While much of our nation Wednesday marveled at the first day of public impeachment hearings targeting President Trump, Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver and McLennan County Judge Scott Felton reminded all at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City & County Luncheon that plenty of challenges demand prompt attention locally. These ideally should include the best efforts of our state and federal lawmakers.
Examples? Sure. Judge Felton spent much of his time highlighting the enormous failure of state government to aggressively address the problem of individuals suffering from mental-health problems who wind up in county lockup: “The jail is the No. 1 mental-illness inpatient facility in our community, which is not ideal.” The state’s abject failure — he quoted a survey showing Texas ranks 50th nationwide in investing in mental-health care — means local leaders must step up to solve problems as best they can. That’s why we cheer a new program funded by the city of Waco and McLennan County to better screen inmates, determining whether they should remain in jail or are better off referred for treatment. Yet much more remains to be done and is being done.
Mayor Deaver spent a lot of time celebrating spiraling growth in tourism, business investment and new housing stock but near the end of his presentation dwelled on “the racial components of poverty.” This includes acknowledging the racial problems of Waco’s past — crucial, he said, in ensuring we don’t risk similar problems in our future. It’s a legitimate fear these days. He also noted the need by city leaders to ensure better wages are part of any dividend in economic incentives. This ties in with the judge’s stressing the need for workforce development to attract and retain the very best in industry.
Judge Felton didn’t spare state officials over the growing burden of services that cities and counties across Texas are expected to provide, not only because of the state’s failure in such areas as mental health and unfunded state mandates but because of a new state law restricting revenue growth for cities and counties to 3.5 percent year to year. Happily, because of a strategic and sustained effort to build up reserves in local county government, McLennan County won’t suffer initially, Felton said. Other counties and cities may well have to cut popular services “and hell will be raised when that happens.” We agree with chamber officials that the real key to restraining property-tax bills involves smart appraisal reform.
The judge also said he and other regional leaders are pressing Republican Congressman Bill Flores to help secure federal funding to help otherwise independent rural communities address high levels of naturally forming arsenic in the groundwater that some use, partially through dilution from sources such as the city of Waco. The judge paid tribute to earlier generations of local leadership for creating Lake Waco, then raising its level several feet, ensuring enough water for population and industrial growth in our stretch of Central Texas. Can we be as smartly visionary as earlier generations of Wacoans were when looking out on our behalf?