Financial empowerment key to raising the tide to lift all boats

By Suzii Paynter March

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” Unfortunately, local economies are not oceans. Growing a local economy takes initiative, persistent effort, focused strategy, time, investment, and genuinely hard work.

The Greater Waco area has been a beneficiary of City, County, and private investment to bring new opportunities to fruition. But new growth in one sector does not lift all boats. Complementary initiative, investment, focused strategy, and genuinely hard work are also needed to build up the tools of our community for financial empowerment – so that there is a rising tide for all boats.

In 2019, the City of Waco was selected to participate in the second cohort of cities to receive a CityStart grant from the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund. The CityStart initiative offered a structured approach for stakeholders to understand the current state of financial security needs in Waco and craft a City of Waco Financial Empowerment Blueprint for success. (See Blueprint below.)

The groundwork has been laid through preparation, hard work, and collaboration. This Blueprint report provides a tangible road map for future action.

Echoing the culture of collaboration and cooperation in Waco, this report combines the knowledge from CFE Fund experts, City of Waco goals, input from local stakeholders, and the needs of the community to create an actionable plan for immediate use.

What is financial empowerment? The CFE Fund categorizes financial empowerment efforts in seven categories. Waco is on the road, but we have some important work to do to be stronger in each area :

  • Asset Building: saving for the future and being able to weather financial shocks and setbacks. For example, increasing home ownership builds assets.
  • Banking Access: having access to safe, affordable checking and savings accounts to be part of the financial mainstream. Keep earnings secure by saving.
  • Consumer Financial Protection: Being protected from and keeping assets safe from predatory practices.
  • Financial Education and Counseling: supporting household financial security with professional financial counseling and coaching; often integrated with social services.
  • Small Business Development and Financing: providing space, education, and lending to support the creation of a healthy and diverse small business ecosystem. For example, providing a directory of minority owned businesses and contractors.
  • Workforce Development and Support: providing skills, education, and support (through goods and services) designed to elevate the workforce, build new skills to meet demands, and retain talent in the Waco area.
  • CDFI-Designated Organizations: using their Community Development Financial Institution certification to continue lending in low-income areas and using CDFI status to promote financial security and partner with other small business resources.

What does financial security mean in Waco? Not only does a city’s financial security significantly increase with the presence of the seven components listed in financial empowerment, but they must also work and intertwine in a harmonious way to support through continuous and mutually reinforcing activities.

Economic development is incomplete without an investment in and strategies for financial empowerment that are tailored to our community. The City of Waco Financial Empowerment Blueprint is a roadmap for the journey.
Prosper Waco is working with partners for greater financial empowerment including American Bank, Alliance Bank, ExtraCo Bank, First National Bank of Central Texas, McCif ( a new CDFI), City of Waco leadership, the chambers of commerce, Start Up Waco, Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, Grassroots Community Development, Habitat for Humanity, NeighborWorks, and UpSkill Waco.

Financial empowerment complements economic development and requires investment with intention. Waco can benefit from practical changes – we can have a rising tide that will lift all boats.


Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Our city wants your input on spending Rescue Plan funds

The City of Waco is receiving $34.7 million in federal COVID relief funds, and city leaders want community input on how to spend a portion of the funds.

Waco received $17.4 million in June from the American Rescue Plan and will receive a second payment next year for a total of $34.7 million.

“The City of Waco intends to use $15 million … for municipal purposes including improvements to infrastructure for Water, Wastewater, and WMARSS as well as for other infrastructure resiliency and backup projects,” says the City’s website.

The city plan also has set aside $17 million to provide direct assistance to households and businesses. The exact use of these funds will be determined based on community feedback using the Balancing Act Tool.

Council Member Kelly Palmer said: “The data collected from the tool will shape how we invest these funds in our communities. … The city will be gathering this data through the end of September.”

English Balancing Act Tool

Spanish Balancing Act Tool

The Balancing Act Tool allows you to allocate the $17 million to various categories of funding utilizing the available funds set aside for these purposes. “If you do not see any area in simulator, please add in your suggestions.” 

The American Rescue Plan Act is the $1.9 trillion act signed into law March 11 by President Biden. The Act contained direct relief to citizens, including the $1,400 stimulus checks received earlier this year, and $350 billion for eligible state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency created by the spread of COVID-19. This latter portion is providing the funds now available to Waco.

Waco cemetery project earns Texas Historical Commission Award

From the City of Waco Public Information Office

The Texas Historical Commission presented a THC Preservation Award of Merit to the First Street Cemetery Memorial Advisory Committee during the City of Waco Council Meeting Tuesday, Aug. 3.  

The First Street Cemetery committee members Annette Jones (retired, City of Waco assistant city attorney), Nesta Anderson (archaeologist, principal investigator), and Melanie Nichols (archaeologist) were granted the Award of Merit for their significant contributions in historic preservation and public outreach through documentation of the First Street Cemetery project. Formal presentation of the award was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The First Street Cemetery, the oldest public cemetery in Waco, is south of the Brazos River and east of Interstate 35. After the 1960s construction of I-35, the City developed plans for a Texas Ranger Museum and campground, and a court order was issued in 1968 to disinter human remains within the proposed construction space to another portion of the cemetery. 

However, in 2007, during construction of the Texas Ranger Company Headquarters building, it was discovered that human remains were still located in the area covered by the 1968 court order. As a result, the City, the National Park Service, THC, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation executed a Memorandum of Agreement for the mitigation of adverse impacts to historical property and to remove the land use restrictions. 

The Committee, consisting of sixteen community members, served between 2013 and 2018; it was formed and tasked with making recommendations to the City Council on the reburial of the remains, appropriate memorial services, plaques, and memorials to be erected at First Street and the reburial site. The Committee carefully took into consideration the community’s input and consistently provided thoughtful feedback for the many decisions to be made regarding reburials.  

The THC and the City of Waco recognize the commitment of the Committee and these additional individuals to ensure a positive outcome for the impacts at First Street Cemetery and commend the example they provide for future cemetery projects. 

The THC’s Award of Merit recognizes the efforts and/or contributions of an individual or organization involved in preserving Texas’ cultural and historical resources. This award recognizes the efforts and/or contributions of an individual or organization involved in preserving Texas’ cultural and historical resources. 

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco Lions Park poised for revitalization with community support

By City of Waco staff

The City of Waco, Lions Park Trust Board, and many community partners are pleased to announce the revitalization of Waco’s beloved treasure, Lions Park, at 1716 N. 42nd St. John Tipton, immediate past president of the Waco Founder Lion’s Club and a member of the Lions Park Trust Board, said they are interested in a larger partnership that will allow for planning, revitalization, and most importantly, a continuation of this special park venue for children.

“We are grateful for our patrons, volunteers, and the entire community’s support of Lions Park over the years and look forward to the next phase in partnership with the City of Waco and other community organizations. The future of Lions Park is bright,” said Tipton.

According to City Manager Bradley Ford, while the park will temporarily close to undergo a strategic planning and rebuilding process, the City of Waco anticipates committing $2 million to ensure the brightest future for Lions Park.

Lions Park was established in 1952 by the Waco Lions as a unique and popular place for children. Volunteers and community organizations, such as the Junior League of Waco, have donated hundreds of hours and resources to the park.

“Lions Park is a unique place for families to gather, and I’m excited we have the opportunity to reimagine this park so it continues to be the community asset it has been for nearly 70 years,” said Mayor Dillon Meek. “Our community remains deeply grateful to the Waco Lions for building and maintaining this unique family treasure over the years. I also want to assure the children of Waco that while adults will be involved in the planning process, we will certainly include our young people for help with the design and amenity selection. After all, this park is for the children of our community.”

In 2018, Waco Foundation convened a group of partners interested in the park and ultimately commissioned a survey receiving more than 2,000 responses. Results of the survey were overwhelmingly positive when asked about the park’s value to the community. Additionally, many indicated a desire to support the park by donating time, money, and input.    

“The survey allowed us to better understand how the community feels about Lions Park,” said McLennan County Judge Scott Felton. “It is crystal clear that the park is not only a valued place for entertainment but a true gathering spot for families across Waco that spans generations. I am just one of many grandfathers who brought my children and grandchildren to the park for a one-of-a-kind experience in McLennan County. Now we have the chance to revitalize this community asset to make sure Wacoans now and into the future will be able to enjoy everything it has to offer.”

Activities at the nearby BASE facility will complement the park and enhance visitor and resident experience. Wes Allison, president and CEO of Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo, is interested in the future of the park, as well. “As our neighboring campus continues to expand with new facilities like the BASE at Extraco Events Center, it is really helpful to know how important Lions Park is to our community. The HOT Fair & Rodeo has wide-ranging experience with family entertainment and attractions, and so we will look for ways to partner and provide our expertise in future plans.”

The immediate future of Lions Park includes continued meetings of community partners, site plans, and community fundraising. All plans will be designed to preserve the Waco Lions’ intent and the final project will remain affordable and relevant for Waco families.

Community members interested in learning more, receiving updates, and potentially contributing to the future of the park should sign up for updates at

Community partners that participated in initial convening:

  • Waco Lions International
  • Waco Foundation
  • Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo
  • Junior League of Waco
  • McLennan County
  • City of Waco
  • Waco City Council
  • United Waco
  • Waco City Council
  • United Way of Waco-McLennan County
  • Rotary Club of Waco
  • Baylor University
  • Waco Parks and Recreation 

Virtual public meeting to discuss Bus Rapid Transit project

By Serena M. Stevenson

Waco Transit System (WTS) is set to complete the preliminary engineering and environmental review process for the proposed 13-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. Completing this process advances the development of Waco’s first BRT project to provide safe, reliable, and efficient transit service.

Over the last 10 months, WTS and its consultant have been refining the BRT station design and conducting evaluations to confirm the location for 14 proposed BRT stations. As part of this process, WTS continues to seek public input to help inform the project.

Community members are invited to participate in a live virtual public meeting that will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 17, to learn about the BRT project and share feedback. During this meeting the project team will present the final recommendations for the station locations, provide an update on the station design, and share details about next steps.

In light of restrictions on public gatherings, this public meeting is being offered online and via phone, rather than in-person. Visit to access the online link and/or phone ID.

The information that will be presented during this live virtual meeting and a recording of the meeting will be made available online at

Community members interested in providing feedback to help inform the BRT project are encouraged to call the project comment line at 844-922-6278; email the project at [email protected]; and/or complete the online feedback form available at The public comment period for this phase of this project will close Friday, July 2.

About the Waco BRT Project: The proposed 13-mile BRT project that is in development would provide buses every 15-minutes during peak service hours, including extended service hours to 10 p.m. and service on Sundays to offer safe, reliable, and efficient transit service. The purpose for implementing BRT service in Waco is to offer residents enhanced mobility and to provide improved access to jobs, medical and social services, and educational facilities. The proposed BRT route would also provide better and more efficient transfers to other routes operated by Waco Transit System. The BRT project is now at the next phase in the development process which involves preliminary engineering and an environmental review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. For more information about the Waco BRT project, visit the project webpage at

Serena M. Stevenson is general manager of Waco Transit System.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco’s ‘4th on the Brazos’ returning this year

By Megan Davis

The City of Waco’s annual “4th on the Brazos” celebration is set to return Sunday, July 4, at Touchdown Alley, next to Baylor University’s McLane Stadium. Admission is free, and the community is invited to enjoy the festivities with food trucks, live music, family fun, and fireworks.

Gates will open at 6 p.m., and the fireworks will kick off at about 9:15 p.m. The fireworks will be shot above the river, between Touchdown Alley and the Ferrell Center. They will be visible from both sides of the river, the Ferrell Center, and areas around Baylor campus.

Bag check stations will be located at all entrances. Coolers with drinks and snacks are allowed, but glass bottles and containers are prohibited. Extra hand washing stations will be located throughout the grounds, and guests are encouraged to practice social distancing.

Additional details, including an event schedule and artist announcement, will be available soon. For updates, visit or follow Brazos Nights on Facebook or Instagram.

Megan Davis works the City of Waco’s Parks and Recreation Department.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Drinking Water Week: Water there when you need it

Drinking Water Week offers consumers an opportunity to recognize the hardworking people performing various roles ensuring tap water is “There When You Need It.” Drinking Water Week is May 2-8.

The City of Waco and partners throughout North America are observing Drinking Water Week by recognizing the vital role tap water plays in daily life, the infrastructure that is required to carry it to and from homes and businesses, and the important work of water professionals “behind the scenes.”

The City of Waco Water Utility Services Department’s staff of 150 water professionals is proud to serve the Waco community, ensuring the continuous delivery of safe, high quality drinking water to all customers.

Whether an engineer designing a capital project, an operator ensuring the safety and quality of drinking water, or a member of a pipe crew maintaining the infrastructure in our community, water professionals work around the clock to ensure tap water is there when you need it.

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to make evident the hard work performed by the people in the water sector,” said American Water Works Association CEO David LaFrance. “The work they are performing throughout the pandemic, often sacrificing time with their family, is nothing short of heroic. I am proud to be associated with them.”

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been proud of our employees here at the City of Waco,” said City Manager, Bradley Ford. “Particularly during the recent winter storm, Water Utility Services staff did an incredible job, working day and night in extreme circumstances, to keep our water system functioning. That work will be remembered for years to come.”

To commemorate the week, water utilities, water organizations, government entities, environmental advocates, schools, and others throughout North America and beyond encourage consumers to learn more about the importance of water and water infrastructure, especially in times of crisis.

About Drinking Water Week

For several decades, AWWA and its members have celebrated Drinking Water Week, a unique opportunity for both water professionals and the communities they serve to join in recognizing the vital role water plays in daily lives. Free materials for download and additional information about Drinking Water Week are available on the Drinking Water Week webpage.

Waco hires new assistant city manager

City of Waco News Release

Waco City Manager Bradley Ford announces the hiring of Lisa Blackmon as assistant city manager. Blackmon currently serves as acting city manager in Manteca, Calif. She will relocate to Texas along with her husband, Michael, and two sons and is expected to start in this role by mid-June.

Lisa Blackmon

The management team was intentional about finding someone with the experience to lead the city’s organization-wide efforts on outstanding customer experience and customer service. Blackmon stood out to the Waco team based on her years of experience managing customer service driven businesses, such as wineries and high-end restaurants in the Napa Valley. She transitioned to municipal work in 2011 and has worked for the cities of Napa and Manteca. Blackmon has served in a variety of local government roles such as assistant city manager, deputy director of emergency services, director of legislative services, and deputy city clerk/assistant public information officer.

Ford said: “Lisa really stood apart in the search process with her unique background and combination of experience in both local government administration and the hospitality and tourism industry. I believe she will bring a creative, thoughtful, and responsive approach to leading Waco’s tourism and quality of life focused departments. I am excited for her and her family to join us in Waco.”

Blackmon said: “I learned about this position on a trip to visit family in Waco, and I really fell in love with the city and all it has to offer. There are so many great things happening in Waco, and I am looking forward to joining the team and driving forward customer service and overall local and visitor experiences within the city.”

The City of Waco organization is excited to welcome Lisa to Waco. She will oversee the city’s tourism and quality-of-life focused departments: Parks and Recreation, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco Regional Airport, te Waco Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, and Cameron Park Zoo.

City of Waco responds to winter weather

By City of Waco Public Information


Citizens are encouraged to please stay off the roads, conserve energy and be safe!  Protect your family (pets included), pipes and plants.


The following City facilities and operations will be closed through Wednesday, February 17th. We’ll update with changes as soon as they are made available.

Cameron Park Zoo, Cottonwood Creek Golf Course, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, all branches of the Waco-McLennan County Library, Waco Mammoth National Monument, all community centers (except identified Warming Centers) Cobbs Recycling Center will be closed Wednesday and then evaluated for future opening.


The City has warming centers currently open at locations around town for residents without power to get warm.

You may stay overnight if needed, COVID-19 restrictions will be in place (masks required), power is currently available, but there is a possibility of power outage at any point. Please bring your own snacks, blankets and warm clothes as needed.

Please drive safely and share with those who may need it – more locations to be evaluated.

·         South Waco Community Center (2815 Speight)

·         Highland Baptist Church (3014 Maple Avenue)

·         Dewey Community Center (925 N. 9th Street)

·         St. Alban’s Episcopal Church (enter from 2900 W Waco Drive)


Waco Transit System is providing rides to warming centers for those in need. Please call (254) 405-4247 and they will make arrangements to pick you up safely. Available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (warming centers only, please).


Solid Waste Services has made the decision to cancel residential & commercial collection for Wednesday (2/17). We are evaluating when we’ll make up missed collection days and appreciate your patience. We will notify through our Waco Curbside App and post all updates.  DOWNLOAD THE APP — For immediate alerts affecting your household trash service, download the Waco Curbside Services App available on Google Play and Apple App Store.


Persons who missed their appointments to receive the COVID vaccine last week and those who are due for their second dose are being called to be given an appointment for this Friday and Saturday.  After those are scheduled we will contact those in the 1A and 1B phases of the DSHS directive who are signed up on our waitlist.  We hope to hear about our next shipment of vaccines soon.  When we do, we will continue scheduling from the waitlist.  

COVID Testing

The Texas Department of Emergency Management has closed public COVID testing sites until February 18, 2021.

Urgent Need to Conserve Energy

Demand for electricity continues to be at unprecedented levels. Conservation efforts are extremely important during this historic winter storm as it continues.  All residents and businesses should to continue to conserve energy to help maintain service for our most critical human needs customers.

Conservation Efforts:

  • Lower your thermostat to at least 68 degrees.
  • Businesses should minimize energy usage as much as possible.
  • Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees.
  • Never use an oven or a gas stovetop to heat your home.
  • Unplug electronic devices and turn off lights that are not in use.
  • Reduce shower time and avoid baths.
  • Refrain from using large appliances like your washer, dryer, oven, and dishwasher for the next few days.
  • When in use, limit opening the oven door to prevent wasted energy.
  • Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning.
  • Avoid using your natural gas fireplace, if possible.
  • If you have a pool, do not use the pool heater. Instead, run your pool pump during the coldest part of the day to circulate the water and prevent freezing.


PUBLIC WORKS: Street/ Traffic

·         Treat dark intersections without signage as four-way stops.

·         Due to outages on various traffic signals, road conditions, and long-term nature of the event, some lights will be in red flash around town when lights malfunction.

·         Streets remains on-call all and will continue to be.

·         Supervisors have been monitoring bridges and street segments routinely and will continue.

·         Trucks and crews are working around the clock to sand Waco streets.


·         Fixed routes and Para-transit services are suspended.

Municipal Court

·         Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Solid Waste

·         Trash collection for residential and commercial customers is cancelled through Wednesday as we evaluate when to continue and make up the days missed.

·         Cobb’s Recycling Center is closed on Wednesday.

·         The Landfill remains open with limited staffing.

Water Utility Services

·         Staff is expecting an increase in water line breaks and an increase in calls for emergency shut-offs because of broken private plumbing lines. Staff is ready to respond to the changing conditions by bringing in additional crews and call center staff as needed.

Parks & Recreation

·         Tree crew on standby to address issues for any trees affected by the weather.

Development Services

·         Inspection staff will contact anyone whose inspection will need to be rescheduled.

·         Inspectors will be on call for any emergency inspections needed for gas/power reconnects/hookups.

Additional Information and Resources

·         Information on outages – ONCOR

·         Report an outage -or- call 888.313.4747

·         Please do not travel, but if you must here are some tips from TXDOT for winter travel and driving safety:

·         To report a dangerous road condition please call the non-emergency dispatch line 254-750-7500

·         To report a water main break or loss of water you can call 254-299-2489. If the issue is due to frozen or busted pipes at your house, please call a plumber.

City manager recommending veteran Houston Assistant Chief Sheryl Victorian as Waco’s next police chief

By City of Waco Staff

Waco City Manager Bradley Ford announced Monday he is recommending Sheryl Victorian to be the city’s next Chief of Police. Victorian served for 27 years in the Houston Police Department rising to the rank of Assistant Chief. The recommendation goes to the city council on Tuesday, Feb. 16.  If approved, Victorian will be Waco’s first female and first Black police chief.

“The search for a new chief took five months and included 43 applications from candidates in 17 states,” said City Manager Bradley Ford. “Sheryl’s depth of hands-on management experience, her educational background and her support for innovative programs all stood out.”  Ford adds, “Sheryl shared our community’s vision for a leader who embraces continuous improvement, community policing and a commitment to serving and protecting all of our citizens.”

Victorian was one of four finalists for the position. The interview process included input from the city staff as well as community shareholder panels.

Victorian earned a doctorate degree in Administration of Justice from Texas Southern University and holds a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from The University of Houston and a bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs, also from Texas Southern University. 

She began her law enforcement career as a police cadet in Houston in 1993. As she rose through the ranks of the department, Victorian served in or supervised virtually every major unit giving her a wide range of experience and expertise including extensive work undercover.

Victorian is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and numerous nationally recognized leadership programs. She holds a Texas Master Peace Officer’s license and has received numerous awards and commendations over her career with Houston PD.

“It is a privilege and honor to have my name forwarded to the city council,” said Victorian. “Maintaining the trust of the community, adopting and improving our department to meet the changing needs and demands of policing and keeping our officers and citizens safe are my objectives from day one if council approves my selection,” said Victorian. “It would be an honor to lead the department and I look forward to working proactively to keep Waco a great community to work, live and raise a family.”

The Waco Police Association was represented in the evaluation process by President, Ken Reeves. When notified of the recommendation, Reeves said “The Waco Police Association is happy to welcome its new Chief, Sheryl Victorian. Her reputation for fair and experienced leadership is well known within her current Department. We are eager to see what her vision will bring to the Waco Police Department and our community.”

If confirmed by the Waco City Council on February 16,  Victorian will start as Waco chief in early March.