Federal mandates straining taxpayers
By 03/13/2003 00:00:00
ADA, EPA laws force county to comply
The Ellis County Press
ELLIS COUNTY - Federal regulations are killing local taxpayers.
'It's an inconvenience for us,' said Ellis County Engineer Joe White, referring to new federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for county office building ramps. 'Instead of [paying] $1,100 for platforms to the jury box, we [have to spend] $900 on ramps.'
Despite the savings on the ramps, White said the county's ADA consultant, a hired expert making sure Ellis County's mandates are met, said engineers would have to construct ramps to the jury box, witness stand and even to the judge's platform in the new court-at-law being constructed inside the District Attorney's office, a former Wal-Mart building located in Waxahachie.
The county recently wrangled with the federal government concerning the ADA requirements for the Ellis County Justice Center and the courthouse, but with the construction of the court-at-law area, more money is needed
to comply with other ADA standards.
And work was being done to the Ellis County jail last month to meet the ADA regulations.
According to sheriff's department officials, the handicap ramps originally built with the addition two years ago were not 'high enough' to meet the ADA requirements, causing an entire section of sidewalk to be completely redone.
Other federal laws, like the air quality regulations the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing on Midlothian cement plants, are also causing public outcry.
And county officials agree on the primary source of the mandated funding: taxpayers.
'You can always play the game if you know the rules, but we don't have the [EPA] rules,' said Ellis County Commissioner Ron Brown. 'I want clean air for the people, I really do, but I don't want to burden the taxpayers any more.'
Brown said discussions between the county, Congressman Joe Barton and federal government officials are currently taking place to see what steps need to be done to comply.
But simply backing out of the requirements won't be easy, Brown said.
'We got to do it,' he said. 'They can pull out federal funds and stop construction [of highways].'
The EPA can also impose curfews on local motorists, requiring them to have their vehicles turned off at certain time periods in the day.
And with the Red Oak-Waxahachie expansion of Interstate Highway 35 just months away, the ability to monitor high pollution-generating cars will be possible using on-board computer chips and magnetic tracking devices lying within the highway.
The Global Positioning Systems, a group of satellite-based tracking devices, can pinpoint cars, people or high levels of pollution emitting from cement plants with almost-perfect precision and in turn, shut them off at the flip of a computer switch.
Since the ADA was signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1991, it's been used to require blind people to be allowed to serve on juries, even though they can't see the defendants or evidence, and have prevented companies from firing drunk people - because, lawyers for the ADA claim alcoholism is considered a disability under the act.