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Smith County officials look at joining new regional veterans campus

Smith County officials are looking at becoming involved with a new regional veterans campus on Front Street called CampV.

The campus, which is run by a nonprofit organization and is scheduled to open in November, is seeking to become a one-stop shop for veterans in East Texas.

In December, stakeholders in CampV asked the Smith County Commissioners Court to relocate the county’s Veterans Service Office from East Ferguson Street to the new campus on Chandler Highway and pay rent to fund the project.

At a kickoff event in May, nine organizations including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Andrews Center had committed to being on the campus. At the time, the Commissioners Court had not yet decided whether to participate.

At a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said he would like to have one existing employee from the Veterans Services Office located on the new campus, and pay rent of about $10,000 per year.

“My thought was, let’s have a physical presence out there every day,” Moran said. Alternatively, he said the county could place one employee on the campus two or three days a week, depending on what is needed.

“A lot of veterans currently know where our physical location is here, and so we certainly would not want to move the whole office overnight,” Moran said. He said this could be the beginning of a natural transition of the Veterans Services Office.

“As a natural transition over a number of years, if that’s where it grew to, and we saw that’s where the need was, then our goal is to meet the needs of the veterans,” Moran said.

“And if it makes financial sense and if it makes service sense, value to the citizens, but right now there’s no plan to see that,” he said. “We’re going to see how naturally it all pans out.”

Commissioner Jeff Warr pointed to the department’s 2013 move to the existing Veterans Service Office on East Ferguson Street from the Cotton Belt Building on Front Street.

“As this takes hold, a future court may evaluate the services may be better served out there,” Warr said. “It was disruptive when we moved from the Cotton Belt out here, so I think transitioning in is a good idea because people are used to coming here now.”

Commissioner Terry Phillips said he was impressed with the project when he visited the campus in May, and that the price tag on Moran’s proposal is a small price to pay to serve veterans.

Bob Turner, who sits on the advisory board for CampV, spoke to the Commissioners Court about the project. He said the intention is to increase convenience for veterans, not cause confusion.

“We want to be that place where if you don’t know where else to go, come here,” Turner said. “And if we need to get you back to the county, we’ll get you back to the county.”

The Commissioners Court did not take a vote on the issue, but Moran said he is proposing to earmark about $10,000 in the fiscal year 2020 budget, which begins Oct. 1, to pay rent at the facility.



Splasher cooler than ever
City of Tyler officially opens Splasher the dolphin splash pad in Bergfeld Park

With squeals of delight, children enjoyed the newly renovated splash pad at Bergfeld Park under the watchful eye of Splasher the dolphin.

City officials, donors and other community members gathered Tuesday to formally open the public water feature.

Splasher’s presence at the park dates back to the 1960s. A citywide contest in 1968 garnered 300-plus entries, with Splasher selected as the winning name. Originally, the dolphin functioned as a fountain, but over time fell into disrepair due to children’s play, heat, snow and ice.

An initial renovation took place in 2005 when local Rotarians invested in the repair of the splash pad to coincide with the organization’s 100th anniversary.

This time around Rotarians again stepped up to the plate to raise money and the refurbishment was completed with 100% private funding. Private donors are recognized on a plaque near the feature.

Splasher the dolphin has been moved to one side of the splash pad, which offers multiple fountains. The expanded water feature is set farther back from Broadway Avenue and serves as a gateway to the amphitheater. Pressing a button on the ground activates the splash pad for 15 minutes.

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper

Tyler City Council to consider downtown revitalization grant program

The city of Tyler is looking at revamping a downtown revitalization grant program that has not been in use since 2015.

The program seeks to enhance buildings in the area between Gentry Parkway on the north, Front Street on the south, Palace Avenue on the west and Beckham Avenue on the east.

The Tyler City Council will hear a presentation on the program and consider opening the program to applications. The meeting is at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Tyler City Hall, 212 N. Bonner Ave.

Under the program, companies can apply for grants to reimburse up to half the cost of a $10,000 project, according to a memo to the City Council from City Manager Ed Broussard. There is $45,000 in funding for the program, the memo says.

The grant can be awarded to property owners who begin approved construction within 60 days of the grant award and complete it within 180 days, the memo says.

Projects can include exterior facade upgrades, accessibility improvements, repair or replacement of exterior signage and lighting, historic reconstruction and certain code upgrades, among other things.

Separately, the City Council passed a resolution July 10 endorsing the city’s application for a federal grant related to downtown revitalization.

Additionally, Smith County, a major owner of downtown property, has hired Fitzpatrick Architects for an assessment related to building needs.



Smith County delays consideration of contract with Kofile for records preservation

The Smith County judge says approval of a potential $6 million contract related to records preservation will be delayed until money can be appropriated.

Nathaniel Moran said Tuesday that the Commissioners Court would not vote on a contract with the Dallas-based company Kofile that was on the meeting agenda.

The Commissioners Court heard a presentation on the issue July 14, when the company proposed to preserve certain records and potentially place them in disaster-safe binders.

At the time, the company said it would hold the company’s proposed $6 million price on a contract, a 20 percent discount from a higher price, if the contract was entered into by the end of July.

The $6 million the county would spend is money that already has been set aside in a state-mandated preservation fund for this purpose. The state requires a portion of fees paid in the filing of certain court records and other documents such as birth and death records and marriage licenses to be set aside for records preservation.

Moran said at the time he had not put the item on the agenda as a contract approval because the money, which is in an existing fund, had not been approved to be spent as part of the fiscal year 2020 budget.

While he said he intended to spend the money, he also said he did not want to rush a contract in July when the county’s budget is still under consideration, and work would not start until Oct. 1.

“We’re going to put this off until after the budget is approved so that we have not entered into a contract without money being appropriated,” Moran said Tuesday.

“They’ve already committed to hold that 20 percent discount,” Moran said. “We’ll bring this back to you at a later time.”

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield