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Staff photo — Jerry Larson, file//  

Waco High School football coach Kwame Cavil smiles on July 20 during his introduction.

Sustainability board discusses hybrids, solar panels for city
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

Waco is taking incremental steps toward using renewable energy and making operations more energy efficient, but local environmental advocates say the city’s pace is far too slow.

The Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board met Wednesday to discuss the city’s progress on recommendations the board approved in February, including considering buying renewable energy and auditing energy use at city facilities. City Manager Wiley Stem III, who sits on the board, said the changes the board recommended are positive overall, but implementation will have to happen slowly.

“It’s a slow ship to turn, because we have to keep the service going while we do this,” Stem said. “We can’t stop picking up trash. We can’t stop responding to fire calls. We need the city to … function. We’ve got some good ideas, and we’ll be able to move forward.”

The board also approved a draft of its annual report for the city council, which includes a letter outlining specific recommendations for electric vehicles and renewable energy for municipal power.

“The Board recommends that the city of Waco commit to studying in more detail the feasibility of a transition to 100% renewable energy for city operations,” the draft report states. “To accomplish this, the board recommends that city management designate city staff members to work with the board to evaluate these general areas in the upcoming months.”

The draft report urges the city to consider conducting efficiency audits on municipal facilities, potentially adopting new green building codes and standards, pursuing renewable energy and creating programs to encourage residents and businesses to use renewable energy.

City Director of General Services Kelly Holecek gave a presentation on efforts so far, which include purchasing hybrid vehicles, evaluating a handful of municipal buildings to see if they can support solar panels and efficiency evaluations for city facilities.

Holecek said one building evaluated, City Hall, cannot support solar panels, while other buildings would need to be reroofed before solar panels could be added. The city bought an electric vehicle, now in use, and six hybrid Ford Interceptors for the Waco Police Department.

During the meeting, Alan Northcutt, director of Waco Friends of Peace/Climate, said the board should meet more often than the required four meetings a year.

“We can’t get it done at that rate,” Northcutt said.

Board Chairwoman Janet Wallace said she agrees the board should meet more often. The board also has issues with attendance and reaching a quorum, Wallace said. Board members discussed adding meeting dates but ultimately decided against doing so Wednesday.

Ashley Millerd, executive director of Keep Waco Beautiful, also said the board should meet more often. When she joined the board, it was focused exclusively on recycling, but its scope has expanded, Millerd said. Board policies have not changed to reflect the new role, she said.

“I think if you just meet quarterly, so much can go by in that time,” Millerd said. “I just think we should meet more.”

In an interview before the meeting, Northcutt said the board’s efforts to encourage sustainability in city operations are a good start, but he and his group want to urge the city to take more concrete measures.

“We hope this board will take a more active role in looking at what other cities have done and try to adopt those here and make recommendations to the city council,” Northcutt said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”

Chapel Road due for major upgrade amid development growth
 Mike Copeland  / 

Chapel Road and Ritchie Road have become linchpins in the continued residential development of Hewitt, West Waco and Lorena, an area where national-name builders D.R. Horton and Stylecraft already have dibs on a 1,500-home subdivision called Park Meadows and more builders are poised for action. Nearly 3,000 new homes could take shape within the next decade.

Much of Ritchie Road has already been updated to match the growth, and more of it is now being rebuilt. Now McLennan County Commissioners are turning their attention to Chapel Road. This week, they moved improvements to a 2.3-mile stretch of Chapel Road one step further, approving a surveying and civil engineering contract with Walker Partners for the final design.

Completion of the project stretching from Ritchie to Old Lorena Road remains four years away, probably in 2023, but at least it can be seen from here, County Engineer Zane Dunnam said.

“It’s going to take a year to purchase all the right-of-way, a year to design, and a year to a year-and-a-half to build,” Dunnam said.

Commissioners learned this week that 42 parcels need to be bought at a cost of about $732,000 to give the widening the right-of-way it needs.

The stretch will still have one lane in each direction, and a center left-turn lane and shoulders on each side will be added for an estimated $8.8 million, Dunnam said.

$32 million package

Commissioners agreed to spend $1.1 million on designs that will include calculations related to curvature, steepness of grade and horizontal alignment, Dunnam said. A $32 million county bond issue will cover all costs. The Chapel Road upgrade is the fourth in a bond package that also includes widening Ritchie Road from Park Place Drive to near Panther Way; rebuilding a four-mile stretch of Speegleville Road from State Highway 6 to the Bosque River; and widening Surrey Ridge Lane from I-35 to Moonlight Drive.

“At Surrey Ridge, crews are almost complete with the final asphalt, then comes the signage and striping,” Dunnam said. “In Speegleville, they’re waiting for the utilities to get relocated, then bid packages will go out to the contractors, probably in September or October. Chapel Road, we’ve just approved the design contract, and now we’ll start buying up right-of-way.”

Surrey Ridge, a subdivision launched by the late Eddie Gummelt, has grown to between 250 and 300 units, including single-family homes and duplexes.

Waco, Hewitt and McLennan County are collaborating on the $6.2 million Ritchie Road venture. The county is chipping in $700,000, also to be covered by the $32 million bond issue.

Discussions involving the upgrades started in 2015.

The city of Waco hopes to join the action by installing a larger waterline under Chapel Road as crews proceed with the widening.

“That will help with redundancy and future development,” said Jim Reed, the city’s capital improvement plan manager.

An agreement approved by the city will go before county commissioners for consideration, and the city would also need to enter its own design contract with Walker Partners, Reed said.

Once the street upgrade has been completed, the city and county would share maintenance responsibilities along Chapel Road, he said.

“Chapel Road and Ritchie Road are just going to get busier,” said Scott Bland, whose family has been building homes in Central Texas for decades. “How many homes will be built in the next five years, that’s hard to say. Will the economy stay the way it is now, or will it slow down? I would have to give it a lot more thought. I would say that by next summer, there is going to be plenty of places to build. A lot of subdivisions are in the works. Highway 84, Chapel Road, Ritchie Road, those areas are just exploding. We’re also seeing growth in McGregor and Lorena. It’s not going to slow down.”

‘Left and right’

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry, whose precinct includes Ritchie Road and the area targeted for improvements, has lobbied hard for the upgrades.

“Homes are popping up left and right in that area,” he told the Tribune-Herald in an interview late last year. “It will be a highly traveled road.”

Besides D.R. Horton and Stylecraft going up with homes, Fred Dewald and Richard Clark have launched the Creekside subdivision that could include up to 900 homes built over the next decade. Contractor Ryan Lindsey, meanwhile, has proposed a subdivision with up to 300 homes.

The Waco City Council this week gave preliminary approval for a development with almost 400 homes on fewer than 40 acres on Chapel Road near Woodgate Intermediate School. Developer Nate Landreth proposes a Planned Unit Development next to the Flats on Chapel Apartments. City officials and Landreth said the proposed density would be reduced before final approval.

Prosper Waco's new CEO brings experience, innovation to nonprofit
 Brooke Crum  / 

New Prosper Waco CEO Suzii Paynter will tell you she was “just a reading teacher” when she went up against the veteran state Sen. Carl Parker in the mid-’80s.

The Democrat from Port Arthur had filed a bill that would essentially eliminate all colleges of education, but public universities are barred by state law from lobbying the state Legislature, Paynter, 67, said Wednesday during her first interview as Prosper Waco’s CEO.

The task fell to private universities, including Baylor University, where Paynter taught at the time. She also held the position of president of the Reading Teachers Association of Texas. Then-dean of the Baylor College of Education Bill Lamkin asked Paynter to go to Austin and speak with Parker to attempt to change his mind.

“So, I went to Austin,” she said.

A political consultant met with her and asked if she or the teachers association she represented had given any money to the 17 state senators and representatives on the joint committee or knew them in any way. She said no. The political consultant told her that he could not help her.

“But he said to me, ‘What do you have?’ And I said, ‘Well, we have teachers all over this state,’ ” Paynter said.

She sat in the cafeteria and thought, not wanting to disappoint Lamkin, her dean, and she came up with a “great idea.”

First grade teachers

“What do we have? We got teachers,” Paynter said. “There are 17 people on that panel. I bet I can find the first grade teacher of every single one of those people.”

And they did. Paynter had the first grade teachers of all 17 committee members call them and request time to come speak to them about the bill.

“Of course, they said yes, so we briefed the teachers. They were like our little Trojan horse,” she said. “We sent them in, but they convinced those senators and those house members on that committee that colleges of education were worthy and primarily because they teach people how to teach reading. On the day that bill came to be passed, it failed. All those members voted against it, and this chairman got so mad he threw the gavel down.”

Paynter drove back to Waco and told Lamkin the good news. Then her phone rang about 11 o’clock that night.

“It was a very inebriated Sen. Parker, and he said, ‘Who in the f--- are you?’ and I said, ‘I’m nobody. I’m just a reading teacher, but I can fix your bill,’ ” she said.

Parker told her to be in his Austin office the next morning at 8:30 a.m. She took language to the senator that is still in the education code today, she said.

“Every elementary teacher that’s certified must have an interdisciplinary major, including reading, and that’s what put the colleges of education back in the education code,” she said. “That’s how I got involved in lobbying.”

Paynter went on to lobby for literacy efforts and was later hired by the Baptist General Convention of Texas as their public policy specialist. She worked on issues ranging from prison reform to foster care to education for about 13 years.

The San Antonio native later worked for the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, which is the regional extension of the federal Education Department. She conducted research there on literacy, working with members of Native American tribes who were learning English.

Additionally, Paynter went on to lead the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group of 1,800 U.S. Baptist churches that left the Southern Baptist Convention in the ’90s. She served as the CEO for six years.

But Paynter missed living in Texas near her son and daughter, so she moved back to Austin, where they reside. That was when two key events happened: She heard about the Prosper Waco job from a friend, and Baylor University honored her as a 2019 distinguished alumna.

Search committee

Paynter applied for the job and met with the search committee, which consisted of Waco Assistant City Manager Deidra Emerson, Cooper Foundation director Felicia Goodman, Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham, Waco Family Health Center CEO Jackson Griggs, Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Alfred Solano, Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, former mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. and Prosper Waco board President Pat Atkins. They interviewed her for three hours.

“The search committee asked some very challenging questions, and Suzii’s answers were not theoretical,” Atkins said. “They were based on her actual experience with collective impact and her actual experience with building communities, and that was powerful. Also, you spend any time visiting with Suzii and two things become very apparent: First, she’s genuine, and secondly, she is the embodiment of the servant leader. And that’s what this community and this organization needed.”

But something else happened the night Baylor honored Paynter as a distinguished alumna. She met her fiance, Ben Y. March.

“I was an honoree and so was he,” she said with a laugh. “It’s better than”

Paynter does not officially take the helm of Prosper Waco until Sept. 3, but the board voted July 31 to hire her. She said she is ready to help sustain Waco’s success, while also reassessing Prosper Waco’s priorities to ensure there are no missed opportunities.

“Every community in our country needs revitalization, and to get to be a part of a community with so much good will and so much talent, like Waco has right now, it’s just an awesome opportunity,” she said.

Prosper Waco’s role

Paynter said Prosper Waco’s main role in the community is to help improve the “overall quality of life in Waco in three areas: education, health and financial stability.” Its job also is to bring together all the nonprofits and community organizations working toward the same goals and provide them with the data and research they need to make informed decisions.

“There are programs in the community that help people that are at-risk, but there’s also opportunities in the community to help people who are on their way up. How do you strengthen our families so that they feel secure?” she said. “Life brings so many transitions, whether it’s an unexpected divorce or whether it’s a health care crisis, how do we help people in their moment of transition so that they continue in a resilient pattern?”

The new CEO wants not only to support social safety net programs but what she calls “on-ramps.”

“If you think of a successful life as a highway, we all have off-ramps sometimes, and then we all need on-ramps. I think that’s part of what Prosper Waco does,” she said. “There’s so much good will in our community, but we haven’t always been intentional about building the on-ramps that people need for a successful life.”

Report shows US deficit to exceed $1 trillion next year

WASHINGTON — The federal budget deficit is expected to balloon to more than $1 trillion in the next fiscal year under the first projections taking into account the big budget deal that President Donald Trump and Congress reached this summer, the Congressional Budget Office reported Wednesday.

The return of $1 trillion annual deficits comes despite Trump’s vow when running for office that he would not just balance the budget but pay down the entire national debt.

“The nation’s fiscal outlook is challenging,” said Phillip Swagel, director of the nonpartisan CBO. “Federal debt, which is already high by historical standards, is on an unsustainable course.”

The office upped this year’s deficit projection by $63 billion and the cumulative deficit projection for the next decade by $809 billion. The higher deficit projections come even as the CBO reduced its estimate for interest rates, which lowers borrowing costs, and as it raised economic growth projections in the near term.

The number crunchers at CBO projected that the deficit for the current fiscal year will come to $960 billion. In the next fiscal year, which begins Oct 1, it will exceed $1 trillion.

The CBO said the budget deal signed into law earlier this month, which took away the prospect of a government shutdown in October and the threat of deep automatic spending cuts, would boost deficits by $1.7 trillion over the coming decade. Increased spending on disaster relief and border security would add $255 billion. Downward revisions to the forecast for interest rates will help the picture, trimming $1.4 trillion.

Swagel said the federal debt will rise even higher after the coming decade because of the nation’s aging population and higher spending on health care.

To put the country on sustainable footing, Swagel said, lawmakers will have to increase taxes, cut spending or combine the two approaches.

The CBO projects that the economy will expand more slowly, from 2.3% this year to 1.8% on average in the next four years. The assumption reflects slower growth in consumer spending and government purchases, as well as the effect of trade policies on business investment.

It also projects the unemployment rate will remain close to its current level of 3.7% through the end of 2020 and then rises to 4.6% by the end of 2023.

The CBO’s estimate is the first to reflect the hard-won budget and debt deal signed into law earlier this month.

“The recent budget deal was a budget buster, and now we have further proof. Both parties took an already unsustainable situation and made it much worse,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the private Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

MacGuineas said lawmakers should ensure the legislation they enact is paid for and redouble efforts to control the growth in health care costs and restore the solvency of the Social Security program. Her organization is focused on educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact.

Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway pivoted to the president’s desire to fund the military and other programs when asked about the report.

“We’re always concerned about the deficit,” Conway said. “We also need to fund a lot of the projects and programs that are important to this country.”