Collin County Politics: Governments Serve People

July 20, 2021

Commissioners Court: Duncan Webb was absent and this was the second consecutive meeting Chris Hill missed. Given his high salary, he should at least show up for these short meetings. The last few meetings have been under 30 minutes, with most of the time taken up by public speakers. The commissioners just received the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in June, are presenting on the budget in August, and are dealing with ongoing situations at the jail yet their last several meetings have been brief. This seems unwise.

The commissioners also should be (but probably aren’t) monitoring the increasing cases of Covid. An average of 81 cases per day was reported in Collin County, which is a 55% increase from the average two weeks ago. It’s going to get even worse. With about 42% of Texans fully vaccinated and the highly contagious delta variant spreading like wildfire, the percentage of Covid cases is climbing. As of this weekend, Texas’ positivity rate is over 10% — a level that Governor Abbott identified as a red flag earlier in the pandemic. As such, our commissioners should be planning for how they’re going to keep us safe but you know they aren’t. We, as always, are on our own.

Murphy Chief of Police Arthur Cotten was appointed to the Lifepath Board. From all reports, Chief Cotten is an exemplary officer and wrote a paper on the mental health issues facing law enforcement. But do we really need another law enforcement officer on the board? We already have two (the same number as we do women members). Unless Chief Cotten is replacing one of the other two officers, his presence means 30% of the board is law enforcement. It’s hard to say who he’s replacing, of course, due to the lack of transparency of the Commissioner’s Court.

All members of county boards and commissions are appointed by the commissioners. Chris Hill apparently won’t appoint anyone who isn’t a Republican. This means we likely have a lot of people serving whose backgrounds are in finance and law enforcement although this information is difficult to get. Believe me, I’ve tried. For some boards, the limited range of professional expertise isn’t a problem although I question whether having the same people serve for years is sensible or fair.

For Lifepath though, the entity responsible for providing mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment for Collin County, it absolutely matters who’s on the board. Law enforcement provides a certain perspective as do those responsible for the budgetary requirements of running a non-profit. However, we need people with significant training and education in mental health to provide program development, raise community awareness, and manage treatment. I fear we’re not getting that.

Soapbox Alert: The United States doesn’t adequately pay mental healthcare providers but we absolutely must do it. Counseling is challenging and delicate work. There never have been enough counselors nationally or locally but lately, it’s gotten even worse. A number of mental health professionals quit during the pandemic as the caseloads were overwhelming and unusually difficult. Many of us are laboring under significant student debt for work that pays minimally well. That’s especially true for those employed by community agencies like Lifepath. I have no knowledge about what they pay their counselors but I can guarantee their salaries are low. This is unacceptable, especially since we’re one of the richest counties in the state. But it all depends on what you value. In 2018, County Administrator Bill Bilyeu was making $286,000 per year. His salary is 636% higher than average and 645% higher than the median salary in Collin County.

McKinney City Council: The city was given over $11 million in June from ARPA. This means that, in combination with other federal grants, including CARES Act money, McKinney has received over $60 million. They spent over $22 million, on things like small business grants, PPE, medical equipment, building upgrades, telework assistance, public safety equipment, airport assistance (including repairs), operating assistance and preventative maintenance for transit programs, decontamination systems for the police department, and reimbursing revenue for EMS COVID patients who were unable to pay.

The city council is trying to figure out how to spend the remaining $38 million. Proposals put forward by city staff included a $2.9 million revenue replacement for the APEX Center and replenishing the $150,000 loss suffered by the McKinney Performing Arts Center. Three major East McKinney infrastructure projects were suggested and an additional amount was proposed for City Hall infrastructure. There also was a $1 million project for fiber expansion to City parks and the Square. Active and future City Improvement Projects (CIP) requests included money for public water and wastewater infrastructure, broadband infrastructure, and drainage and stormwater projects. These last projects would offset otherwise required revenue bonds.

While ARPA monies can only be spent on public property rather than individuals (although they can put it toward specific programs that help individuals, like childcare, tutoring, and school improvements), CARES Act money can go toward individual projects. Toward that end, Beth Bentley (who is awesome) encouraged the council to enhance the current 2040 Plan and honor the legacies of the East Side communities by using funds for repair and rehabilitation of the communities in the Mill District. The waiting list is years deep and residents have simply stopped applying. People make do with holes in the floor, snakes in their houses, and a poor quality of life. She asked for a Call to Action to use the $23 to $30 million opportunity for investment in the community. This seems like a good idea.

To illustrate Ms. Bentley’s point, Zeta White spoke to the council to let them know that her house is falling down, is unlivable, and doesn’t have a decent bathroom. She’s been on the waiting list for a home repair program for 15 years. After the meeting, city and council members got involved and repairs are being made on Ms. White’s home. While I’m delighted for her, what about all the other people whose homes may be in the same condition? This is a larger issue that needs to be addressed by the city although Frederick Frazier seems to believe it can be fixed by individuals. He said more families need to get involved to help work on the east side.

Justin Beller, one of the two new council members, inquired about using the remaining CARES Act money for rent assistance and grants. He gave his support for the money to be spent on home repair and other areas that would assist homeownership. He then asked if we have bonding capability for the CIP projects so that the city doesn’t have to use this one-time money for these infrastructure projects (we do). I so appreciate a council member who fights for the people.

Comments 3

  1. Frederick Frasier and Rainey Rogers really don’t want anyone living in McKinney who can’t afford a $300,000 house.
    They are prone to racist dog whistles when it comes to approving apartment complexes. You should’ve heard them recently when it came to a project the mayor called “workforce” housing (with somewhat lower than average rents due to tax incentives I didn’t understand). They wanted to call it “Section 8” housing, which it isn’t, and so what if it was? Heaven forbid anyone who works in a lower-income job in McKinney could afford to live here!

    1. Yes, I’ve been impressed by how knowledgeable Beller is, every time I hear him speak at a City Council meeting.

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