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Rollback spices talk as election nears

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
ELLIS COUNTY - A petition drive calling for a property-tax rollback vote is rolling along better than expected.

'People are ready for this,' according to John Tabor, the county's Republican Party chairman, who is coordinating the effort to scuttle a 20-percent property-tax hike approved last month by the Ellis County Commissioners Court. 'People are responding extremely well to the petition all over the county.'

The Nov. 7 general election naturally has residents thinking politics, but Tabor believes county-wide interest, even excitement, in a rollback vote is more than that.

'People think county government is out of control,' Tabor told the Ellis County Press. 'It's amazing how people are calling from all over - not just to sign the petition, but to circulate it in their area.'

With only a handful of county or local races to be decided next Tuesday, it's easy to see why the rollback effort dominates coffee talk, even though the petition's deadline date is Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, and the actual vote wouldn't be held until after the first of the year.

For more information on the rollback petition, call 214-220-9200 for Tabor at the Republican county headquarters. 'I'll tell you who in your area has one,' Tabor said, 'or we'll mail a petition form to you to get signatures.'

Pro-rollback sentiments may figure into the outcome of the two seats available on the commissioners court. Political observers also expect the petition drive to impact the question of a 30-percent raise for sheriff's department personnel.

Early voting finishes this Thursday and Friday at the Election Administration Office, 217 S. Rogers St. in Waxahachie, and the Ennis Sub-Courthouse, 116 W. Ennis Ave. Early voting also is available Thursday at the Maypearl High School library and Friday at Palmer City Hall. Hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., except at the Election Administration Office, which opens at 7:30 a.m.

Republican G.T. Morton of Waxahachie is challenging incumbent Commissioner Hallie Joe Robinson, a Democrat from Palmer, for the Precinct 1 seat. With Commissioner Charlie Waller not running in Pct. 3, Republican Jackie Miller Sr. of Italy is battling Democrat Sidney Osteen of Maypearl.

Three constables are running unopposed. The only race is in Pct. 1 where Republican Richard Schmidt of Palmer is challenging incumbent Bill Woody, a Democrat from Ennis. Assured of election are Terry L. Nay in Pct. 2, Jimmie E. Ray in Pct. 3 and Perry (Bubba) Curry in Pct. 4.

Ellis County residents supporting the rollback petition say they are upset over drastic increases in property valuations and tax rates the past two years. The new property tax means an additional $85 for a $100,000 home, based on eight cents per $100 valuation.

'It's all too much,' Tabor said. 'People are saying, ‘Enough is enough.''

If the rollback effort is successful, the property-tax increase will be two cents per $100 valuation or only $20 on a $100,000 home.

'The commissioners will have to rework their budget to live within what taxpayers give them,' Tabor said.

The commissioners court reportedly is desperate for funds to meet the financial obligations of its ambitious building project. Although Ellis County voters soundly defeated an $18 million bond issue in 1998, various veteran political observers have accused the court of making an end run by stretching the legal use of a Tax Anticipation Note to fund a new government complex.

The court's two-prong attack is apparent, observers say. While seeking as much revenue as possible, the commissioners are refusing to spend money, according to observers.

Many residents claim the court is penny-pinching to a fault and not meeting needs as in past years. Calls and letters to commissioners fail to produce action. Even appearances at court meetings don't do any good, they say.

'We're told there isn't any money,' one frustrated resident said. 'There's money for them, for their grandiose plans, but nothing for us who must depend on their help.'

The court has said it is financially unable to raise deputy salaries or help with flood-control maintenance. Commissioners also claim there's no money to replace dangerous one-lane wooden bridges for school-bus safety either.

Money for 30-percent pay raises for sheriff's department employees has been included in next year's budget and is part of the property-tax hike, clouding the rollback issue. If residents vote for the deputies, a successful rollback vote would eliminate the salary increases.

Observers say the commissioners are counting on the salary-increase question being defeated so they eventually can pull the earmarked funds into their construction projects.

Proponents say a 30-percent salary increase is needed to reduce a continual loss of experienced deputies and jail personnel, who are being lured away by higher pay. According to supporters, the county would save money on training while improving quality of service by offering salaries comparable to neighboring law enforcement agencies.

Despite having $4 million more to work with over the previous year, the court chose not to negotiate with sheriff's department representatives, leaving proponents no choice but to put the question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Gov. George W. Bush continues to be the heavy favorite among Ellis County residents in the hotly contested presidential race. Bush has a huge lead over Vice President Al Gore, 107-30, in a poll being conducted at www.elliscountypress.com. 

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