CWJC: Receiving Leads to Giving Back

By Sara Aguirre


This is part 2 of a 4-part series on The Christian Women’s Job Corps of McLennan County. For all of the posts in this series, click here: CWJC. – ALW


Christian Women’s Job Corps is life changing. The women we serve are some of the strongest women I know. Their perseverance to overcome life’s challenges takes courage and bravery, and the women we serve have what it takes to conquer and thrive. My favorite part of my job is listening to the women share their hopes and dreams and helping them create goals to move towards their dreams. CWJC provides free programs, GED and Career Track, for women in McLennan County. 

Our GED program provides hope for so many women who haven’t had the opportunity to complete high school. CWJC provides all the materials needed, covers the cost of practice test and GED official test, tutoring, and case management. Career Track offers skills that are holistic to help women prepare for their career. Career Track offers Bible Study, Boundaries, Job readiness (resume writing, mock interviews, and job retention), computer skills, personal development, money management, guest speaker workshops, and mentoring.

Poverty, past mistakes, and failures don’t have to control your life – you can choose to take the steps to a brighter future. I’m actually an alumna of the Career Track program at CWJC. I came into CWJC without a job, phone, car, and living in a long-term recovery home due to my brokenness and choices I had made. CWJC helped me gain the confidence I needed to pursue the dreams God has put into my heart. Shortly after completing the program I went to pursue my dream, earning my degree in social work, now I’m able to give back what I have received. Never give up on the dreams God has put in your heart because with God all things are possible.

None of the work CWJC Waco does would be possible without the support of our donors and community. The transforming work done at CWJC leads to women giving back to their community. Supporting CWJC Waco brings empowerment to women across McLennan County. Join our mission by exploring ways to give at www.wacobaskets.com or contact us at 254-757-0416 for more information. 



Sara Aguirre is a CWJC Alumni from Waco, TX. After her time with CWJC, Sara graduated with her undergrad in social work from Tarleton State University and is currently working towards her master’s degree in clinical social work. Sara has served the Waco community since 2006 in various roles and capacities. She has worked with families in the foster care system through the Department of Family Protective Services. Sara is an active member of Antioch Community Church where she has served in the youth ministry, overseas missions, and guest services. Sara is passionate about working with individuals who have experienced trauma and who want to be equipped, empowered, and transformed by the healing power of Jesus. Sara enjoys going to ball games, traveling, learning, and having meaningful conversations over a cup of coffee!

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Waco leaders stress safe practices & flu shots


By Ferrell Foster

Five Waco civic, health, and school leaders Wednesday encouraged the people of Greater Waco to think of their neighbors and to be careful how they are involved in gatherings and celebrate the Labor Day weekend. They also stressed the importance of getting a flu shot.

With the holiday coming and football season upon us, Mayor Kyle Deaver asked residents to do these activities “smartly and safely” so the community can remain open. “Take care of yourself and take care of each other.” He made the comments during the weekly City of Waco News Conference related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jerry Maze, executive director for Education Service Center Region 12, noted, “What happens in the community shows up in the schools,” and that can be both good and bad. “If everyone works together and makes good decisions, we get better outcomes.”

Dr. Brian Becker, of Ascension Providence Hospital, called special attention to the holiday weekend, noting that following standard safety procedures is important for our public health and to our neighbors.

Dr. Marc Elieson, of Baylor Scott & White-HIllcrest, also spoke to the importance of wearing face masks, distancing, and proper hand hygiene. ”Be wise,” he said.

A number of questions were asked about schools and Baylor. For students, “it’s so much more about what’s happening off campus,” Mayor Deaver said. “We know this is hard; it’s trying for everyone, … but it’s the way we keep schools open and having football” and other activities.

Dr. Jackson Griggs, of the Family Health Center, praised the efforts of Baylor University to test and then isolate students exposed to COVID-19. “I’m impressed with efforts by Baylor to mitigate the risk.”

Current hospitalizations are down some, but the hospital representatives said their in-patient numbers usually lag behind case counts by about a week. And case counts have been rising in McLennan County.

The current “Effective Reproduction Rate” for McLennan County is 1.07, Mayor Deaver said. Anything above 1 means the disease is expanding, not contracting. The Rt is a measure of contagiousness or how many people one COVID-19 person infects.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Griggs highlighted the importance of bringing down the positivity rate. In recent weeks that rate has hovered just under 15% in McLennan County, which is above the state rate. More testing helps identify people with COVID-19 and also lowers the positivity rate. “Anyone with subtle symptoms needs to come in and be tested,” Dr. Griggs said. The first step is to contact your primary care physician.

The head of Family Health Center also emphasized the importance of flu vaccinations. “We need to keep flu rates down this season,” Dr. Griggs said. There’s a lot we don’t know about flu and COVID-19 infections in the same person. “Flu vaccines are imperative.”

It is especially important to promote the flu vaccines in “communities of color” because they have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 and have “historically lower vaccination rates.” 

The news conference is aired at 1:30 p.m. each Wednesday at WCCC-TV for the public to view.

Ferrell Foster is senior content specialist for care and communication for Prosper Waco. He also serves on the Act Locally Waco Board of Directors and helps the website with blog posts related to health, education, financial security, and equity.

New Head Start Director Takes the Reins

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Welcome aboard, Susanne Wilson!

Susanne Wilson was born and raised in Argentina, lived a few years in Europe, but graduated from high school in Sugarland, Texas, and then went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. She claims to be a “Longhorn through and through.” In addition to being a Longhorn, she is now also the new Director of the EOAC Head Start program that serves Waco, as well as locations throughout McLennan and Falls Counties.  She took over the role from long-time Director Debora Jones who retired earlier this year.

Susanne Wilson

Wilson found her passion for working with children and families while doing her student teaching as an education student at UT.  Wilson feels fortunate that after college she found work at one of the largest non-profits in the state, Neighborhood Centers Inc. in Houston (now known as Baker-Ripley).  That is where she got her first job with Head Start, and she has been with Head Start ever since. 

After Houston, Wilson spent a few years up north as director of a program in Michigan, then moved back to Temple, Texas, to be closer to family and to enjoy some warmer weather.  She came to us from Temple.  She started the position at the EOAC Head Start in May.   “Oh my goodness!” She says when asked about starting a new job in the midst of a pandemic. “It has been quite overwhelming, but we are making plans to make it work!”

Dealing with Covid has taken up quite a bit of Wilson’s time since starting.  The health and safety of the children and staff are her first priority.  She has also been taking time to get to know everyone, and to get to know the community and the local program.

What is Head Start?

For those who may not be familiar with Head Start, it is a federally funded school readiness program that began in 1964. It is administered by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Office of Head Start (OHS).

The goal of Head Start, from the beginning as it still is today, is to break the cycle of poverty by helping to close the achievement gap between children who grow up in homes with very little income and those who grow up with more resources.  Head Start is now in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Head Start is actually two programs: “Early Head Start” which serves children 0-3 years old and their families, and “Head Start” which serves children 3-5 years old and their families.  The two programs are collectively known as “Head Start.” Head Start specifically serves low income families.  There is no cost to the families who participate.  Head Start for McLennan and Falls Counties has been managed by the Economic Opportunities Advancement Corporation (EOAC) in Waco for many years.  Early Head Start is typically a year-round program and Head Start typically follows the 10-month school calendar of the local public school system.

What everyone should know about Head Start

What are three things Wilson wishes everyone knew about Head Start?

  1. Head Start works.  It does help to reduce the achievement gap.  It is also very empowering to families.  “We have several parents who are now on staff,” Wilson says. “They started making goals when their children joined Head Start, and now they have completed their education and come back to teach.”
  2. Our teachers are well trained educators. Some of our teachers have an associate degree with a child development credential.  Many have bachelor’s degrees, and some have their master’s degrees. 
  3. Head Start is not simply “day care” or “watching kids.” It is an educational program that works to develop the whole child and to empower parents.

The Head Start approach is positive, individualized learning for the whole child.  Head Start educators develop learning plans to suit each child’s individual needs.  Those plans include social and emotional learning and information about health along with language, literacy, and numeracy. 

Health is a particular emphasis.  Children in Head Start get health and developmental screenings throughout the year and referrals to the appropriate resource if they are at risk.  They get nutritious meals including breakfast, lunch, and a snack.   They learn about how to develop good health habits.  For example, they learn about brushing their teeth and practice brushing their teeth after meals at Head Start. 

Head Start also focuses on family well-being.  Families who participate in Head Start have the option of working with a Child & Family Advocate.  These advocates meet with parents and families and help them set goals.  The advocate then helps the family connect to resources in the community that can help them meet their goals.  Goals might include things like obtaining stable housing, completing a GED, learning English as a second language, or developing job skills.  

Head Start in McLennan County

There are 11 Head Start locations in McLennan County.  Some have both Early Head Start and Head Start, and some have one or the other.  All in all, they serve 112 children in Early Head Start and 823 in Head Start. 

There are three Head Start program options: Collaborations, Center-based, and Home-based.

Collaborations are partnerships with local educational institutions.  EOAC Head Start has eight classrooms that are collaborations, two with Waco Charter School (another project of EOAC), two with Harmony Science Academy, and four with Waco ISD.  “We love to collaborate so that we are maximizing resources,” says Wilson. “At the collaboration locations the children are dual enrolled in the Head Start program and the program at the location.  We have teachers working together from both programs.  Our Head Start teachers co-teach with the Waco ISD teachers in the same classroom, for example.”

The rest of the classrooms are center-based programs.  They are housed in stand-alone locations throughout Waco, Marlin, Mart, Moody, and one on TSTC campus through December 2020.

Another option that works well for some families, is the home-based program.  In this program, visiting educators (home visitors) come to the participating student’s home once a week and provide coaching and lesson plans to the parents/guardians.  The visiting educators help the family work with what they have around the home to educate the child.  Twice a month the families in the home-based program get together for a group activity.  Currently there are 12 Early Head Start and 24 Head Start slots in the home-based program.

What does the new school year look like for Head Start?

Since Head Start follows the local school district calendar, the new Head Start year has been pushed back to September 8 to match the new Waco ISD School year.  Also, just like in WISD, Head Start parents will have the option of virtual or in person instruction.  Virtual instruction will build on the skills learned during their 2020 summer school program.  The summer school program served about 60 4-year-old children.  They provided each child with a tablet (Ignite by Hatch) to use in their home. They trained parents on how to use Zoom and then provided the children with individual instruction via Zoom two times per week with small group instruction with their peers via Zoom on a third day.  

There will be some scheduling changes this fall due to Covid.  At the center-based programs Head Start would normally have all children five days a week.  Instead, to transition children and teachers back to school during  September, there will be two groups to allow social distancing.  One group will come on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group will come on Thursdays and Fridays.  That will leave Wednesday for cleaning and planning. If all goes well, they hope to be able to expand the days  in October and for the rest of the year.  

Normally, the hours at the centers would be 7-4:00 for working parents and 8-2:30 for parents who are not working.  Due to Covid, and to help with the transition back to school,  the hours for everyone will be 7:30 to 12:30 for now.  The program will evaluate whether or not to expand days and hours on a site by site and week by week basis.  

Collaboration classrooms will follow the same schedule as the collaborating institution.

What does the Future hold for Head Start?

Thanks to Covid, Wilson hasn’t had as much time to think about the future at this point as she would have liked.  But she does have a few ideas percolating.  She would like to form partnerships as much as possible, both with educational institutions and with other service providers in the community.   She doesn’t want to duplicate services.  Instead she wants to ensure families are referred to resources available in the community.

Wilson wants to be very responsive to community needs.  She plans to update the Head Start community assessment soon.  Depending on what they find out from the assessment, she might consider a teen parent program or more support for homeless families or children in foster care.  She wants EOAC Head Start to be a program that staff and the community are proud to work at and to call their own.


How to enroll in Head Start

Head Start enrolls year-round.  There are several spots open now.  To apply you can go to eoacwaco.org.  From there, click on “Head Start” in the menu at the top of the page.  Then click on Head Start Parent Portal.   Create a Username and Password and enter your information.

You can also apply in person by completing a form at any Head Start location.   

If you have questions call 254-753-0331.  To speak to Susanne Wilson directly, the extension is 1800.


This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She is retired from Baylor works part time helping to organize after school programs for Transformation Waco. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Fruit of the month: Apples

By Paula Solano

As we to transition into the 2020-2021 school year, we can appreciate how our school and health systems work collectively to ensure the safety of students and educators. I find apples, a seasonal fruit often associated with both health and education, appropriate for this season.

Extended workdays, possible home schooling, and other responsibilities may often lead to missing a meal or making a fast-food run. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate provides recipes, tips, and resources to guide you in creating a healthy eating plan. Start simple, download the MyPlate App, an easy-to-use app that will help guide you and track your progress.

Apples might be the essential fruit to have in a pinch. In fact, apples can be enjoyed during breakfast, lunch, or dinner or as a perfect on-the-go snack. When selecting apples, choose those that are firm, with intact stems, and they should smell fresh. 

Wash your hands as recommended by the CDC, clean contact surfaces, and thoroughly rise apples to remove any dirt before you pack, enjoy, or use while preparing a meal. Refrigerate apples in a plastic bag, away from other fruits and raw meats for up to three weeks.

Not only are apples yummy, they are saturated fat free, low in fat cholesterol, and sodium free. Apples are rich in fiber and phytochemicals (compounds produced by plants). 

Enjoy these tasty apple recipes!

Apple Cinnamon Yogurt Muffins (Kid Friendly)

Serving: 24

Nutritional Information: Calories: 217, protein: 3g, fat: 10g, carbohydrates: 29g, fiber: .6g, sodium: 230mg, cholesterol: 44mg

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine

1 cup grated Braeburn or Golden Delicious apple

1 container (8-ounce) low fat vanilla yogurt

2 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions:

1. Heat oven to 350° F. Grease 24 3-inch muffin pan cups or line with paper liners. In large bowl, combine flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking powder, salt, orange zest, and nutmeg. With pastry blender or fork, cut in 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter until mixture is crumbly.

2. In medium bowl combine apple, yogurt, and eggs; add to flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until centers spring back when gently pressed.

3. Cool muffins in pan 5 minutes; remove from pan and cool until able to handle. Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/2 stick butter. In small bowl, combine remaining 3/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon. To serve. brush tops of muffins with butter and roll top in cinnamon-sugar mixture.

4. Enjoy!

Golden Apple Oatmeal 

Servings: 1

Nutritional Information: Calories: 122, protein: 4g, fat: 2g, carbohydrates: 27g, fiber: 3g, sodium: 331mg, cholesterol: 0mg

Ingredients

1/2 cup diced Golden Delicious apple 

1/3 cup apple juice

1/3 cup water

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/3 cup quick cooking oats (of your choosing)

Instructions:

1. In small pot, combine apple, apple juice, water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt (if desired); heat to boiling. Stir in oats and cook 1 minute. Cover and let stand two minutes before serving.

2. Enjoy!

Paula Solano is a Master in Public Health student at Baylor University and certified Community Health Worker who is volunteering at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. A Waco native, she is passionate about serving her community, particularly underserved and underrepresented residents. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Forum to focus on Waco’s water future

By Melissa Mullins

Waco and the suburbs and rural areas in McLennan County are home to about 250,000 people. Our tap water comes from water sources such as Lake Waco and the Trinity Aquifer. Visitors contribute to our tourist economy and may experience the Brazos River downtown. Manufacturing and agriculture are both strong economic sectors for Greater Waco and depend on water. In fact, access to water and sanitation can be considered one of the most basic and fundamental human rights, no matter where you are in the world.

Although water may be a basic human right, here in the U.S. we can point to many examples involving water that demonstrate unfair treatment and access for people in our society. Exposure to lead contamination in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, in 2014 among mostly low-income and minority populations represents one of the best known recent examples of water-related environmental racism in our country. 

Hurricane after hurricane in recent years, from Katrina to Harvey to most recently Laura, have shown that flooding disproportionately harms black neighborhoods, and the impacts of floods can exacerbate existing racial and social inequality. And, federal disaster money is not distributed fairly following disasters.

Here in Waco, we have fortunately not experienced a drinking water catastrophe like Flint, and we are too far inland to have major impacts from hurricanes. Many organizations are involved in planning to make sure that all water users in our community have water. However, population growth is expected to continue, and changes in the timing and intensity of precipitation events, flooding, droughts, and extreme heat are likely to be a part of future climate conditions. We may experience changes in water quantity and quality, as well as declining water infrastructure (such as dams, pipes, and treatment facilities).  

Our priorities in 2020 have, rightly, been centered on the global coronavirus pandemic, and you may be thinking that issues like water planning can take a backseat. But this year has only highlighted the fact that impacts from the pandemic, like climate impacts and other environmental impacts, are not fair and are not felt equally by all people.  

Deaths from COVID19 are much higher among people of color than among whites, and for many, COVID19 has increased the sense that environmental racism and climate change are inextricably linked. The Black Lives Matter movement has named environmental conditions as one of their top concerns for 2020, and 2020 saw a relaunch of the National Black Environmental Justice Network. Water issues are not only environmental issues, they are part of the larger context of our current social and economic realities.

Talking about issues like water, the environment, climate, justice, and economic inequalities can be difficult. How can we all come to the table and engage around these issues in our community? 

This summer, the Mayborn Museum and the Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research at Baylor University received input via surveys and online meetings from people in the Waco community regarding their concerns about water in the future. As an outcome, the Just Waco Waters Forum will be hosted by Mayborn Museum online 4-6 p.m. Sept 10, and you are invited.

The Just Waco Waters Forum has a great line-up of speakers including the Rev. Vernon K. Walker, with Communities Responding to Extreme Weather in the Boston area, as well as local speakers.

Participants will work in small, facilitated groups to voice their thoughts on what we can do to prepare for Waco’s future water challenges. You can register here – space is limited, but all residents of Waco and McLennan County are welcome.

Melissa Mullins is a water educator with the Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research at Baylor University. Along with a partner from the Mayborn Museum, she is a fellow in the pilot program of the 2020 Public Interest Technology Community Innovation Fellowship.  The program trains science-engagement professionals to collaborate with local civic, government, and university partners to engage the public on issues that matter to their local communities.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

State launches enhanced postpartum care services

NEWS RELEASE

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced today the launch of HTW Plus, enhanced postpartum care services for eligible women enrolled in the Healthy Texas Women program. Beginning Sept. 1, about 90,000 HTW clients will automatically receive this new postpartum care coverage for up to 12 months. 

While all women in HTW have access to screening, diagnosis, and medication to treat postpartum depression, women with HTW Plus coverage will also be able to receive outpatient individual, family, and group psychotherapy services, as well as peer specialist services.

HTW Plus will provide physical health, mental health, and substance use disorder services that address asthma, diabetes, hypertension, certain cardiovascular conditions, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders including postpartum depression, and substance use disorders including drug, alcohol, and tobacco use.

Approximately 90,000 postpartum women enrolled in Healthy Texas Women on average each month will be covered by HTW Plus and have access to expanded postpartum care services for up to 12 months after the date of enrollment in the Healthy Texas Women program.

HHSC will issue new HTW Plus pink cards and an updated information packet to women eligible for the new service package. 

In 2019, SB 750 directed HHSC to evaluate postpartum care services provided to women enrolled in HTW after the first 60 days of the postpartum period and develop a postpartum care services package for women enrolled in HTW. 

HHSC contracted with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler and The University of Texas System Population Health to conduct an evaluation of services used by women in the Medicaid for Pregnant Women program in comparison to the Healthy Texas Women program. Additionally, findings from the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee informed the HTW Plus service package.

The evaluation focused on services related to the major health conditions recognized as contributing to maternal morbidity and mortality in Texas—common cardiovascular conditions, substance use disorders, mental health conditions, and certain chronic health conditions.

Covered services include:

  • Cardiovascular imaging and laboratory studies, blood pressure monitoring equipment, and antihypertensive, anticoagulant, and antiplatelet medications
  • Diabetes management services including labs, additional injectable insulin options, blood glucose testing supplies, and voice-integrated glucometers for women with diabetes who are visually impaired
  • Asthma medications and supplies
  • Psychotherapy and peer specialist services for postpartum depression and other mental health conditions
  • Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT); medication assisted treatment (MAT); and peer specialist services for the management of substance use disorders
  • Tobacco cessation drugs

About Healthy Texas Women 
The Healthy Texas Women program provides family planning services and other women’s health services that contribute to preconception care and better birth outcomes. The program provides a wide variety of women’s health and core family planning services, including contraception, cancer screenings and pregnancy testing. In Fiscal Year 2019, about 279,000 women on average each month were enrolled in the Healthy Texas Women program.

Meeting Insights: Waco City Council Meeting – 09/01/20

By Jeffrey Vitarius

(Civic meetings happen in Waco every week – city council, school board, planning commission, and countless others.  Decisions from these meetings affect our lives every day.  Many of us are curious about these meetings, but to be honest, it’s just too hard to decipher the jargon and figure out what’s going on and why it’s important.  Act Locally Waco is trying something new in August! Jeffrey Vitarius follows civic meetings for his work and out of personal interest.  Each week in August he will pick a meeting in our community and highlight one or two items from the agenda to translate from “government-ese” into language we can all understand.  We’re calling the series “Meeting Insights.” Let us know what you think! If you enjoy it, we will try to keep it going!  — ALW )

The Waco City Council meets every other Tuesday. The work session starts at 3:00, that is where most of the explanation and discussion happens.  The business session is at 6:00, that is when the council takes action (votes).  The public is invited to attend either or both of these sessions, although, for the time being due to COVID-19, that attendance is virtual through the Waco City Cable Channel (WCCC.TV/live) with public comments sent in ahead of time. Today we will highlighting Public Hearing Agenda item 2…the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District.

Meeting Basics 

  • Work Session – 3:00 pm / Business Session – 6:00pm
  • To watch the live stream click here (City of Waco Cable Channel, wccc.tv)
  • For the full agenda click here
  • For the meeting packet with the documents pertinent to the meeting click here. Quick note on page numbers: the numbers I will be referring to below are the “packet page numbers” found on the bottom right corner of each page of the meeting packet. These do not always match the number of the page in the pdf. One neat aspect of the packets the city builds for city council meetings is that you can click on the agenda item on the agenda page of the packet and it will take you directly to the relevant materials. 
  • Details on how to provide public comment are listed in the agenda

What’s in a PID? – the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District

Public Hearing Agenda Item 2 – PH-2020-584 Conduct a public hearing and consider an ordinance approving and adopting an updated Service and Assessment Plan, including the Assessment Roll, for providing improvements and/or services in Waco Public Improvement District Number One during Fiscal Year 2020-21. FIRST READING

Two weeks ago we took a look at the Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) and its service and assessment plan. This week, the service and assessment plan of an entirely different kind of Public Improvement District (PID) is on the City Council agenda.

As I explained in the previous post, a PID allows for the collection of an assessment (more on that below) in a certain geographic area to provide additional services to the property owners in that area. The downtown PID focuses on providing additional services to Downtown Waco. Let’s jump into how the PID is funded and what services it provides. (Full disclosure, I spend a substantial portion of my day job administering and managing some of the programs of the Downtown Waco PID so I may be a little biased.) 

Every property within the PID (there is a handy map below) pays an extra $0.10 per $100 of property value to the PID. This is the “assessment.” These assessments are pooled together to pay for services that benefit Downtown Waco collectively. The service and assessment plan describes the services the PID will provide in a given year. The service and assessment plan for 2021 can be found on pages 47-61 of the meeting packet.

The services the PID provides to Downtown Waco fall into a few different categories. This list is not everything the PID does, but it should give you a pretty good idea:

Clean and Safe – This is the biggest one it is generally over 50% of the budget each year and basically boils down to keeping the public areas of Downtown…well…clean and safe. This can look like landscaping services, using lasers to chase birds out of trees, washing away bird droppings, and painting over graffiti. It also includes a reporting service, which is actually a person whose name is Dave. You can find him riding around Downtown in the Clean and Safe Team golf cart making sure issues are taken care of. If you happen to see him you should say “hi” (socially distant and masked of course), he is a pretty friendly guy. 

Beautification – From time to time the PID funds efforts to make Downtown even more inviting than it already is. If you noticed the red bows along Austin Avenue and Elm Avenue last holiday season, those were a PID project.  The banners identifying the different “districts” of Downtown are a PID project. The PID has also been one of the funders for ARTprenticeship, which has created murals on the Brotherwell building on Bridge Street and along Jackson Avenue between 2nd Street and University Parks

Marketing – The PID operates a website and social media accounts that give Downtown Waco a voice, elevate the efforts of all the folks that make up Downtown, and encourage others to visit. You can find the website (downtownwacotx.com) and you may want to follow the social media (Downtown Waco) to find out the latest about what is going on Downtown.

Programming – The PID has historically supported the Waco Wonderland event. The PID also looks for interesting and innovative ways to encourage or support other kinds of programming that make Downtown Waco an interesting place to visit time and time again. 

Looking through the services, one general theme is that the offerings are for the benefit of all of Downtown. Each of the property owners benefit from Downtown being clean, beautiful, marketed and full of events. The reason for a PID like this is to provide these services that are best accomplished collectively by all the property owners together. 

In terms of process, the property owners provide input on these services through the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District Advisory Board (or PID Board). This board is made up of representatives of at least 50% of the taxable area and at least 50% of the taxable value within the PID. Each year, they review and recommend the service and assessment plan that is then sent to City Council for final approval. As you now know, it’s on the agenda this week. The property owners and other stakeholders also assist the PID by sitting on a variety of committees that oversee different service areas. Most of the day-to-day work is carried out by City Center Waco (where I am employed) and its contractors. This is just one of City Center Waco’s functions, but that is a topic for a different day. 

Over the last five weeks we have touched on a number of topics and board/committees/councils. I thought it might be a good idea to tie them all together with a single example. Let’s say you think it would be a good idea to build a hotel in Downtown Waco. The property you are looking at has recently become much more attractive now that trains will no longer be blaring their horns thanks to the TIF. Perhaps the property is not zoned to allow for a hotel, so you file for a zoning change that ends up before the plan commission. Perhaps you seek TIF funding for some portion of your project. If all goes right, a handful of years down the line you end up with a properly zoned, mostly quiet, fully functional hotel. Each year your guests pay 2% of their room charges to fund the TPID that markets Waco’s hotels across the United States. Meanwhile, you, the property owner, pay $0.10 per $100 towards keeping your part of town clean, safe, beautiful, marketed and programmed. All the while, some portion of the taxes you pay to the City, County, Community College, and School District end up back in the TIF paying for further improvements and developments.

Thanks for coming along with me over the last month. I have appreciated the opportunity to take a closer look at the beautiful, complicated, and ever developing world that is Waco and its public meetings. I hope this has been helpful to you and encourages you to zoom in on whatever local topic sparks your interest. I plan to keep this going as long as I can and I have a few additions (hopefully) taking form in the back of mind. See you again next week. 

Other Interesting (to me) Items From the Agenda

  • A presentation on the Bridge Street project is scheduled for the work session. This is another project CIty Center Waco has been working on and should be interesting.  
  • Budget Watch – we are nearing the end of the budget process. Here is a brief review of how we got here:
    • July 21st – city staff talked through preliminary budget projections with City Council
    • August 4th – City Council discussed the tax rate and set the public hearing for this week (we talked about the tax rates here)
    • August 25th – City Council voted on a resolution to establish when they would take a final vote on the tax rate
    • September 1st – there is a public hearing on the budget followed by two votes. The first will approve the budget and the second will authorize City Manager to spend (formerly expend) certain portions of that budget. This allows City management to pursue certain standard expenses (think payroll and benefits) without having to come back to City Council.
  • There are two resolutions and one ordinance related to the movement of Texas Meter and Device Company from Downtown Waco to a site to be purchased from the Waco Industrial Foundation. This is related to that potential high rise development that might be under consideration for the former Texas Meter and Device Company location. This is an interesting look at the various tools in the City’s economic development tool kit. 

Jeffrey Vitarius has been actively local since early 2017. He lives in Sanger Heights with partner (JD) and his son (Callahan). He helped found Waco Pride Network and now serves as that organization’s treasurer and Pride Planning Chair. Jeffrey works at City Center Waco where he helps keep Downtown Waco clean, safe, and vibrant. He is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and graduated from Baylor in 2011.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.