The growth in the Wylie school district is either a problem, a challenge or an opportunity, depending on whom you ask.
Increased traffic and water runoff – a problem.
Increased need for law enforcement and first responders – a challenge.
Increased customers for utility companies – an opportunity.
Regardless of your definition, one thing is certain. The rapid growth in the Wylie district has everyone scrambling to keep up.
One of the biggest issues residents of new subdivisions in the Wylie area face is water drainage. Although it does not rain often, when it does it seems to rain a lot, and the area has a whole lot less soil to soak up that extra water.
“People will build a home and then all of a sudden, these people look out their window and their property is under water,” said Taylor County Commissioner Stan Egger, whose precinct includes Iberis and Belle Plains roads. “They expect me to fix it.”
County Commissioner Chuck Statler, whose precinct includes Potosi, has a similar problem.
“Pack Saddle Prairie was a once pasture, and it’s now a subdivision,” Statler said. “With more houses and more rooftops, your runoff is going to happen faster. You try to find a place for the runoff to go.”
Drainage ditches have been built over the much of the area to try and lessen the issue, and more will be built as the growth continues.
“We attempt to keep ditches in place or put in additional culverts,” Egger said. “That’s about all we can do.”
Statler said he drainage is something the county will continue to look at, especially if predictions of more rain come true.
“It could be a great rainy year,” he said. “We are going to address drainage.”
Another issue is traffic. The number of cars driving down FM 1750 or Buffalo Gap Road has increased dramatically in the last decade.
“Twenty years ago, you might have 12 cars,” Egger said. “Now it’s probably 1,200. The infrastructure has been a real challenge. With increased traffic, it does make it difficult.”
Already, traffic signals have been added at Buffalo Gap Road and FM 707 and at FM 707 and US 83/84. Just recently, a stoplight was installed at FM 1750 and 707, an area that has seen increased traffic because of new subdivisions in Potosi.
“We think that’s going to reduce the number of accidents,” Statler said. “Safety was my primary concern in working with TxDOT on that.”
Aaron Maxwell, chief of the Potosi Volunteer Fire Department, said he has seen call numbers increase drastically and traffic accidents are part of that. But the traffic has not been as bad as he thought it would be, he said.
“I am really surprised that we don’t have more bad wrecks then we do,” he said. “It goes in spurts. I think the new traffic light is really going to help.”
Another issue for the county is keeping up with road maintenance.
When a developer creates a subdivision, he is required to create the roads. As long as they are good roads, the county agrees to take over maintenance of them at a certain point.
“The maintaining of roads and building new roads – it’s all gotten so expensive,” Egger said. “It’s been a challenge for us. So far we have been able to keep our heads above water.”
Statler said he has plans to begin resurfacing roads in many of the older subdivisions in the Potosi area.
“We are going to be aggressive in what we repave,” he said. “People expect interstate quality streets. We build county roads. Our goal is to make every road safe and passable.”
Most of the new subdivisions in the Wylie area are outside the city limits and are not covered by the Abilene Police Department. That’s where the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department provides service.
“Our call volume has definitely gone up,” said Taylor County Sheriff Ricky Bishop. “We’ve got a little bit more area to patrol, but everything has actually been pretty good with our good group of officers.”
Bishop said he has seen problems at some of the construction sites, with items being stolen. And the department has seen a rash of car burglaries.
“We’ve been able to curb those,” he said. “Most of those are juveniles. People are leaving cars unlocked over night. That’s what we mostly see. Even though people are living in the country, they still need to lock their cars.”
He has also seen increases in traffic problems and speeding.
“The more people, the more traffic, the more calls you get,” he said. “We answer them all the best we can.”
Bishop does expect to need some help in the near future as more and more houses are built.
“Over the next few years, we will be asking for additional patrolmen,” he said. “We are stretched thin sometimes, but we are doing the best job we can.”
Volunteer Fire Departments
The Wylie area is served by four different fire departments – the Abilene Fire Department (for areas inside the city limits); the Potosi Volunteer Fire Department, the View Volunteer Fire Department and the Buffalo Gap Volunteer Fire Department.
Most of the recent growth has been outside the city limits, meaning it is located within the boundaries of the volunteer fire departments.
“Before the big burst of growth, we had about 65 calls per year,” Potosi Fire Chief Aaron Maxwell said. “In 2014, we had 214 calls. Since 2013, we have not been under 200 calls. It’s definitely huge.”
Not only do the fire departments have more calls, but they also are dealing with unrealistic expectations.
“A lot of the people have lived in the city all their lives, and now they live in the country,” Maxwell said. “A lot of people don’t have any idea how our fire department works. I think we are going to continue to fight that.”
Sheriff Bishop, who is also the Fire Chief of the View Volunteer Fire Department, agreed, saying residents must be patient.
“One challenge that all 1st responders have is that we get a lot of people who move from the city, and they don’t realize that all of your responders are volunteers,” he said. “They are going to get there as quickly as they can.”
Increased call volumes mean that the fire departments have had to recruit more volunteers, obtain more equipment and try to get more donations and grants. The Potosi Fire Department is in the early stages of building a new fire station, and the View Fire Department also has need for a new station.
Maxwell said the Potosi VFD has worked hard to recruit new members and presently has 25.
“That’s the most we’ve had for a long time,” he said. “We are actually running out of equipment right now to give people. We haven’t had that problem in years.”
Maxwell said that 70 percent of the calls they receive are medical emergencies, and Bishop said the View VFD experiences the same thing.
“We are seeing more medical emergencies than anything,” he said. “Everyone is cross trained to be first responders.”
All three volunteer fire departments rely on donations and grants to run their operations and have worked hard to keep up with the increased need. Both Statler and Egger said they have been impressed with the way the fire departments have kept up with the growth.
“The Volunteer Fire Department in Potosi is a great group of men and women,” Statler said. “They have continued to grow. The equipment has gotten better. They’ve continued to purse grants.”
Egger said the same thing about the Buffalo Gap Department, which covers areas such as Belle Plains Road and Iberis Road, where new subdivisions are being built.
“They have stepped up to the challenge thus far,” he said. “It is a challenge they didn’t have 10 years ago.”
While the volunteer fire firefighters are trained to serve as first responders for medical emergencies, it is the South Taylor Emergency Medical Service that arrives to take over and finish up.
STEM is a non-profit community-based ambulance service that serves areas outside the Abilene city limits. Egger said because of the growth in Taylor County, the commissioners began contracting with STEM to provide ambulance service to its residents.
They have done a great job, he said.
Where residents see problems and government sees challenges, Taylor Electric sees opportunity.
“The growth is a great opportunity for our community,” said Taylor Electric’s Elizabeth McVey. “We love to see Wylie grow, and we are happy to be a part of the growth.”
Ryan Holmes said Taylor Electric has added substations across the area to keep up with the additional power needs. The company has also added a few extra employees, but for the most part, Taylor Electric has stayed ahead of the need.
“As we watched everything grow, we were preparing for it, so when it did come, we were ready,” he said.
McVey said Taylor Electric continues to upgrade its technology to offer the latest to its customers.
“Each year we try to forecast the growth and then we will take a look at our structure and our system to see what we need to do to meet those needs,” she said. “It’s just exciting to see.”
Taylor Electric is not the only utility that sees opportunity. Internet companies and trash services are vying for the customers that are moving outside the city limits. But Taylor Electric is unique in that it is a huge supporter of the Wylie school district and has similarities to the district.
Taylor Electric is generally considered the hometown rural electric service, while the Wylie schools has always been considered the small-town rural district. Both have managed to maintain that feel even while experiencing massive growth.
“We’re still your local company cooperative but we have all the technologies, so we are staying true to our roots while keeping up with the times,” Holmes said. “We are growing with the growth.”