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Pine Cove founder Bill McKenzie dies

The founder of a beloved East Texas Christian summer camp has died.

Bill “Red Baron” McKenzie died Tuesday morning, according to a news release from Pine Cove Christian Camp.

McKenzie felt the calling to create the camp in 1963 while standing on his father’s land. That property would become Pine Cove. What began as two 20-bed cabins on 7 acres of land grew it into 12 camps in Texas and South Carolina, proclaiming the Gospel to more than 1 1/2 million people over the last six decades.

About Bill McKenzie

McKenzie was born in 1930 and grew up in East Texas. While serving as a volunteer youth leader at his church in Fort Worth, he often would invite his students to his family’s land south of Tyler. In 1964, after a day spent fishing on the lake with three of his friends, McKenzie asked his father for some land and built the two 20-bed cabins, McKenzie told the Tyler Morning Telegraph in a 2017 interview.

With 200 acres from his family and a borrowed $150,000, he formed Pine Cove Christian Camp, which hosted its first campers in 1968.

“There’s a reason I called my book ‘Live for What Outlives You,’” McKenzie said in that 2017 interview. “I never wanted to run Pine Cove, so I made it something separate from myself.”

He served as chairman of the board for eight years and as a board member for 40 years. Late in life, he said he enjoyed visiting the camps as often as possible and offering big-picture advice on the ministry he created long ago.

Pine Cove has grown exponentially since its inception. The first camp hosted 367 boys and girls.

Now, it hosts more than 40,000 kids each summer, and an equal number of churches, retreat groups and conferences through 86 events over the rest of the year, according to the organization.

The camps draw more than 1,800 counselors from colleges across America and the rest of the world.

Grace Classical offers flexibility for families with home school hybrid campus

More families than ever are taking advantage of the opportunity to customize their children’s education with a hybrid program through Grace Community School.

Dozens of students arrived for the first day of class at Grace Community Classical School, which allows parents to blend home school with on-site classes two days per week.

The school, now in its third year, offers parents the flexibility and control of home school with the benefits of attending Grace, including the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. Students benefit from a full day of instruction on Tuesdays and Thursday, and parents continue with curriculum at home the rest of the week.

For parent Leslie Moore, the classical campus allows her to adjust her work schedule to fit the classes and spend more time together as a family. One of the biggest selling points was being able to keep her fifth grade triplets within the Grace Community School system when moving them to home school this year.

“We’re just happy to be here and thanking God for this opportunity in our community,” she said. “We’re still part of the overall Grace family and I think it’s wonderful that grace is offering a more traditional school.”

Headmaster Jay Ferguson said many families are making the same decision as the Moores.

“One of the things that’s interesting about this is that we thought it was primarily going to be a partnership with the home school community,” Ferguson said. “It’s not just home school families; it’s families who want more flexibility with their kids.”

Ferguson said parents are excited to still get the high quality curriculum, while also lending an individual focus to students.

“Younger families like to be able to customize and individualize the education of their children,” he said. “We’re excited to be able to continue our mission of teaching Jesus, and doing it in a new context.”

Co-Principal Kayla Foreman said that for many students, this hybrid format is less stressful and gives them the attention they need to thrive.

“I think they’ve experienced the right amount of academic growth and it’s less stressful for them,” she said. “Families like the margin that it gets them in their life to be home with family more. It also is a way for families to have a really great Christian classical education with a little more affordability.”

Foreman said the teachers also benefit from all of the same professional development and resources that Grace staff have at their disposal.

“We couldn’t do this without that infrastructure,” she said. “It provides a lot of benefits for our teachers.”

Aside from Tuesday and Thursday classes, students can get more math tutoring on Wednesdays and families arrange field trips throughout the year.


City of Tyler to hold first public hearing on increasing tax rate on Wednesday

The Tyler City Council will hold its first public hearing Wednesday on increasing the tax rate.

The City Council is going through the public portion of the process for adopting the tax rate on 2019 property values and the corresponding fiscal year 2020 budget.

The City Council meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 212 N. Bonner Ave., will include the first public hearing. The next hearing will be in the same time and place on Sept. 11.

City Manager Ed Broussard has proposed to the City Council a budget that increases the property tax rate by about 1.5 cents per $100 of property valuation.

If approved, the property tax rate would go from 24.4452 cents per $100 of property value to 25.99 cents, which is slightly below the rollback rate, the point at which voters could seek an election to roll back the tax rate.

One cent of the proposed increase would go to a fund for street repair that was established with a tax increase a couple years ago.

Other priorities in the fiscal year 2020 budget, which starts Oct. 1, include hiring more police officers and firefighters and replacing gear for first responders.

The proposed budget also increases fees for garbage pickup, recycling and municipal water services, which are funded separately, as if they were their own stand-alone businesses.

Mayor Martin Heines has expressed6support for the proposed budget and tax rate, citing the need to leave a legacy of financial stability as he prepares to leave office.

“The city of Tyler continues to grow. With the passage of Senate Bill 2 and the limitations it imposes upon cities to raise revenue, this year’s budget is designed to mitigate the city of Tyler’s sales tax risk for future years,” Heines said in a news release Aug. 14.

“This budget doubles the permanent funding source for street maintenance, funds public safety personnel that are critical to the growing needs of Tyler, and creates a rainy day account specifically for public safety funding for future declining sales tax years,” Heines said.

If approved, the owner of a $150,000 home in Tyler would pay city property taxes of just under $390 per year, or just under $33 per month. The change would translate to an increase of just over $23 per year.



Smith County officials raise property tax rate to 34.5 cents

Smith County officials have voted to raise the property tax rate by about three-quarters of a cent, the second year in a row they have approved an increase.

The Smith County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 at its Tuesday meeting to raise the property tax rate from 33.7311 cents per $100 of 2018 property value to 34.5 cents on 2019 values.

The rate will increase tax revenue by $4.6 million over the previous year, including about $1.8 million from new property, and the rest from increased appraisals on existing property.

The Commissioners Court also voted to approve the corresponding fiscal year 2020 budget, which calls for increases in several areas, including the sheriff’s office, information technology and employee pay, among other things.

The only amendment to the budget since the Commissioners Court proposed it last month was to increase the Smith County treasurer’s pay another roughly $2,000, as recommended by a grievance committee.

The Commissioners Court’s approval of the increased tax rate came despite opposition from residents, the Greater Tyler Association of Realtors and Grassroots America-We the People political action committee.

The sole opposing vote came from Commissioner Terry Phillips, who said the county could meet its needs without raising taxes.

“These appraisal increases are a tax increase to our citizens and we’re strapping that to their back and there’s no reason that this county cannot live on that (appraisal value) increase,” Phillips said.

“And I would agree with some of them (who say) it’s not really fair to say we’re doing it because of law enforcement and all that,” Phillips said. “We still could have met the needs of the sheriff’s department, I think.”

Commissioner Cary Nix said this is the first time in almost a decade he has voted for a tax rate increase that was not voter approved, but he has weighed the county’s options for paying for recurring expenses.

Last year, the Commissioners Court raised the property tax rate specifically to pay for debt service on a $39.5 million road bond that voters approved in November 2017.

“Recurring costs are our core responsibilities,” Nix said. “These are funding the courts, law enforcement and infrastructure. Additionally, there are other costs that should be funded with recurring revenue.

“It’s not prudent, or good business, to think we can pay these costs out of our reserve funds year after year,” he said. “Our estimated reserve fund is going to be about 26.5% in 2020, with our policy set at 25%.

“In the past few years, this court has done a good job of drawing this fund down so that we didn’t have to raise taxes,” he said. “This year alone, we have moved $5.3 million in reserves for capital improvements, fleet purchases and other expenditures.”

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton thanked County Judge Nathaniel Moran.

“I want everyone to know, It’s hard to make a decision to raise anybody’s taxes,” Hampton said. “We pay those same taxes as everybody else pays.

“This county has been very prudent,” Hampton said. “I’ve been on this court nearly 16 years and we only raise taxes when we have to and have no choice.

“We have obligations out there (like the) courthouse, indigent population, safety, roads and bridges,” she said. “All of that comes from the budget that we have.”

Commissioner Jeff Warr said during the meeting that his precinct — which includes Flint, Gresham and Noonday — is growing rapidly and the county needs to keep up with the communities.

“This budget will continue to provide funds for needed road infrastructure and help meet our needs for public safety, which are the two core responsibilities for any government,” Warr said in a prepared statement. “We do this while continuing our commitment to have one of the lowest tax rates in the entire state of Texas.”

Moran repeated his view that the budget increases the tax rate to pay for ongoing expenses, and makes capital purchases from the county’s reserves, which his similar to a savings account.

The capital expenditures include about $1 million for information technology equipment; $800,000 for new vehicles; $400,000 for a new jail generator; and $500,000 for a contingency fund.

Moran said if those capital expenditures were paid with the tax rate, it would be about 3 cents higher per $100 of property valuation.

He said the property tax revenue is going to additional money for the Road and Bridge Department. He said that would make sure that roads are not in the same level of disrepair as they were leading up to the 2017 road bond vote.

He said the public hearings where people spoke out against the property tax rate increase have helped the county address what appropriate tax policy should look like.

“If I propose a really low tax rate but I’m using the money inappropriately, you need to call me on it,” Moran said. “If I’ve got the tax rate set way too high and I’m using the money inappropriately, you need to call me on it.”