DEPORT — State Sen. Bryan Hughes emphasized the Legislature’s changes to teacher pay, education funding and property taxes in his speech Thursday at the town-hall style speaking event, “A Night Celebrating Texas.”

Hughes gave his legislative update for the session that ended in May, following a patriotic presentation from American Legion Post No. 199; a welcome from Mayor John Mark Francis; comments from Paris hotelier Mihir Pankaj, who spoke about the Paris Economic Development Corp.; and county updates from Lamar County Judge Brandon Bell and Red River County Judge L.D. Williamson.

“I was told that the last state senator that came to Deport was Sen. (A.M.) Aikin, and just to give you some sort of time reference, I was in elementary school,” Bell said. “So it’s been a few years since we had anyone here, and we sure are glad you’re here.”

Williamson touched on the addition of new solar farms and Clarksville hospital. In June, the Red River County Commissioners’ Court approved a payment in lieu of taxes in the amount of $187,500 per year for 10 years for the planned Delilah Solar Energy Center. Payments will be made by Invenergy LLC, the company overseeing the project.

The solar farm, to be located south of Highway 271 between Bogata and Rugby, will be broken into two phases, Bristi Cure, an Invenergy representative, told commissioners in June. Each phase of Delilah is expected to produce between 300 and 500 megawatts of energy, Invenergy representative April Christensen previously told Rivercrest ISD trustees in April, and each will be worth roughly $200 million, the county judge said.

By state law, at the end of the 10-year period, the project is worth 20% of that, increasing the tax base by $80 million.

Also in June, Williamson announced that funding for the new Clarksville Hospital was secured after years of delay, and construction was expected to begin within four to six weeks. At the time, officials said they hope to see the hospital open by July 2020.

Bell also mentioned solar farms in Lamar County, which include the proposed 90-megawatt Tyson Nick Solar Farm to be located in the west-central part of the county, near Gordon Country Club, that will use the PILOTs program, as well as the Lamar County commissioners budget sessions he attended Thursday, during which he presented the county’s current needs to the board.

Pankaj gave both encouragement and a challenge in his comments, saying his generation of city and community leaders needed to be thankful for what they had and be inspired to keep growing their businesses and communities.

A majority of the time went to Hughes, as well as a question and answer session. Hughes discussed the significant increase statewide in teacher pay, saying he was one of the first to sign the bill; the value of investing in pre-K programs and helping children meet educational goals; and the property tax bill, which he said would help balance school funding. He also mentioned House Bill 317, signed by the governor in May, which allows people to kill feral hogs without a license; and HB 2909, which focused on election integrity. That bill stalled in May, he said, and would have required all voting machines in Texas to use either paper ballots or have printing capability of all recorded votes.

The question and answer session went back to the primary topic of education, and resident David Riggs asked Hughes about previous bills he supported for school vouchers and his opinion on STAAR testing.

“In the past, I have supported those school switch programs. I want to improve the public school system and at the same time, I want to help those individual students, so you bet that’s been my position,” Hughes said. “And I think every parent, grandparent, student, teacher, everybody in Texas would agree that Texas went way too far on those tests. Those tests just took over, they swallowed up everything. We have to reel it back some.”

Association of Texas Professional Educators members Jimmy Lee and Jerrica Liggins said they appreciated the chance to hear from Hughes, and that they had been following his work in the legislature.

“As an educator, we are looking and following what he is doing in the county, so we are appreciative that he took the time to come to this and share what he’s doing there,” Liggins said.

Macon Atkinson is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6963 or macon.atkinson@theparisnews.com.

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