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City of Longview bond sale brings lower than expected tax rate increase
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The overall tax rate increase from Longview’s 2018 bond package will be less than expected, possibly by more than 3 cents.

The Longview City Council this past week approved selling the second round of debt associated with the $104.2 million bond package that voters approved to provide funding for a new police station and a number of other public safety, road and parks projects.

The first round was issued a couple of years ago and provided more than $50 million in funding. The second round is for about $25 million but will provide about $30 million in funding because of the way the debt is structured.

City leaders had projected that borrowing $104 million for city projects would increase the debt service tax rate by as much as 8 cents over a number of years. Low interest rates for this past week’s bond sale, however, changed that projection.

That means property owners could pay less in taxes related to the bond package than originally estimated.

“We’re projecting that the I&S tax rate, just assuming a very modest increase in the tax base, to go up 2 pennies as a result. It could be more or less than that,” John Martin Jr., with Hilltop Securities, told the City Council on Thursday. “That’s more than 3 cents less than what was told to voters.”

Projections had indicated the second series of bonds would drive the debt service tax rate close to 20 cents, Martin said. Instead, projections he provided Thursday showed the 2022-23 debt service tax rate at 16.6 cents.

“Overall, you are keeping your promise to the voters, more so than we ever hoped,” Martin said.

He credited the good news to overall lower interest rates and continued growth, with an average rate of 2.08% for the bonds in this issue.

“Rates are rising a little bit, but they’re still crazy low,” he said. The debt will be repaid over 20 years, with funds deposited Dec. 7.

Mayor Andy Mack praised the securities firm.

“Great job in the sales and all that — to go from what we expected in 19 cents to 16 cents is a great win for us,” he said.

Also on Thursday, the council awarded a contract to Longview Bridge & Road to construct the Mobberly Avenue/High Street entryway project that is part of the 2018 bond package. The final contract will be for about $3.1 million after a “deductive change order” of $364,145 to get the project into the original $3.3 million budget. Interim Assistant City Manager Rolin McPhee said “minor adjustments” were made in the project to reduce the costs.

He said the contract will be finalized in about 45 days, with construction expected to start early next year.

City of Longview crews assemble community Christmas tree for Sunday ceremony

City of Longview crews assembled the community Christmas tree Tuesday in advance of Sunday’s lighting ceremony.

This is the fourth year for the ceremony at Heritage Plaza at the corner of Green and Methvin streets in downtown, which is scheduled 4 to 7 p.m.

The lighting of the 22-foot tree is set about 5:30 p.m. Sunday. The lights will remain on throughout the holiday season.

The free event will include music, carriage rides, petting zoo and an appearance by Santa Flavious, who will be available to take photos with children.

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Longview man gets 45 years in prison without parole for continuous sexual abuse of a child

A Longview man was sentenced to 45 years in prison without parole Tuesday for continuous sexual abuse of a child.

Joseph Mitchel Wright, 36, was found guilty on a charge of sex abuse of a child continuous, victim younger than 14, by 124th District Court Judge Alfonso Charles in a two-day bench trial. Charles sentenced Wright to 45 years in prison, to be served day for day, with credit for time served.

“I have to do what I believe is fair and just,” Charles said. “This sentence does give you hope that you will get out. You won’t be a young man.”

Gregg County Assistant District Attorney Catherine McQueen asked for 60 years imprisonment. Wright’s attorney Brandon Winn asked for 30 years.

On Tuesday, a now 13-year-old girl testified to the abuse she said began when she was 6 and lasted until she was 11. During her testimony, Wright wrote on a legal pad and hardly looked at the child.

Charles said he hopes the sentence will give the girl and her family a measure of justice. Charles also credited Wright with not making the child go through a jury trial.

After sentencing, the girl gave a victim impact statement.

“You forced me to grow up too early,” she said. “You stole my entire childhood from me.”

She added that she hopes for the rest of his life that Wright will thinks about what he did to her.

“I have waited years for this,” she said. “You made me feel very miserable for far too long.”

During testimony, the girl described various sexual acts beginning with touching and escalating to sexual intercourse over the years.

“She has been handed her own kind of life sentence,” McQueen said.

In closing arguments, McQueen said Wright had been in the girl’s life for more than nine years and described some acts as “part of the grooming process.”

Before sentencing, Winn addressed the court and said the girl showed incredible strength and courage with her testimony. He said he believes she will grow to “move past this segment of life.”

Wright was initially charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child for an incident that took place on or about March 21, 2019, at Wright’s home. The girl, who was 11 at the time, was interviewed seven days later at the Martin House Children’s Advocacy Center, and a nurse examined her April 3.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Wright on June 13, 2019, in Lane County, Oregon, a day after authorities there arrested him on a charge of being a fugitive. He has been in the Gregg County Jail since he was booked June 26, 2019.

Pfizer asks US officials to OK promising COVID-19 pill
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WASHINGTON — Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to authorize its experimental pill for COVID-19, setting the stage for a likely launch this winter of a promising treatment that can be taken at home.

The company’s filing comes as new infections are rising once again in the United States, driven mainly by hot spots in states where colder weather is driving more Americans indoors.

Pfizer’s pill has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infections. The Food and Drug Administration is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and several smaller drugmakers are also expected to seek authorization for their own antiviral pills in the coming months.

“We are moving as quickly as possible in our effort to get this potential treatment into the hands of patients, and we look forward to working with the U.S. FDA on its review of our application,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, in a statement.

Specifically, Pfizer wants the drug available for adults who have mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infections and are at risk of becoming seriously ill. That’s similar to how other drugs are currently used to treat the disease. But all FDA-authorized COVID-19 treatments require an IV or injection given by a health professional at a hospital or clinic.

The FDA is holding a public meeting on the Merck pill later this month to get the opinion of outside experts before making its decision. The agency isn’t required to convene such meetings and it’s not yet known whether Pfizer’s drug will undergo a similar public review.

Some experts predict COVID-19 treatments eventually will be combined to better protect against the worst effects of the virus.

Pfizer reported earlier this month that its pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89% among high-risk adults who had early symptoms of COVID-19. The company studied its pill in people who were unvaccinated and faced the worst risks from the virus due to age or health problems, such as obesity. If authorized, the FDA will have to weigh making the pill available for vaccinated people dealing with breakthrough infections, since they weren’t part of the initial tests.

For best results, patients need to start taking the pills within three days of symptoms, underscoring the need for speedy testing and diagnosis. That could be a challenge if another COVID-19 surge leads to testing delays and shortages seen last winter.

Pfizer’s drug is part of a decades-old family of antiviral drugs known as protease inhibitors, which revolutionized the treatment of HIV and hepatitis C. The drugs block a key enzyme which viruses need to multiply in the human body. That’s different than the Merck pill, which causes tiny mutations in the coronavirus until the point that it can’t reproduce itself.

On Tuesday, Pfizer signed a deal a with U.N.-backed group to allow generic drugmakers to produce low-cost versions of the pill for certain countries. Merck has a similar deal for its pill, which was authorized in Britain earlier this month.

The U.S. has approved one other antiviral drug for COVID-19, remdesivir, and authorized three antibody therapies that help the immune system fight the virus. But they usually have to be given via time-consuming infusions by health professionals, and limited supplies were strained by the last surge of the delta variant.

The U.S. government has already committed to purchasing Merck’s pill. Federal authorities were in negotiations with Pfizer to buy millions of doses of its pill, according to an official familiar with the matter.


AP reporter Zeke Miller in Washington contributed.


Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.