Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt gave his annual state of the county address Tuesday during a meeting of the Longview Rotary Club. The meeting marked the first time plans had been shown for a planned downtown parking facility in Longview, and Stoudt also spoke about Gregg County’s growth, successes and challenges in 2019 and 2020.
Most of Kilgore is in Gregg County; a portion of Kilgore is also in Rusk County.
The parking garage is planned to be built on the former Regions Bank motor bank and parking lot properties at the southeast corner of Methvin and Center streets. The Gregg County Commissioners Court previously spent $1.2 million to purchase the property. Commissioners later approved a contract with Schwarz-Hanson Architects of Fort Worth for design options.
The conceptual design shown Tuesday calls for a 4.5-level parking garage that can park about 300 cars with office space on the ground level. Stoudt said some county offices, such as the elections department, may move out of the courthouse and into the new complex after it is completed.
On other topics, Stoudt spoke about 2019, when the county completed many projects and started work on many others. For example, the county completed the renovation of a 24-bed Juvenile Detention Center that features updated technology. The county also broke ground on road projects and continued improvements to the East Texas Regional Airport. At the airport, Stoudt recalled, the Federal Aviation Administration is providing Gregg County with $3 million in funding that is helping to pay for the construction of a taxi lane, reconstruction and sealcoat to runways, and a hangar development.
“If you’ve been out to the airport, you might have noticed there was a large tract of land in front of the airport that looked really bad for a long time. It was nothing but red clay,” Stoudt said. “If you go out there today, it’s all smoothed out. It’s got taxiways being laid, and we have seven hangars that have already signed on the dotted line to be developed out there.”
In 2019-2020, Stoudt said, the Gregg County tax office registered more than 133,000 vehicles, and the airport served more than 47,000 passengers. The county Health Department administered more than 5,700 immunizations, he noted.
The Gregg County Jail has seen more than 10,000 inmates booked in and has served more than 890,000 meals to them, Stoudt said. The jail has an average daily population of 821 inmates, he said.
“All of that accounts for 300,000 inmate days in the Gregg County Jail with only one critical incident on Dec. 23, which we should have known that was an omen for 2020,” Stoudt said.
The Dec. 23 incident Stoudt referred to involved an inmate who escaped from the jail. That incident prompted the state jail commission to visit Gregg County to work with the county to improve jail security, he said.
That was how 2020 started in Gregg County. Early in the year, as news about the new coronavirus broke, the county initiated its Emergency Operations Center in which first responders, law enforcement personnel, county and state health officials and representatives from Longview’s two major hospitals came together, Stoudt said.
Those early meetings helped the county be prepared for COVID-19 to come to Texas and eventually to Gregg County, and Stoudt said if it hadn’t been for those early plans, the situation in Gregg County could have been much worse early on.
Stoudt recounted a March 10 news conference when it was announced that Gregg County had its first positive COVID-19 case. He also recalled safety mandates that came down from the state and local level in the days and weeks thereafter.
“We asked a lot of the citizens of Gregg County. I know that from where I sit as a county judge, but we believe it was necessary then and we believe it is necessary now,” Stoudt said. “Wearing a face mask is not a joke. It’s not something you take lightly. Six-foot distancing is not something you take lightly. It’s not a fix-all, but it sure will cut down on the probability of you picking up the virus.”
As regulations related to COVID-19 have changed over the months, Gregg County residents have adapted as necessary. Stoudt commended the community for its response to the adaptations while saying he hopes an end is in sight. Texas was one of four states chosen for a pilot delivery program of Pfizer’s sub-zero coronavirus vaccine, and Stoudt said he looks forward to seeing how that delivery will work.