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County opts for new tax office computers

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
WAXAHACHIE - No pressing need was established and few questions were asked, but the Ellis County Commissioners Court approved a new computer system for Tax Assessor/Collector Office.

Good reasons were given for imposing a countywide outdoor burning ban and setting up a master plan for future roads. But the new computer system sounded more like a want than a need.

Neither on July 11 nor during Monday's meeting did Tax Assessor/Collector John Bridges offer a compelling list of reasons why the financially strapped county had to obtain new hardware and software for his tax offices.

At $2,500 a month, including maintenance, the PC-based system from Spindlemedia Inc., will cost the county $8,150 more than its present system. For the added cost to taxpayers, the biggest benefit mentioned during Monday's meeting was not having to hire an additional employee at some point in the future.

'What's wrong with the old system?' one observer grumbled.

Nothing, says Carol Calvert, the former tax assessor/collector who works for Net Data, the company that supplied and services the present AS 400 system.

Bridges hasn't publicly complained about the present system to the court. He mentioned the new system will handle customers' auto and property transactions on the same monitor screen and keyboard.

'They could use one monitor and keyboard as it is,' Calvert told the Ellis County Press, 'they just haven't done it.'

Calvert said Net Data has never received any complaint about the system or been approached about any refinements or upgrades. The present system, while seven years old, still is considered state of the art and is in demand elsewhere, she said.

Bridges talked Monday as if the AS 400 system was obsolete, telling the court, 'We're working diligently to salvage what we can, but there isn't much of a market for used computer equipment.'

Calvert said, unlike PC systems, the AS 400 was designed not to become outmoded. 'That's why we got it,' she said. 'It still performs well, and other communities and counties continue to buy it.

Although the lease agreement is much better than the $150,000 system Bridges proposed two weeks ago, Calvert said the court's move still isn't smart financially.

'We don't need to be spending money unwisely,' Calvert said, 'and that's what this is - a whim. Other (county) departments are scratching and clawing with real needs, but Bridges gets what he wants. What hold does he have over the court?' 

Calvert also wondered about an expensive replacement monitor that Bridges mentioned. 'That's the state, not the AS 400,' she said. 'The state wouldn't let you use any other computer equipment but theirs, and it does cost a lot.'

In other action, the court put an outdoor burning ban into effect.

'Back in June where we were having all that flooding, we wouldn't have thought we'd be discussing a burn ban,' remarked Judge Al Cornelius.

The commissioners took approved the ban after hearing Danny Woodruff, director of emergency management, say fire conditions warranted the action. Fire chiefs Waxahachie and Ennis also said they were in favor.

The ban allows only burning in containers designed to contain fire and sparks. 'Other than that, burning outside would be illegal,' Judge Cornelius said.

This time, though, it does not allow crop stubble to be burned. State law permits only sugar cane to be burned because it benefits the crop's sugar content.

The court also approved having a countywide Thoroughfare Plan showing anticipated roads to better coordinate development. The actual plan will be brought before the commissioners at a future meeting.

'It's a road map that's a blueprint for the future,' said Dan Sefko of Duncan, Sefko and Associates during the public hearing portion of Monday's meeting. 'As subdivisions occur, you can make sure they fit into the coordinated picture … so there will be ways for people to get in and out and round.

Sefko also said the plan would come in handy should the county need to call for a bond issue to finance thoroughfares.

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