support of President Donald Trump and his tax plan. Trump and the Republican backers of the plan have deflected criticism of the legislation, insisting that Americans will come to love the new law when they see their heftier paychecks.

Some workers received the increase with mixed emotions though.

“It’s tough to be upset about more money in my pocket,” said Jefferey Snively, an aerospace engineer who got a 4 percent bump in his last paycheck due to the lower tax rate.

He said that’s not enough to feel like a windfall or change his spending habits, but is a pleasant change. Yet, he thinks the tax overhaul wasn’t really about him or other workers, but more about corporations and the wealthy.

“I think the people this bill made the most difference for are the ones who needed it least,” he said.

baylor sex assault scandal
Baylor's Title IX legal fallout continues with new plaintiff, subpoenas

As the national discussion on sexual assault has shifted to Michigan State University and the USA Gymnastics scandal, Baylor University’s legal fallout in its own sexual assault scandal continues.

Another former student has sued the school under Title IX, alleging her months of anxiety after she was sexually assaulted are tied to Baylor’s insufficient response to her claims.

Additionally, several former administrators, including former Athletics Director Ian McCaw, were subpoenaed in a separate lawsuit this week.

Known as Jane Doe 15, the plaintiff alleges she was sexually assaulted by another student in February 2016, about three months before Baylor regents fired Ken Starr as president and then-head football coach Art Briles at the crux of the scandal. A summary of an investigation commissioned by the regents detailed “fundamental failure” in Baylor’s Title IX implementation and a football program operating “above the rules” in not reporting rape allegations outside of its department.

Doe 15 received a sexual assault nurse’s exam at a local hospital and filed a Waco police report after the assault, the lawsuit alleges. Three professors then visited her, and one of them notified Baylor’s Title IX office. The alleged victim reported to Baylor police, according to the suit, and her parents also contacted Baylor police and a Baylor chaplain to report the assault and request assistance.

Starr was notified by the alleged victim’s father, according to the suit.

Doe 15 alleges the university’s Title IX office assured her academic accommodations, counseling, relocation and a protective order.

Martha Lou Scott, associate vice president for student life, told her such accommodations could not be made through her office, according to the suit. And because she lived off campus, the Title IX office allegedly could not help her relocate, though the alleged assailant lived in the same complex. The Title IX office referred her to a Baylor chaplain for housing assistance, which was unsuccessful, according to the lawsuit.

“The appearance of having programs and people in place to assist victims of sexual assault severely disadvantaged Jane Doe 15 as she falsely assumed Baylor would follow through on its commitments to her,” the lawsuit states.

Doe 15 was allegedly told that her assailant would be arrested if he set foot on campus. According to the lawsuit, he was not arrested when he did, though the university was aware of it and did not tell her.

This led her to become “actively fearful” of him, and the woman’s concerns were relayed to the Title IX office, Baylor police and a professor by her and her parents, the suit alleges. She was subjected to further harassment by other students over her report, according to the complaint, and the Title IX office did not act when notified of the harassment.

Two months into the Title IX investigation, Doe 15 was allegedly told Baylor “could only assist with classes and happiness” and suggested she obtain legal counsel, the lawsuit states. The Title IX investigation later found the assailant responsible for violating the school’s policy, and she allegedly was not told about the decision in a timely fashion.

The assailant was permanently expelled within weeks of Doe 15’s report, according to a Baylor statement.

“We intend to respond to these specific allegations through the appropriate legal channels, and, thus, decline to comment further at this time,” the statement said.

Because her case was closed, Doe 15 was allegedly told she could not receive other assistance. The Title IX office, according to the suit, suggested her mother move to Waco, adding that other victims’ mothers had done so.

She then used seven free sessions from Baylor’s counseling center and was charged for others, the lawsuit alleges, and involvement from her mother led to the payments being dismissed.

Doe 15 alleges Baylor’s counseling center often canceled appointments without rescheduling and did not have time to see her. The counselor assigned to Doe 15 allegedly left Baylor that fall, stating she “could not do her best work for victims at Baylor.”

The lawsuit states Doe 15 became suicidal in the wake of Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford’s explosive departure in October 2016. Crawford alleged on a national morning TV show and another prime time program that she was not supported by the university. The university pushed back on her allegations.

Doe 15 missed academic opportunities and feared the campus because of the assault, according to the suit.

“She attempted to avoid her assailant but fear of casually running into him made her anxious in public at all times,” the suit states.

Baylor’s ignorance of her mental health — the effects of which hindered her ability to find work after she graduated — led to Baylor’s Title IX failure, according to the suit.

Jim Dunnam, the woman’s Waco-based lawyer, declined to comment further on the complaint. Dunnam also represents three other women in the same Title IX lawsuit.

“Our hearts go out to any student who has experienced sexual assault,” the Baylor statement said. “Any such incident involving members of our campus community is reprehensible and inexcusable. ... Baylor has taken unprecedented actions and implemented infrastructure, policies and procedures in response to the issue of past and alleged sexual assaults involving our campus community. Our unwavering commitment is to our students — to continue to educate, train and respond appropriately to interpersonal violence and to work continuously to ensure a safe, supportive and healthy campus for all students.”

Subpoenaed for documents

In another lawsuit with 10 plaintiffs, also filed by Dunnam and Houston attorney Chad Dunn, key former Baylor administrators were subpoenaed to produce documents related to the scandal and ensuing investigations. A third lawsuit, also filed by Dunnam, involves one plaintiff who is named in the suit as Jane Doe 11.

The people subpoenaed include McCaw, former deputy Athletics Director Todd Patulski and former Title IX investigator Ian McRary. McCaw and Patulski now work at Liberty University in the same roles. McRary is associate general counsel at Liberty.

Also subpoenaed was former Baylor Police Chief Jim Doak and former human resources staffer Migdalia Holgersson. Doak, who left the university in 2014, was accused by former interim President David Garland, under oath, of discouraging rape victims from reporting the incidents.

“They were all custodians who Baylor identified as having relevant materials or we know they had some involvement one way or another,” Dunnam said.

GOP legislators gather in search of winning 2018 agenda

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia — Congressional Republicans in sweater vests and fleece gathered at a West Virginia resort Thursday in search of a winning election-year agenda, facing the notion that the best they have to offer in 2018 may be a recitation of the tax cuts approved in 2017 — and well aware of the looming threat of another government shutdown.

The legislators had forums on topics such as infrastructure, national security and the economy — but noticeably not on immigration, the major issue that bedevils them.

They got a pep talk from President Donald Trump reliving passage of the tax bill and highlighting other GOP victories from his first year in office. But the president offered no clear strategy for resolving the immigration-and-spending standoff that produced a three-day government shutdown in January and threatens a second shutdown next week. And he offered no new policy details on infrastructure, prescription drug prices or other items he’s mentioned as ripe for attention in 2018.

As for an immigration strategy, Trump said: “We have to get help from the other side, or we have to elect many more Republicans.” He then proceeded to take jabs at Democrats just days after calling for bipartisan unity in his State of the Union address.

Trump took a similar tack at a second GOP event Thursday night in Washington.

“You know the Democrats are AWOL. They’re missing in action,” Trump said at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting at his Washington hotel. “We’re saying, ‘Where are they?’ We have a proposal. We never hear from them.”

Republicans appear headed into the year with the idea that 2017 was when they got bigger items done and that 2018 will be a time to deal with necessary business, including spending and immigration. Infrastructure would likely require a sustained push from the president. The message for the midterms is expected to be the economy and tax cuts.

“Tax reform is working,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, citing investments by UPS and employee bonuses by Lowe’s as the latest evidence. Take-home pay is going up, while consumer confidence is at a 17-year high and unemployment at a 17-year low, Ryan said.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, gamely told reporters that Trump’s history as a developer makes him the ideal person to push a major infrastructure plan.

“He understands how to bring projects in on time and under budget,” said Shuster, who added that he brought up the “elephant” in a room full of Republicans: raising the gas tax to pay for more highways.

Shuster acknowledged that a tax increase was a tough sell in an election year but said public-private partnerships such as those used by Connecticut at highway rest stops could be an alternative.

Trump mentioned a “right to try” bill to speed approval of life-saving drugs, but the plan received little or no buzz among lawmakers.

Besides tax cuts and the strong economy, Republicans said they have a not-so-secret weapon: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the GOP tax bill would provide mere “crumbs” for many taxpayers.