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Tax office closures may cost more than convenience

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WAXAHACHIE - The Ellis County Commissioners' Courtroom was filled to overflowing again on Monday as a large contingent from the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce presented a case for reopening of tax offices in outlying areas.

The offices were closed on Monday, March 5, immediately after the March 3 tax rollback election, although commissioners did not vote on the closures until Monday, March 12.

At that meeting, Commissioner Ron Brown, pct. 4, questioned the decision. 'I have a question,' Brown said. 'Is there any way we could look at that, see what the bottom line cost is to keep those open on a part time basis?'

Brown pointed out the office spaces were all donated by other agencies, and Tax Collector John Bridges said the county would have to pay phone bills on all the locations for at least another month regardless of what action the commissioners might take.

But Commissioner Jerry Holland, pct. 2, pressed for immediate approval of the closures. 'I think on the rollback we had it perfectly plain by the people of Ennis,' said Holland. 'They knew what was going to happen and they went ahead and voted for it.'

Brown alone voted against the closures at the time.

Now it becomes apparent some taxpayers will simply choose not to languish in interminable lines at the Waxahachie tax office.

'A lot of people can buy their tags somewhere else,' said Dave Tyler, president of the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce. 'There is a lot of revenue that can, in plain ink if it p----- some one off, go somewhere else.'

Tyler referred specifically to cement companies, Toys R Us, and several large trucking companies, including Air Products which pays approximately $60,000 to $80,000 a year in vehicle registration fees.

The Chamber had addressed a letter to commissioners on April 9 requesting reconsideration of the closures.

'We realize that the tax office was closed ostensibly as a result of the voter-approved tax rollback,' the letter stated. 'However, because we know the county was paying rent of only $1.00 per year and the staff from the office was transferred to Waxahachie, not eliminated, we wonder what savings, other than telephone expenses, occurred?'

Commissioner Brown offered to pay approximately $5,000 for telephone bills out of his precinct's road and bridge fund to reopen the office and keep it open until the next budget is set.

Some suggested the outlying offices be reopened and staffed part time on a rotating basis, two days in Midlothian, two days in Ennis, and one day in Red Oak.

'Certainly I was not wanting to close the offices,' said Tax Collector John Bridges. 'But this would require $31,400 a year salary plus benefits, supplies, phone, etc. It would be around $40,000 a year.'

Bridges also pointed out the county would have to pay charges for reinstallation of computer and telephone equipment long since removed from the offices. 'This is not to throw water on anyone,' Bridges said. 'But just to let you know the cost.'

Bridges said the Ennis office was the busiest before closure, processing an average of 3,500 transactions a month. Midlothian typically handled 1,300 exchanges, while Red Oak handled 1,200.

After hearing the discussion, Holland seemed to have a different opinion of the voters' intentions than he held on March 12. 'I think we want to table this,' he said. 'Because if there's a possibility of reopening in Midlothian, there's a possibility of reopening in Ennis.'

County Judge Al Cornelius seemed galvanized into action as well. 'I'm going to ask at this time, Mr. Tyler, would you or a representative be willing to serve on a committee with Mr. Bridges, myself, and a commissioner?' Cornelius asked.

'Yes,' said Tyler.

'I would appreciate it. Commissioner Brown?'

County Attorney Ginger Reinert broke in at this point. 'We aren't creating a committee here are we?' she asked. 'I hate to interrupt, but there's posting…'

Brown and Cornelius both still expressed a sense of urgency in making a decision. 'I would like to encourage other commissioners if they can find money in their road and bridge funds to keep the offices open part time,' said Brown.

'I would even say, what time is it, have you got time to hang around?' asked Cornelius.

The request, on the agenda as an addendum 'regarding reopening an Ellis County Sub-Tax Office at 102 W. Ave E, Midlothian, Texas,' was tabled by a unanimous vote.

In other business, commissioners tabled a request by Sheriff Ray Stewart to hire two Deputy I positions instead of one Sgt. I position, and approved hiring of three detention officers already on board. After another failing grade from the State Jail Commissioner, another six detention officers must be hired before May 15 and certain repairs must be made to the roof of the jail.

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