Breckenridge Texan

Major changes on the horizon for Stephens County government

Major changes on the horizon for Stephens County government
December 06
17:33 2017

County Judge Gary Fuller and county commissioners D. C. “Button” Sikes and Rickie Carr confirmed Wednesday during an interview with the Breckenridge Texan that they will retire following the end of their current terms in 2018.

Fuller, who was first elected in 1994 and will have served as county judge 24 years when his term ends in 2018, said he’s ready to retire and has no plans to seek any other public offices in the future.

“I’ll be 66 in January next year, and I want to do something in my own life,” he said. “I love my job, love my people and have a good time. After I was sick three years ago, I just decided I wanted to do something else, go see some things.”

Fuller said that during his tenure as county judge some of the commissioners court’s biggest accomplishments were building the county’s new Law Enforcement Center and Jail, adding on the new emergency room to Stephens Memorial Hospital and getting the Stephens County Memorial Hospital District established.

He also said the conservative financial approach the commissioners court took balancing the budget during the recent financial downturn was an accomplishment. Fuller said plummeting oil prices and decreased tax revenue in the past couple of years caused the worst economic downturn he’s faced since being elected as county judge. However, he said, because of decisions the court made he believes they are leaving the county budget in good shape.

“We’ve cut our budget down about $1.8 million in the past four years. I just think that’s pretty much an accomplishment, to have been in the economic decline we’ve been in,” Fuller said. “We have no indebtedness other than the jail. And there’s only three or four years left after I go out and it will be paid for. We also have an A-plus credit rating.”

Fuller also credits county employees and the sacrifices they’ve made in recent years in helping the county navigate budget shortfalls.

“It’s not just me, it’s everybody in the county,” he said.  “Like giving raises. We haven’t given raises in four years. These people that work up here are dedicated. They don’t expect a raise when they know the county can’t afford it.”

Despite the recent financial challenges faced by the local community recently, Fuller said he thinks there’s starting to be an upswing in the local economy and it’s time for him to leave.

“I just think it’s the right time for me to go. After my last year, I will have been here 24 years. It’s time to pass the baton to somebody else and wish them the best of luck,” he said. “I imagine I’ll just take care of the cows on the place and just enjoy living.”

Like Fuller, Precinct 4 Commissioner Rickie Carr said he too feels like it’s time to retire and let somebody else take over. “They’ll have new ideas and fresher ideas and all that,” he said “Of course, the money will be same because you get the same budget, nearly all the time.”

He agreed with Fuller that they are leaving the county in good financial shape and attributed much of that success to the sacrifices and cuts county employees and departments have made during the recent downturns, such as no raises for employees during the past four years.

“We haven’t bought any equipment, and we don’t buy any excess, anything we don’t need,” Carr said.  “Just keep within our budget and try to keep the county running on what we’re budgeted every year. The only indebtedness we’ll have is that jail for another 3 or 4 or 5 years.”

As for his successor, he said he doesn’t know what their biggest challenge will be except just trying to stay within the budget every year, trying to provide the services they can with the money they’ll have.

Carr said he plans to retire and enjoy life, work on the music business and maybe travel. “It’s time for somebody else younger with fresher ideas to get in here,” he said. “I’ll have 16 years in next December; it’s time for somebody younger that can handle the situation and not be so stressed. The older you get, the more stressful it is. You know how that goes.”

For Precinct 2 Commissioner D. C. “Button” Sikes, the longest serving commissioner on the court who first took office in January 1979, 40 years is enough.

“My health is not is as good it has been; my back giving me lots of trouble,” he said. “I just need to get out and let somebody a little younger step in. There’s going to be some good men running. Any of them that gets elected will do a good job.”

During his long tenure, Sikes has seen a lot of changes. He said biggest change he’s seen since he took office was how much the price of everything has escalated. He said when he was first elected, the county could purchase a new road grader for around $60,000 and now they sell for nearly $300,000.

“Nearly everything you buy, like cars and pickups, has escalated so much, and there’s just not any way you can raise enough money,” he said. “Fortunately we do all have some pretty good equipment. When it gets time to replace it, then they’re going to have a little trouble, unless the economy really turns around.”

One of the biggest accomplishments Sikes points to during his time on the court is working with the state through their assistance program to rebuild the four big bridges in his precinct to state specifications so heavy trucks and equipment can drive over the creeks to the oil fields.

“We had a lot of country isolated out there in the oil patch,” he said. “You know, you couldn’t get there without forging the creek somewhere, and that was hard to do.”

Sikes said that with the assistance program, the county is responsible for 20 percent of the cost. Many counties didn’t have enough money to pay their share, so they would turn them down and Stephens County would get the funds.  “It kind of put me in a handicap deal there for two or three years. But we got out of it and now we have good bridges,” he said.

Sikes said also that because of the good relationship the county has with the state he was able to get more Farm to Market roads in his precinct, which has the most in the county.

Like Fuller and Carr, Sikes said he believes building the new Law Enforcement Center and Jail, emergency room at the hospital and the medical clinic near the hospital and establishing the hospital district were some of their biggest accomplishments.

“I’ve always supported that hospital 100 percent,” he said. “It was an ongoing task to all the time keep everything going and updated, but we managed to get her done.”

As for the hospital district, Sikes said it should have been created a long time before it was, but nobody wanted a hospital district. He said they wanted it run by the county, but it just got where the county really couldn’t handle it that well and about the only way the county was going to be able to keep it open was to create the hospital district.

He said when it came time to decide on building a new jail, they had to do something. He said they were either going to have to house inmates out of town or build a new jail in Stephens County.

“It was a good idea,” Sikes said. “I don’t think this county will ever outgrow it. We built it big enough; it won’t outgrow the capacity that jail will hold.”

When he leaves next year, Sikes said, he feels like he’s leaving his precinct in pretty good shape for whoever takes over after him.  “And I think whoever wins it will tell you the same thing,” he said.

According to Graham Reaugh, Republican County Chairman for Stephens County, as of Monday night, there has been one person signed up as a candidate for the County Judge position, current Stephens County Justice of the Peace Michael Roach. The two County Commissioner slots each have three candidates, so far. In the Precinct 2 County Commissioners race, Bear Grissom, Mark Campbell and Mark McCullough have signed up, and in Precinct 4, Donnie Sechrest, Eric O’Dell and Jim Blancq have registered to run.

On the Democratic side, Stephens County Chairman Tommy Thompson said, as of Monday, there were no candidates signed up for any of the Stephens County Democratic races.

Local residents interested in signing up to be a candidate on the ballot in the March Primary Election have until Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. to file the paperwork with party chairmen. For more information on that process, see the Breckenridge Texan article, “Local races heat up for 2018 county election.”

 

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

 

 

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