It remains one of the fastest-growing cities in America — but Denton is at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with other municipalities in the area, community leaders assert.
“Economic development funding is important to the city because we are in a highly competitive market in the Metroplex region,” Mayor Chris Watts said. “If we can’t even say to companies, ‘We can offer you this,’ we won’t even get a look. But if we can get a look, we can get an offer. Do we want to bring this company here? What kind of corporate partner are they going to be?”
What Denton can offer hinges on its revenue sources for economic development. It does not have a Type A or Type B corporation, meaning it does not receive sales tax revenue to fund business projects. It is considered an important distinction in economic development because those corporations receive a portion of a city’s sales tax revenue to help fund business attraction.
According to the state comptroller’s office, Type A corporations fund industrial development projects such as business infrastructure, manufacturing and research and development. They also may fund military base realignment, public transportation and job-training classes. Type B corporations can do the same, in addition to spending money on parks, sports facilities, museums and affordable housing.
But in Denton, the half-cent sales tax that state law allows to be used for economic development was appropriated by residents in 2004 for the Denton County Transportation Authority. That leaves the city with few options for funding projects.
The state sales tax rate is 6.25%. In Denton, the local rate is 2%, for a total sales tax paid by consumers of 8.25%. Of the city’s 2% portion, a half-cent of the revenue is allocated for DCTA. One cent goes into the general fund for operations, and the other half-cent is used for property tax relief.
According to city consultant TPI, the neighboring cities of Allen, Coppell, Flower Mound, Frisco, Grapevine, Lewisville, McKinney and Southlake have 4A or 4B corporations, totaling $187 million in revenue.
“So now, we do not have the ability to have any sales tax to go toward economic development,” Watts said. “According to state law, you only get a half-cent for that. So we don’t have any funding. Denton is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to being able to provide an economic development package to attract businesses.”
When Watts said “we don’t have any funding,” he meant the city doesn’t have that half-cent sales tax for economic development. Denton does have other options.
“We have contributions from the business community, and they always contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Economic Development Corporation Board,” Denton City Council member Jesse Davis said. “The Economic Development Partnership Board is what in some cities would be your economic development corporation. Here, it’s a partnership between the city and the Chamber of Commerce. But it’s also not something that we can look to provide a whole lot more of as a revenue stream for the economic development fund.”
Officials may also use their revenue from return on investment (ROI) from the utility fund and the general fund. According to the city, the ROI for the Electric Fund was increased from 3.5% to 6% through 2021-22.
“If we want to be serious about the money we put into the economic development fund, we’ve got to find other sources,” Davis said. “We can take it from the general fund, from sales tax and ad valorem taxes. But the general fund is also there to pay for street maintenance and fire and police and all the things the city does.”
The city’s 2020-21 budget projects more than $4.2 million in economic development revenue. Its total budget is about $1.4 billion, which includes a projection of more than $36.4 million in sales tax revenue in 2020-21.
Sales tax revenue accounts for 30% of the city’s budget.
In municipal government, incentives could be anything from sales tax rebates afforded through Chapter 380 agreements to land acquisition. And in economic development, it is a competitive proposition.
“It kind of depends on the industry, but we compete with Addison on office jobs, and Richardson, Frisco and Plano,” Davis said. “A lot of people like to joke that Frisco is the city that Denton built because of opportunities that we passed up. I like to say, ‘Don’t Frisco my Denton.’ I think Denton is a special kind of place. Denton has got a culture and a factor to it that is conducive to a tech startup. Richardson has the edge on us when it comes to finance firms and white-collar office jobs.”
In Denton, incentives include reducing property taxes for a set period if recipients meet criteria, sales tax rebates and job grants (Chapter 380 agreements) based on performance, job creation and city policy, infrastructure assistance to lessen the cost of water or wastewater improvements, and reinvestment and improvement zones.
“Some have said the city shouldn’t be giving out economic development incentives because people should want to come here anyway,” Watts said. “I understand that argument. But you’ve got to be able to compete. I think it’s important that we have the ability to attract and provide incentives to the companies we want there.”
But it’s not just about offering incentives, said Marty Rivers, former chair of the Economic Development Partnership Board.
“The 380 agreement is just one of the tools available. What a lot of people don’t understand is that we generally are not giving money to people to come here. Companies choose us for a number of reasons — transportation, availability of buildings, availability of land, school districts and available housing. All of that plays a big role in how they get here. Most of our agreements have been reimbursement of funds … over time.”
And Jessica Rogers, the city’s director of economic development, agreed.
“In Denton, we are focused on building an ecosystem where all businesses can be successful,” she said. “That includes focusing on workforce development, addressing socioeconomic barriers and promoting an inclusive economic environment for our diverse city. We also focused on maintaining a unique and exceptional quality of life for our residents.
“Many of these initiatives happen through creative public-private partnerships that engage the business community, nonprofits and various government agencies,” she said. “One of the best things we can do is listen to our business community and provide them support and resources through our partnerships.”
Michael Carroll, a professor of economics at the University of North Texas, said he disagrees that Denton is at a “disadvantage.”
“I think there are other avenues that the municipality can use,” he said. “I think there’s probably value in that. I don’t think using that half-cent for transportation is going to really impact us. We’ve had a strong growth rate and relocations.”
Rivers shared a similar sentiment.
“The good news is that Denton is strategically located, and Denton, as a whole, has a lot more going on so we are able to compete with the tools that we do have,” he said.
In the city’s 2020-21 budget, officials noted that the largest commercial and residential projects in the city will be the Cole and Hunter Ranch developments, which were approved in early 2020.
“The combined 6,400-acre master planned communities will include 12,900 single family units, 6,450 multifamily units, 485 acres for commercial development, and 256 acres for industrial development,” the budget states. “With a planned 40 year build out, these developments will be the largest and most impactful developments in Denton for years to come.”
According to the TPI study, the biggest threats to Denton are growth in neighboring cities, higher wages in other areas of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and out-migration of talent.
Locals have spoken: They won’t let the pandemic cancel Halloween.
Let there be candy, costumes and lavishly decorated yards, because Denton means to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve with some caution, ingenuity and cheap DIY tricks. (See what we did there?)
For Denton resident Kylee Cameron, an oldie but goodie will suffice to keep the Halloween tradition of treats alive during COVID-19.
“We’re leaving out a bowl the lazy way, but I can’t risk it as I am immune-compromised, and COVID is still raging,” Cameron said.
Cassie Fellows, a Texas Woman’s University alumna, said locals who have compromised immune systems can take an additional step to give out candy more safely.
“You can leave treat bags,” Fellows said. “That way there is no digging. Also, hand sanitizer is a good way to kill germs. So is washing. [The coronavirus] doesn’t live on surfaces very long.”
For Julie Evans, about $18 worth of orange spray paint, PVC pipe, fuzzy spiders and fake spiderwebs created a candy chute for her home in the Cooper Crossing neighborhood.
“We love Halloween,” Evans said from her carefully decorated living room. Several creepy clowns glower across the room, and a big, stuffed black cat sits on the coffee table near a bowl of candy. A scarlet upright piano is draped in a garland of skeleton hands with a copy of the book Helter Skelter: The Manson Murders resting on its music stand, and a figure in a yellow rain slicker (is it Georgie or Pennywise from the horror movie It?) hovers behind the signature red balloon.
Through the window behind Evans stands a large metal Tyrannosaurus rex in the backyard. Soon, the T. rex will wear a Halloween costume, too.
The Evanses have lived here for 21 years and reared their children there. Julie Evans recently retired from her job as an aide in the special-needs program at Borman Elementary School.
“My mom and dad love giving out candy, and my sister has a little girl who is going to try to get out this year,” Evans said. “But it’s also important for us to be as safe as possible.”
Evans’ husband recently had open-heart surgery — a surprise given his marathon running and healthy diet.
“I’ve been disinfecting everything,” Julie Evans said. “So we decided to make the candy slide, so we can still give out candy but also socially distance ourselves.”
The Evanses bought a 2-inch-diameter PVC pipe, cut it to about 7 feet and then fastened a PVC elbow to the couple’s camera tripod. Julie Evans spray-painted the pipe orange and glued big, black, fuzzy spiders on the march up and down it. Then she added some synthetic spiderwebs for effect.
Then they tested it.
“At first, my husband was throwing the candy in it. That didn’t work. So I dropped the candy in there, and — poof! — it worked. It went pretty fast,” she said. The couple will add a T-shaped PVC support to keep the contraption steadier.
Evans said the riddle then was how to encourage children to give one another space. In years past, the Evanses would hurriedly drop handfuls of candy in bags for children who crowded and stood shoulder to shoulder at their door.
Julie Evans solved the problem with two pumpkin-themed placemats. One will be right at the business end of the candy slide. The other will be six feet away from the first.
“I’m going to use wipes to disinfect the black plastic tray where the candy lands,” Evans said.
The Evanses will stay near their porch, wearing masks and gloves. In years past, they would set up camp in their yard, where they would great trick-or-treaters and share the bounty from a cauldron full of candy — a mix of “really good” chocolate, gum, Smarties and other sweets.
“I can see us using this for the next few years,” Evans said. “It’s hard to know how many people are going to get the vaccine, so I can see us needing to be careful for the next several years.”
With flu season on the way during an ongoing pandemic, Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson says it’s never been more important to get a flu vaccination.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza activity begins to increase in October but peaks between December and February. The CDC and Denton County’s health authority are urging caution because influenza and the virus that causes COVID-19 may both spread over the coming months.
“It’s never been more important than it is this year … to get a flu vaccine,” Richardson said. “And when you’re ill, go to your doctor, be tested [for the flu and COVID-19] and really understand the difference. The risk factors are different, but we’re encouraging everyone to get the flu vaccine quickly so we can minimize spread of the flu when we’re concerned about this parallel global infection of COVID-19. We want to minimize the effects of influenza while we drive this pandemic response.”
Unlike with the flu, there’s not yet a vaccine or antiviral medication for COVID-19. If you get influenza, you can get treated almost immediately.
“That’s important — we’ve got a vaccine and a viral medication,” Richardson said.
Dozens of vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trial stages, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
On Friday, Pfizer Inc. representatives said it may file for emergency use authorization of the vaccine it’s creating with BioNTech through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla wrote in an open letter that filing would depend on a few factors, including data on the vaccine’s effectiveness, which may occur by the third week of November. The FDA requires companies creating vaccines to provide two months of safety data on half of the trial participants.
Two vaccine trials have halted their late-stage trials citing “potentially unexplained” and “unexplained” illnesses. AstraZeneca halted its trial in September, and Johnson & Johnson pushed pause on trials Monday. Both companies said they would investigate whether study participants’ illnesses were related to their vaccines.
Influenza and COVID-19 are not the same illness, but they do have overlapping symptoms, such as headaches, body aches and a cough.
“And COVID-19, there’s some nuances,” Richardson said. “The loss of sense of taste or smell is unique to COVID-19, but the majority of symptoms [between the two] can be similar.”
Getting tests for both in the coming months can be very helpful as both illnesses will spread, although COVID-19 is more infectious and more easily transmitted. Richardson said it’s important to stay home whenever you feel sick, but it’s especially important to quarantine if you test positive for COVID-19.
“For our vulnerable populations, for our seniors, the elderly, the immunocompromised, knowing the difference between COVID-19 and the flu is important if caught early enough that treatment can be very effective,” Richardson said. “For vulnerable populations, that difference can be measurable, and it can be impactful. … If you have the flu, and it’s caught in time, [your doctor can] prescribe you antiviral medication.”
For some, knowing whether you have the flu or COVID-19 can be a matter of life and death. By Friday morning, Johns Hopkins confirmed 217,798 Americans have died due to COVID-19. Confirmed cases were at 7,985,356 Friday morning.
The CDC estimated about 38 million people were sick with the flu in the United States during the 2019-20 season, in which activity began to decline in March. About 400,000 people were hospitalized for the flu, and 22,000 people died.
“When you boil all of this down to the most important element, COVID-19 symptoms can be flu symptoms,” Richardson said. “People need to be tested for the flu so they can be treated, and tested, for COVID.”
On Thursday, Richardson said he didn’t know how many flu vaccines are available in the community or how many people have been vaccinated. While Denton County Public Health will be reporting on influenza, he said positive flu results are reported to the department voluntarily, not by law.
“The test results we get are anecdotally and [from] sites,” he said. “We ask hospitals, clinics to report flu tests by week to monitor activity. We’ve begun collecting that information. We’re going to begin flu reporting soon. Again, it’s a little different because it’s not going to be as comprehensive.”
Three Guyer High School fans were at the heart of the Oct. 8 alleged harassment of Mansfield Lake Ridge High School students, according to Denton ISD officials.
One is a Guyer graduate, one is a Denton High School student, and the third is a student at Lake Dallas High School.
The Guyer High leadership team, which included Area Superintendent Susannah O’Bara and Guyer Principal Shaun Perry, concluded its investigation into the incident Friday, just over one week after it took place at the Oct. 8 football game between Guyer and Lake Ridge.
Deron Robinson, an attorney for Denton ISD, said the three people were removed from the stadium after Guyer High students alerted administrators.
Derrick Jackson, a Denton ISD spokesperson, described the trio as the three “primary instigators” of the entire ordeal. He said Denton High administrators were looking into potential discipline for their student Friday.
Jackson said he wasn’t aware of police departments being involved at this point.
Several changes will go into effect for the student section at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, Jackson said. The complex hosts games for all Denton ISD football teams.
Jackson said an added emphasis on seating charts and social distancing will be in place in the section, and ticket sellers will place a cap on how many student tickets are sold for each game.
He did not have a firm number of what the cap would be by Friday afternoon.
Allegations of racist slurs and violent threats made by Guyer students against Lake Ridge students flooded into both school districts after the game last week.
Photos of the student section made the rounds on social media that showed students hoisting Trump 2020 flags, wearing hats and face masks in support of the president and bearing “Trump 2020” in body paint across their torsos.
“It wasn’t at all isolated — at all — to Trump,” Jackson said Friday afternoon. “There was Biden/Harris stuff, as well, and it was all treated the same way.”
Jackson said school administrators escorted students to their vehicles to put up the campaign materials well before kickoff, and body-painted students were told to put shirts on.
Reached by phone Thursday, Mansfield ISD spokesperson Hope Boyd said the district was still trying to figure out exactly what happened that night. Students had the following Friday and Monday off from school, so the district hadn’t had more than three days to interview students and other witnesses to the alleged harassment.
Denton ISD students had the following Monday off, so Guyer High administrators had a similar problem.
“It has been absolutely hateful; it has been threatening,” Boyd said of what students were reporting. “’Kill this expletive,’ kind of insinuating lynching.”
Students reported Guyer fans yelled sexually explicit and vulgar things at them from the Guyer student section.
“Some students and parents also reported racial slurs being screamed at them,” Boyd said.
Boyd said Mansfield ISD will have campus police officers attend the next time the two schools play each other.
Robinson, the school district’s attorney, said no one interviewed by Denton ISD officials after the game reported having heard “anything racial.”
“That was our first thing,” he said. “Is there this racial issue?”