Four Palo Pinto County officials took the podium Friday to speak at the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Community event.

Mineral Wells ISD Assistant Superintendent David Tarver highlighted programs and new opportunities occurring at each campus.

Tarver started by discussing a technology platform that students have available in the library where students can access e-books throughout the summer.

“They can continue to make those advances in their reading levels through the summer,” he said. “Some kids are really close to taking those next steps and we want them to keep progressing.”

MWISD is now one-to-one with technology and Tarver gave the example of a 4-year-old student that was able to go to the library, build a project, take a photo of it using an application and submit it to their teacher for a grade.

“The biggest thing about our school district that we hold as very valuable to us is that we are not a school district separate from our community. It’s a whole team effort and we have great partnerships in our community — one of them is Head Start,” he said. “We work with [the community], they share funding with us, they provide staffing for us, we provide the housing of the classrooms and teacher in the classroom, and some of our supplies, and we work together to educate that classroom.”

Houston Elementary is implementing a program called Houston Heroes where important figures in the community, like first responders, can come to the school and build relationships with students.

“The Travis campus is in the process of completing the hire of a bilingual teacher that will complete our bilingual program from the bottom, kindergarten, all the way up to sixth grade,” Tarver said. “It’s a state requirement, but there are very few schools around us that are capable of fulfilling that requirement. We are going to be a proud school district to have this in place and our kids will benefit.”

At the junior high, Tarver said a testing program has allowed the school to track students’ success throughout the year. The program matches closely with STAAR and has been showing positive results even with the COVID-19 interruptions.

He added that eighth graders will soon have an opportunity to take a careers course.

“They are going to be looking for members of the community to come in and speak to these kids and talk about their careers — talk about their choices, things that are out there for them and things they can do to reach those objectives to be a part of that career,” Tarver said. “They’re also going to plan on taking trips to universities, junior colleges, technical schools, exposing them to what’s out there, which is a great thing. “

Tarver highlighted a few things happening at Mineral Wells High School, which includes a UIL events course that can be taken during the school day to be more inclusive and help students that are unable to stay after the end of the day.

The school board and district are also moving through the process of constructing a new ag barn that will be on the grounds of the high school, which will not only be more convenient and allow for more participation, but will also increase instructional opportunities with its location.

“We have a drone program that many schools around us don’t have. It is off the ground and running, no pun intended, but we just had our very first competition,” Tarver said. “What made it a success is the partnerships that were created to make it happen and the businesses in the community that supply so many things — the materials, the supplies needed. The kids were able to take these projects they had built back to the community and either use them or sell them.”

Palo Pinto General Hospital

Ross Korkmas, CEO of Palo Pinto General Hospital, discussed new hires and services that have or will be implemented down the road.

Korkmas said PPGH had a great year for position recruitment and was able to improve patient care partnering with Access Physicians out of Dallas.

“They provide us 24/7 tele-pulmonary and tele-critical care and you can imagine how important that became during the time of COVID when you had all of the ICU beds full and 50-plus patients in the hospital,” he said. “They were a God-send during a time like that.”

Korkmas said the hospital is continuing to look at technology as a ways to bring specialists closer to Palo Pinto County.

“One thing I’m very proud of is a program we’re starting called Palo Pinto Cares for Kids and we will put telemedicine units in all of the schools,” he said. “We’re working through the process of getting that going. We’re making sure that kids have access to care and that they have access to quality care, so we’re very excited about that.”

PPGH is looking to broaden services to help cut down travel and wait times for the community.

“Hospitals are aimed to take care of inpatients. Well now so much of the business is outpatient services — lab, radiology, outpatient surgeries — so looking at how we expand that,” he said. “We want compassionate care, safe care, but people are also looking for convenience and making sure there’s ease of access to that.”

With the need of mental health services, Korkmas said PPGH now has tele-psychiatry and is looking to expand on that.

“We continued to invest in our facility throughout COVID,” he said. “If you slow down, if you don’t keep pushing forward, you’ll get left in the dust.”

Palo Pinto County

County Judge Shane Long went over growth in the county with a focus on taxes as well as sales tax revenue increases.

“We’re doing replats like crazy. We’re seeing subdivisions go in all over the county and sometimes those don’t necessarily mean growth, that means property is selling and so you’ll see how that goes as to how much that really increases the population of the county,” he said. “There’s no question about it — we’re seeing these properties breaking up, old families having this generation selling it and we’re going to see that growth.”

Long said the growth is a little exciting but presents challenges, specifically with water. But he said he believes there will be a solution in that.

As for taxes, Long said he gets calls daily about it.

“I do know if go down the street there’s property selling for $80,000 an acre and I know not too long ago there was property that sold for $110,000 an acre and so here’s the short answer: Quit selling the property,” he said. “I don’t really mean that, I’m just saying that’s the short answer. If you’re going to make a bundle off the property you’re selling, guess what’s going to happen to the value of the property? It’s going to go up.”

Ending on two positives, Long said he firmly believes the county will drop its tax rate due to the appraisal values and that sales tax revenue is at an all-time high.

“There was more revenue in sales tax during COVID than any other year,” he said, adding that the county found out people were coming from the cities and staying in Palo Pinto County.

“We realized that some of these people were not only staying the weekend, they were just staying and so they were shopping in our stores and buying our products,” Long said.

City of Mineral Wells

Mineral Wells City Manager Randy Criswell highlighted development in the city, saying when it comes to financial stability Mineral Wells has kept its AA- rating.

“That is really about as good as it gets for a city the size of Mineral Wells,” he said. “During COVID nobody really knew what was going to happen to our economy and [Fitch Ratings, a credit rating agency] kept our rating at AA- and they told me that there’s something about Mineral Wells that’s intangible with its ability to remain strong financially, no matter what has happened in our history.

“That really struck me as something and that’s really remarkable.”

The city’s sales tax revenue increased 5% total last year, which is something Criswell said he didn’t anticipate with the pandemic.

Criswell said development has been increasing over the years, going from two residential, single-family developments in 2016 to 14 in 2020 and 13 so far this year.

“We have a project that we have developed a master plan for that was paid for by the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and that project could result in 470 single-family lots and I believe it’s going to happen,” he said. “We have a lot of things to attract development in Mineral Wells.”

He added that the city has been negotiating with a manufacturing company that guaranteed there would be at least 40 full-time jobs.

“Not cheap paying job, good paying jobs,” Criswell said. “There are a lot of pots on the stove that are cooking that you don’t see.”

Criswell also highlighted what’s coming for the Mineral Wells Regional Airport.

“One thing that I’m really excited about is our airport. We will have an agreement with a company that will, I believe, take our Mineral Wells Regional Airport further into progress and revenue and success than we could have ever imagined,” he said. “We’re going to capitalize on that.”

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