GUEST VIEW: Solution oriented, governance over politics

By Ector County Judge Dustin Fawcett

Two of my favorite concepts that I developed in my run for County Judge were that I ran as a “solution-oriented Republican” and that we will prioritize good governance over petty politics. I am proud to relay to you, the Ector County Taxpayer, that Tuesday’s Commissioners Court exemplifies both of these concepts and why they are good for our community.

We had three agenda items that have been relatively hotly discussed and certainly impactful for our community. I believe our discussion, intentions, and actions on these three items show that we are laser-focused on good governance as a Commissioners Court.

The first of these is our passing, by a 3-2 vote (Aye- Gardner, Hall, Fawcett; Nay- Simmons, Stringer), an interlocal agreement with the city of Odessa to split sales tax outside of city limits in the County Assistance District. I am proud to say that we have now sent a signal to developers, entrepreneurs, and business owners throughout our community, state, and nation, that Ector County is open for business. Furthermore, Ector County and the City of Odessa are working together and are pro-business, pro-growth, and pro-cooperation for the betterment of our community.

This hot-button issue has gone on in a stalemate manner for years since the passing of the assistance district with both sides holding firm with no agreement in sight. Understanding that we were limiting growth and development of our community for commercial businesses, I knew we had to prioritize a compromise.

What we came up with is a three-part plan. The first is that all properties that are currently collecting sales tax in the district will continue to do so, meaning they will never be split or given to the city. This means that these funds ($32 million in collection this past year) will continue to go to the county where we will continue to fund our Sheriff’s Department operations, Environmental Enforcement operations, and roadway construction.

The second is that we have compromised on a 50-50 split on the newly annexed property’s sales tax (places where land is currently undeveloped). This is beneficial to both parties as the city needs these funds to cover fire, police, water, sewer, and every other utility that property tax alone cannot cover. Without these sales tax funds, the city would be looking at having to increase property tax rates in order to offset any new annexations- a proposition that I don’t believe many Odessans would favor. On the county side, it means that we will receive 50% of sales tax towards a project that otherwise never would have come outside of city limits. Without city services, many commercial developers will simply never come. This means we would forever be landlocked by undeveloped land that all entities collect very little property tax on. As I often say, 50% of something (plus increases in property tax levies for ECISD, OC, MCH, Odessa, and Ector County) is much better than 100% of nothing.

The third major provision is that any time we have a developer wishing to partake in this agreement, we will take them on a case-by-case basis. Meaning, we will still have the ability of a sliding scale should the developer require more resources from either entity, rather than being locked in. Therefore, this agreement is a good foundation, but is not permanent and restrictive.

The second agenda item we took on was a tax-abatement for a battery energy storage facility on a ten-acre tract near Goldsmith. This otherwise vacant land will now turn into a $180 million investment by Samsung. Our program was a unique one in that we went with a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (P.I.L.O.T),

meaning that we will receive over $200,000 annually from the company while also being able to receive benefits when it comes to tax rate calculations and taxable values during budget time. This investment towards the facility will bring $2 million to the county over 10 years as well as $15 million to ECISD and significant funds to the other taxing entities. Politics almost outran governance on this one a few months back when it was voted down (4-1) due to what I believe was confusion because “renewables” was in the name and a belief that this is a solar project, which it is not. Thankfully, good governance won the day yesterday in a unanimous vote to grant the abatement and P.I.L.O.T. which will allow tax dollars to begin flowing in soon without a single expenditure from any taxing entity, meaning less burden on homeowners in Ector County.

Lastly, we had a discussion about the Ector County Utility District (ECUD) and the Commissioners Court’s role in oversight of the entity. As mentioned, our concern is far from political and instead entirely on the governance of the entity. Citizens being locked out of public meetings, not holding elections in accordance with statute, over-collecting on a bond issuance, and not reporting boundaries to their oversight agency (TCEQ) for over 30 years (to name a few) are certainly all valid concerns that the constituents brought to the court. Our job as a court was not to adjudicate whether these are legal or illegal actions at this time; instead, our job was to identify whether or not there was something we had the statutory authority or obligation to take action on.

We understand arguments that the Ector County Commissioners Court did create ECUD in 1976, but at this time we do not feel without proper legal opinions that we should act, yet.

In order to receive ultimate clarity, we will be asking official opinions of both the Secretary of State’s Office on the election side of the discussion and the Office of the Attorney General on the remaining questions regarding governance and authority.

I am proud of the direction our Commissioners Court is heading and the thoughtful approach we take towards decisions that effect both the present and the future of our county. Working with the city of Odessa, focusing on economic development, and ensuring accountability of government for taxpayers are three issues that I campaigned on working to improve during my term in this office, and I hope you see that we have been successful.

Solution-oriented. Governance over politics. Do the right thing. These are the blueprints I will continue to bring to Ector County.

God Bless Ector County and Merry Christmas!