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Chiller: Citizens object to county zoning change request

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - A meeting of the Waxahachie Planning and Zoning Commission on April 11 was the site of yet another controversy involving Ellis County's building projects - a proposed chiller plant for the corner of College and Franklin Streets in Waxahachie.

Meanwhile, the Ellis County Commissioners' Court is considering a plan for taxpayers to pay auto registration fees at area supermarkets now that outlying offices have been closed in response to the successful rollback.

'The county was there asking for a new and unlisted use,' said Delton Ake, administrative assistant to the county judge. 'It's offsite installation of air conditioning equipment for the (historic) courthouse.'

Ake said the county believed its plans had met all the specifications and requirements for the zoning change, but a large number of citizens objected to the request.

'There was some concern about historical looks,' said Ake. 'The county is very sensitive to that and doesn't want to do anything that's going to take away from that.'

The corner is currently the site of a county parking lot, next to the 1879 Townhouse restaurant.

The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the county's proposal on Wednesday, knowing it will come back in the future.

'The agreement was we would work with these groups to see what can be worked out,' Ake said.

Ake attended the meeting in behalf of County Judge Al Cornelius, who was out of town at the time, and doesn't yet know whether he will be assigned to handle negotiations with concerned groups, which include Downtown Merchants and Historic Waxahachie among others.

No meetings have been set.

'We would like to get it done as soon as possible,' Ake said. 'Some of the reconditioning of the courthouse will require air conditioning - painting, plastering and so forth. So it's important even before it's finished and people can move in.'

Additionally, Ellis County Auditor Mike Navarro unveiled plans he said were intended to better serve constituents, while saving money.

'A few of us are kicking around a unit road system,' Navarro said. 'Rather than the four separate precincts, everything would be under one.'

Navarro said the idea, which has not yet been discussed with the commissioners' court, would include hiring a county engineer to handle scheduling of road crews and prioritizing of roadwork throughout the county.

'What I think it would save are future equipment costs,' Navarro said. 'Instead of having two pothole machines, for instance, you would only need one.'

But Navarro said the idea is just an idea at this point. 'I don't know if it has a hope of being passed, or what some of the disadvantages might be,' he said. 'It's just a brainstorm right now.'

On another front, Ellis County Tax Collector John Bridges is expected to ask commissioners to approve a plan to allow taxpayers to pay auto registration fees at area supermarkets.

'I don't believe it will cost the county anything to set it up,' Navarro commented. 'The grocery stores tack on a dollar fee to pay for it.'

Using state-provided computer systems, selected supermarkets would collect the registration fees, minimizing the need for citizens to drive to Waxahachie and shortening tax office lines that tend to lengthen around the end of each month.

Meanwhile, budget cuts resulting from the March 3 tax rollback election continue to be hardest felt in law enforcement.

According to an article in Sunday's Dallas Morning News, small-town police departments are making every effort to stand in the gap created by the county's lay-off of 23 Sheriff's deputies.

Garrett Police Chief Jeff Wise, who reportedly earns only $100 a month supervising the city's all-volunteer department, said Garrett generated eight incident reports in the last month instead of its usual two. Wise blamed the absence of a visible police presence for the increase.

Bardwell officials decided to hire a police chief, but can only afford to pay $2,000 a month with no benefits, making the job unattractive. Maypearl is in the process of hiring Bill Deal, a Palmer police officer, as police chief.

In spite of the extra effort from these and other cities, some incidents are still going uninves-tigated. For instance, last week near Red Oak, a dog bit a boy. In spite of Ellis County's high numbers of confirmed rabies cases this spring, a Sheriff's deputy told TV crews the department simply 'didn't have time' to search for the animal involved.

Citizens continue to charge the county is holding fund reserves instead of using them to save jobs and maintain public safety, but Navarro steadfastly denies it.

'The legislature says you can only use certain funds for certain things,' he said. 'For instance, the road district funds left over from the ‘60s are over a million dollars. But those funds can only be used for a very specific geographic area, and only then if a school bus runs on the road. That's the kind of archaic crap I'm talking about.'

According to Navarro, the state does not have a statute limiting the amount a county may keep in reserve, but most experts agree it is prudent to maintain reserves of two or three months' budget.

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