Ellis County agrees on drop in tax rate

Commissioners propose 1.4-cent reduction; final vote on budget to be held Sept. 28

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Ellis County Historic Courthouse.

Budget matters for the upcoming new fiscal year were once again the focus of the Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, as they set the proposed new ad valorem tax rate and a date for public hearings on both the tax rate and 2021-2022 budget.

The county will proceed with a “no new revenue” rate, which will drop to 33.9338 cents per $100 valuation, and held a record vote to set the proposed rate for publication, which passed 5-0. The current rate is 35.3 cents.

County Judge Todd Little said part of the decrease is a reduction in interest and sinking because of the buydown of bond indebtedness. Little said the new rate would generate an additional $4.4 million of revenue from added value or new construction. Additionally, about $4.3 million in unspent funds from FY 2020-2021 would carry over into the new budget.

The maximum that the county could have raised the tax rate without it having to go before voters is 34.9 cents, which would still have been a rate reduction, Little noted. That maximum rate would have generated an additional $1.8 million in projected revenue.

Commissioners considered taking a record vote on a half-cent-higher rate with the intent on lowering it back in a final vote. But Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry made the motion staying with the lower rate because, he said, the trend in the fund balance over his eight-plus years as a commissioner has been a higher end-of-year balance than expected.

Both public hearings will be held during the Commissioners’ Court meeting on Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Courtroom at the Ellis County Historic Courthouse. The court established the hearings in votes that also passed 5-0.

One of the last strings to tie up in the new budget was the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for county employees across the board, including department heads. The county last year did not provide a COLA because of COVID-19 uncertainties.

County auditor Janet Martin said a 5-percent COLA for all employees would be a budget increase of about $1.4 million and a 6-percent raise would cost about $1.7 million. Step pay for sheriff’s deputies are in the budget but are not counted in the COLA figures. Deputies will receive their step on top of the COLA.

Last week, the court approved a 5-percent COLA for all elected officials with the exception of the office of sheriff, which received a major increase to $112,000.

Commissioners continued to differ over merit pay for department heads. Precinct 2 Commissioner Lane Grayson said he opposed merit pay and favored a straight COLA, while Perry advocated pay raises based on job performance.

“We’re all capable in this room of evaluating employees,” Perry said. “If we aren’t, people need to come in with pitchforks and lead us out.”

All court members were present, including Little, who returned after missing the previous two meetings.

Other items

• The court approved two agreements with McKinstry Essention, LLC regarding energy-saving measures. A contract for lighting upgrades and improvements was approved in the amount of $923,287, and a separate contract for utility improvement and conservation measures, facility improvement and/or operational efficiency improvements was approved in the amount of about $3.47 million. Judge Little said American Rescue Plan funds will be available to cover the second contract. McKinstry representative Jorge Moreno told commissioners the project should be complete by January.

• James Bell of the Ellis County Homeless Coalition gave a presentation on the state of homelessness in the county.

• The approved consent agenda included approval of previous meeting minutes, acceptance of reports, an interlocal agreement with North Central Texas Emergency Communications District for regional 9-1-1 service for two years beginning Oct. 1, and budgetary line-item adjustments.

• Three new plats were approved for: a 5.770-acre property at the southeast corner of Ramons Road and Sandswitch Road near Ennis; a 25.020-acre property on the east side of Moseley Road near Ennis; and an 11.02-acre property on the south side of Kirkpatrick Road in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Ennis.

• Also granted was a right-of-way encroachment of an entry wall feature within the Cross Fence at Oak Vista subdivision within the Four Trees Crossing right-of-way. The feature straddles the ETJs of both Maypearl and Waxahachie.

• The court approved renewals of a boiler maintenance service agreement for the Sheriff’s Office and jail for a one-year period, and an HVAC maintenance service agreement at the jail and other county facilities for a two-year period.

• A 2008 Ford F-350 and three 2003 International dump trucks were declared salvage by commissioners and will be disposed of.

• Commissioners agreed to advertise and solicit bids for a list of paving materials including asphalt, crushed limestone, pea gravel and rip rap for all four precincts, as well as janitorial supplies for the Maintenance Department.

• The court held a public hearing and approved a traffic flow change at the intersection of Cunningham Meadows and Old Maypearl roads. County engineer Ted Kantor said a curve at that intersection will be converted to one-way traffic for motorists heading south and turning west.

• New county leave policies for quarantine and mental health for peace officers were approved. Both policy changes are pursuant to new laws passed in this year’s Texas Legislature and would not reduce officers’ accrued sick leave time. The quarantine policy is not limited to COVID-19 and includes many communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis.

• An operation and maintenance agreement for two floodwater retarding structures in the Chambers Creek watershed in Ellis County was approved.

• A memorandum of understanding with Navarro College was approved regarding emergency responses on college properties.