An inclusive playground that will provide access to all children, including those with disabilities, should come to Southside Park before the year’s end.
A ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday signaled the next step forward for the project, which is now under construction. The playground will include features to increase accessibility for children of all abilities, said Amanda Storer, Tyler Area AMBUCS president and Southside Park project coordinator.
“The ground surfacing is accessible for, not only wheelchairs, but people who have difficulty walking on a normal, typical grassy surface,” she said.
Several Tyler parks already have accessible equipment, but it’s limited, she said.
“They may have a swing that is accessible for those with special needs or a play panel that you can roll a wheelchair up to, but nothing of this scope and magnitude that is accessible (and) fully all-inclusive,” she said.
Once completed, the playground will be the first of its kind in East Texas, with every aspect accessible for all children, Storer said.
“It’s really a hallmark for our area to have something of this nature,” she said.
Tyler Area AMBUCS approached the city six years ago with the idea for the playground, but started to make the most progress in the past two years with the help of then-Councilman John Nix, Storer said.
The playground has been funded by donations and with money from the Half-Cent Sales Tax Fund. While construction is underway, there are plans to add features if more donations are received, including a barrier around the playground.
The target date for completion is September or October.
“We want people to stay tuned, keep up to date,” Storer said. “We’re going to attempt to have a community build, and hopefully the weather will cooperate to where the community can come out and have some ownership over this playground.”
Parents are their child’s first teachers, and a Tyler Independent School District summer program is helping equip families with fun ideas for at-home learning.
Each elementary school in the district is hosting free Teaching Together Family workshops with activities to help parents gain skills ranging from building vocabulary to building trust and cooperation.
Parents and children learned new ways to make reading exciting with the Making Books Come Alive workshop at Rice Elementary School on Tuesday.
“It’s about family engagement,” kindergarten teacher Gina Birdsong said. “Getting them here and showing (parents) how to engage with their child through literacy.”
Several stations were set up in the library. One had miniature beach balls with “who, what, when, where and why” written on them. The goal was for parents to toss their child the ball at various points in the story, encouraging them to ask questions based on the “W” the ball landed on.
Another station featured craft activities students could do while following along with their book.
“We’re trying to build their vocabulary,” Birdsong said. “A lot of kids in pre-K or (kindergarten) don’t know how to ask those questions.”
The events help stress the impact of 15 minutes of reading time each day.
“You just need 15 minutes of sit-down, eye contact and just giving them 100 percent. It’s hard these days; parents get home and they have so much to do,” she said. “That 15 minutes is crucial; it helps build confidence, character and vocabulary.”
Candace James said she was looking for a fun summer activity to do with her son Aiden, who is heading into first grade this fall.
“There’s so much distraction, that you have to make (reading together) an active part of your life in order to continue good literacy practices,” James said.
She said she would encourage other parents to attend because the events are great opportunities to learn with your child.
Birdsong said building vocabulary from an early age is an important part of every child’s development.
“When you build vocabulary with your child it helps them communicate,” she said. “They need that lingo to help converse with their peers.”
To find the next Teaching Together Family event, visit your child’s campus website at TylerISD.org.
Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said Tuesday he is recommending a tax rate increase to fund law enforcement needs, even though he is not recommending the sheriff’s office get everything it asked for this year.
Moran outlined just over $1.2 million he is recommending for law enforcement and said an increase from 33.7311 cents per $100 of property value to 34.5 cents would generate roughly that amount.
He also cited an analysis, saying he does not think keeping the tax rate level is a workable plan. He said another option would be to take money out of a general fund reserve balance, which is similar to the county’s savings account.
However, Moran said he prefers to pay for continuing expenses with continuing revenue sources. He said pulling money out of the savings account to pay for ongoing law enforcement needs would create an issue in the long run.
“I am dedicated to that investment in law enforcement,” Moran said. “I think that is a high priority for this year’s budget. That is something that I want to stand by and stand behind and make sure happens.”
He made the comments during a budget discussion as part of the Smith County Commissioners Court meeting. He said there would be additional discussions at meetings July 9 and 23 before the commissioners court recommends a budget July 31.
Moran also invited members of the commissioners court to give their views on the budget. “Citizens deserve a very thorough examination of the direction we’re heading and a very thorough explanation of why we’re headed in that direction.”
“It’s not an easy decision here,” Commissioner Cary Nix said.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said the county is among the fastest-growing in the state. He pointed to the Austin area, where he said the government likely will never catch up with its growth.
“To spend your savings every year in hope that you get to replenish it, ultimately is going to catch you, whether you’re at home or in the government,” Warr said. “It’s not prudent.”
County Auditor Ann Wilson said choosing a higher tax rate without relying wholly on reserves would allow the county to continue to grow while improving services.
Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said, “Most of my (constituent) complaints are about road and bridge, and we’ve made a commitment to road and bridge issues, take care of those issues, and I think we should stick with that. I really do.”
Warr agreed that he also gets many inquiries about roads.
“I want to keep it as low as we possibly can — that’s the bottom line,” Warr said. However, he said people in elected office can’t get their way all the time, and need to do the best they can in given situations.
“But at some point in this county’s life, we have got to raise our taxes and do the things that we’ve been elected to do, make the hard decisions, and I don’t think we should cut the sheriff’s department,” Hampton said.
“They probably need more,” she said. “It’s true. But let’s give them what we can give them this year and see how it goes. Get some productivity, some performance from the sheriff’s department on how they’re doing and how to quantify what they’re asking for.”
Nix added: “We’re not doing wants here. These are needs.”
Warr said a shrinking county would need to spend less money, but that’s not the case now.
“Every time you see my party pat themselves on the back for exempting more classes of people, be it veterans or veterans’ families —this affects your local government, and that means the people who are paying are going to be paying more, so just keep that in mind as you elect people in Austin.”
“When you talk about discretionary items, it gets pretty small,” he said. “Most of them are mandated, and mandated by Austin.”
Wilson reiterated that it’s ideal to not spend too much money from the reserves. She also said the county recently had its bond rating upgraded by the agency Moody’s, in part because of a healthy reserve balance.
“If you continue to pull out of your reserves, you’re going to downgrade that, and you don’t want to downgrade your credit rating because you’re going to need it again, and it establishes where you are fiscally sound,” Wilson said.
Moran also pledged transparency in the budget process.
“I doubt any other governmental entity has gone further in their transparency on the budgeting process than we have this year or in past years, and I want to applaud you because I know this court is more interested in sound fiscal policy and not sound-bite fiscal policy.
“And a lot of governmental entities get caught up with sound-bite fiscal policy,” he said. “That is not the intent of this body, nor is it the intent of the county judge.”
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The 12th Court of Appeals has granted a new punishment trial for a Bulverde man who was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the 2016 death of a Tyler woman.
According to the recently released opinion, the appellate court ordered that the judgment pertaining to punishment be reversed and the cause be remanded to the trial court for a new punishment trial.
A Smith County jury found James Fulton, 43, guilty Dec. 1, 2017, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison for killing Haile Dawn Beasley in 2016. The jury also determined Fulton used a deadly weapon, his Dodge Ram pickup, to commit the crime when he drove into oncoming traffic, slamming into Beasley’s Ford Focus on Grande Boulevard.
In April, Fulton’s lawyers asked the 12th Court of Appeals to consider the state’s evidence insufficient in demonstrating criminal negligence and what they called ineffective counsel at trial. His attorneys insist Fulton’s conduct was not a gross deviation from societal norms nor did it constitute serious blameworthy conduct.
Fulton’s attorneys raised three issues on appeal, according to court documents.The first issue Fulton’s lawyers addressed was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict.
“He argues that his actions on the night of the collision were not a gross deviation from an ordinary person’s standard of care, which is required to sustain a conviction for criminally negligent homicide,” the opinion reads.
Fulton’s attorneys also presented evidence that Fulton’s trial lawyer provided ineffective assistance during the punishment phase of trial because the lawyer failed to impeach one of the state’s witnesses.
The document said Fulton’s appeal attorneys demonstrated reasonable probability the results of the punishment hearing would have been different had Fulton’s trial attorney impeached the witness.
In a third issue, Fulton’s attorneys claimed the trial court erred when it didn’t allow Fulton to question a juror about potential bias after learning the juror was related to a state’s witness.
“We overrule Appellant’s first and third issues, and sustain his second issue,” the document reads. “Having sustained his second issue, we reverse the trial court’s judgment pertaining to punishment, and remand the case to the trial court for a new punishment trial.”
Fulton remains in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Daniel Unit in Snyder, according to TDCJ offender information details.