COMMERCE — It was practically standing room only in the council chambers at City Hall last week as community members attended the State of the City address.
Commerce Mayor Wyman Williams, Commerce ISD Superintendent Charlie Alderman and Texas A&M University-Commerce President Dr. Mark Rudin all spoke about their respective entities at the meeting.
Several City Council and CISD Trustees were also in attendance, as well as representatives from Senator Bob Hall’s and Representative Dan Flynn’s offices, along with Hunt County Judge Bobby Stovall and Hunt County Precinct 4 Commissioner Steven Harrison.
Alderman got up to speak first. He touted the growth in enrollment during the most recent school year, even with a small senior class, signifying an expected enrollment uptick next year as well.
Alderman recounted several major projects undertaken by the district, such as HVAC replacement at Commerce High School and maintenance of band instruments at CHS. A program on the horizon that the district wants to enact is an EMT certification class for high school seniors.
Alderman also brought up the recent pieces of legislation regarding school funding, stating that while the future is still uncertain regarding how the funding model will change, the district will be committed to providing raises for not just teachers, but for aides, bus drivers and more.
“As the Superintendent, I want our district to spend every extra penny we can on raises for our employees,” Alderman said.
Rudin was next to speak. He began by saying that the university has “lots of work to do, but [he was] optimistic” about the school’s future, before expounding on the university’s new strategic plan.
The basis of the plan, Rudin said, was to turn the university into “a catalyst to transform the lives of students… so they can break the generational cycle of poverty that affects so many in this part of the state and the country.”
The plan came with a new mission statement: “Educate. Discover. Achieve.” The plan also stresses the importance of innovativeness and sustainability, among other aspects. Rudin said that he would like to turn the university into “a resource for the community.”
Rudin touted the university’s diverse student body as one of its strengths, and gave figures about university demographics, such as that A&M-Commerce offers 137 degree programs, features a 22-to-one average student to teacher ratio and that the university has been conferring a larger number of undergraduate degrees year-to-year almost every year for the last decade.
Williams was last to take the podium, and immediately began with mentioning the issue of housing in the city.
“Sitting here next to me are the heads of our two largest employers in town, and many of their employees choose to live elsewhere,” Williams said. “We have to get to the root of the issue and make Commerce a draw for residents.”
Williams recalled the sore financial shape the city was in when he took office in May 2016, saying that the city had 38 bank accounts, a “BBB” bond rating and poor accounting practices.
He says that a combination of new city staff, including the work of City Manager Darrek Ferrell, have helped alleviate many of the financial woes plaguing the city, including culling unnecessary bank accounts and improving the city’s bond rating to an “A.”
Williams also went into demonstrations as to how the property tax system works, the establishment of opportunity zones that allow federal funds to be used for development, and the city’s Building Standards Committee, which he said has authorized the demolition of more than 300 vacant substandard structures at more than 130 addresses since being formed.
Williams also announced the launch of a new portion of the city’s official website. The “open data” section of the website seeks to foster transparency by posting official city ordinances, documents and reports in one place for the public to view. The new section is located at commercetx.org/open-data.
Williams ended by saying that he hoped the attendees are “encouraged that the city, school district and university are doing what we can to grow residences and business in Commerce.”