Sherman Mayor Cary Wacker’s first full year in office came at an interesting time in city’s history. As the nation struggled to restart the climb to economic prosperity in the wake of the Great Recession, Sherman was, in many ways, emblematic of a larger picture. Wacker said 2013 was a year in which the local government worked to reinforce the foundation of its economic engines while making sure those engines’ proverbial fuel tanks were gassed up and ready to rev once the economy surges into rebound.
“During the economic downturn, sales tax had been fairly flat and growth had been somewhat static,” said Wacker, who was elected mayor in late 2012. “This was kind of a recovery year for us, trying to get things to a sustainable level of service at city hall, with everybody working really hard to do that. This was a year of just looking internally to make those adjustments and do what we needed to do, so that we’re ready, as the economy improves, to be proactive again.”
Some of those adjustments were highly visible. Wacker said the city, through a variety of means, used 2013 to make the area more visitor-friendly — both through safety improvements and beautification efforts.
“We completed our downtown Sherman Streetscape Project early in 2013,” said Wacker. “That was a major project to just improve pedestrian safety and the appearance of downtown — the aesthetics. It was trees and pedestrian islands to make crossing the square far safer, and we got our lighted street signs up around the square as well.”
Town resources for existing residents also received some attention during the calendar year, said the mayor.
“The other capital project that had been budgeted for the year was we renovated the Taylor Street Athletic Complex, which was the former Girls, Inc., building. We turned that into a sports complex with indoor gym space for basketball, volleyball and other activities. It’s really a nice space to add to our recreation amenities in Sherman; it really works in well with Fairview Park and the pool.”
As the city looks to finance ongoing and future projects, notably upgrades to its surface water treatment and wastewater facilities, local government finance administrators received an unexpected shot in the arm in early December when the city’s bond rating received the coveted A+ designation from Standard & Poor’s. On the planned $3 million renovation to the Post Oak Wastewater Treatment Plant alone, the upgrade will save the city more than $118,000.
“It just reflects, again, the good financial management of our city and sound policy in terms of setting rates for water users,” said Wacker. “And it ensures that, for future growth prospects, we’re well positioned.”
Those growth prospects were frequently discussed among Sherman’s leaders as impetuses for infrastructure improvements during the year. The area west of the city, which boasts easy access to Lake Texoma and the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, is particularly ripe for development, said Wacker.
“We consider it very forward-thinking to be ready for the growth that’s coming this way. We’ve continued working to expand our water and wastewater infrastructure around Highway 289, to prepare for the growth in that corridor. And we think that the wildlife refuge is a significant piece of our tourism development for the future. I feel like that, going forward, we’ll be looking at that even more for its potential.”
South of town, Wacker pointed to the ongoing construction at Panda Energy’s 650-megawatt natural gas power plant, which is slated to come on-line next year and will provide clean power to nearly a half-million Texas homes.
“It’s extremely important to the city’s overall financial stability,” said Wacker of the project. “We already have a pretty broad tax base, but this adds more to it. For the future of Sherman, this is just one more way we secure financial stability, and we get a great corporate citizen. It’s a very clean industry that’s going to contribute in a lot of ways to the economy in the state of Texas.”
Looking forward to 2014, Sherman’s mayor pointed to tourism as an sector of the economy the city is counting on to generate jobs and tax growth. Wacker said local authorities are trying to reverse a downward trend in hotel/motel tax revenues while providing new and expanded social activities for residents.
“(Civic) groups have worked to start developing new events that we can roll out that will bring people to Sherman and make Sherman a destination,” said Wacker. “We’re really building and will launch some tourism initiatives next year that will be very exciting not just for our community, but for the region.”
After a year in office, Wacker said she saw much to improve in city government, but more importantly, a solid civic foundation on which to build.
“I felt really good being out in the community, talking to groups and seeing how people responded to some of the challenges we had,” said Wacker. “I have a lot of optimism, too, about the business climate here. We’re going to see significant growth in the coming year. We have a lot of positive vibes.”