Ferris holds workshop
By 10/12/2006 00:00:00
The Ellis County Press
FERRIS - During a three-hour workshop Monday night, Ferris City council members were enlightened about several city services including the fire department and police department.
Council members discussed the cost effectiveness of operating a city-owned ambulance service, funding a detective position for the police department and hiring a full-time animal control officer.
Other issues, including code enforcement, livestock in residential areas and the city's official newspaper, were briefly discussed.
City ambulance/EMS service
Council members questioned Fire Chief Eddie Duran whether the department could provide quality health care response to citizens, while making it fit within the city's tight budget and about first responders and fees collected by the EMS division for their routine calls.
Some residents feared the council would end the city's ambulance service to contract out with a larger private corporation.
'From my foxhole it is not so much to eliminate our ambulance but fix what we got,' Councilman Bill Pardue said.
Ferris Mayor Jim Parks Jr echoed Pardue's sediments stating the city was not trying to get rid of the city's ambulance service.
City Manager Gus Pappas said all cities no matter of their size operate ambulance services at a deficit.
In the 2006-07 budget, $341,170 was allocated for the Ferris Fire and Ambulance Department.
The EMS division was anticipated to collect $62,200 in revenues, but Duran said he thought that figure might actually be higher at the end of the 2007 fiscal year.
Duran said the department recently began using a new billing and collection company, Intermedix, because of poor service with the former company.
'Before we were collecting $150,' Duran said.
'Now we're getting $350 per call.'
Intermedix has already brought in $44,084.22 in unpaid ambulance bills for the city, starting last December.
Duran said because insurance companies were involved in paying the bills, sometimes it took longer to receive payments.
Paperwork dated Oct. 3 from Intermedix showed they were working to collect another $153,651.89.
A few weeks ago East Texas Medical Center ambulance service, which covers ambulance calls in the county, sent the city a letter offering services within the city limits for an annual stipend of $5,700 plus a per patient fee.
Councilman Billy Don Dunn said prior to receiving the offer from ETMC he was 'hell-bent and determined we were not going to change the ambulance service,' but the amount of the offer made him want to explore all options.
The Ferris EMS service just serves the city, while East Texas Medical Center ambulance service serves the county.
Duran expressed concern that a large company like ETMC's main motivation was to cover large geographical areas, but company officials would never guarantee where ambulances would be responding from.
Ferris EMS recently began charging a flat fee of $145 for first responses to the county.
First responders are firefigh-ters, EMT and paramedics who respond to the scene to stabilize the patient until the primary transport system arrives on the scene.
Duran recommended the city continue using their own ambulance service giving Intermedix time to collect more money from patients.
He said because the department had recently secured more quafied personel to help with the work load, he would commit to stay working with the city if the council would consider staying with the service for another year.
Detective position at Ferris police department
After Ferris Detective John Julin resigned in September for a better-paying job with the Red Oak Police Department the council had considered not re-filing the position.
Police Chief R. C. Nettles and Lt. Mike Zaidle have been performing their regular administrative duties while also trying to juggle the detective duties since Julin resigned.
Dunn asked why Nettles or Zaidle couldn't handle the detective duties since they were the most senior officers in the department.
'It is not something you do in five to 10 minutes. It takes a day to a day and a half,' Zaidle said explaining the basics of each investigation.
'Your investigator has to go out and talk to people.'
Dunn asked why the department could not just have a clerk to type up the paperwork and present the cases to the district attorney's office.
'You can't have a civilian clerk take the police (duties) of an investigator,' Nettles said.
Only certified law enforcement officials could file documents with the DA's office, according to the police chief.
After sitting down with Nettles and Zaidle, Parks said, he felt an investigator was desperately needed in the police department.
'Keep the slot and refill it,' Parks said.
City animal control contract
Council members also considered hiring a full-time animal control officer since the non-profit volunteer group, Animal Rescue Friends, were unable to continue their contract to provide free animal control services.
ARF President Patrick Kubin informed council members ARF could no longer provide services since he was sole remaining volunteer.
'Both our other animal control officers went down due to health reasons,' he said.
'I work a 40-hour week. I come in and do my evening calls and weekend emergency calls. I can't do this along with my regular job.'
Kubin agreed to continue serving as the animal control officer for another 30 days until a replacement could be found.
Councilman Rick Barrett asked if the city could begin working with the Ellis County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Waxahachie.
Kubin advised the ECSPCA was not affiliated with the state or national SPCA and they did not have room to handle more animals.
ECSPCA provides animal control services for the City of Ennis and Ellis County.
Kubin said the City of Ennis paid $50,000 for the services.
Any animal control officer, whether paid or volunteer, must complete required training through the Texas Department of Health which could cost up to $600.
Kubin recommended a certified animal control officer who used to work in a city of 3,000, but would need to be paid at least $30,000 a year.
Pardue asked Kubin if animal control in Ferris would be a full-time job.
Kubin and former Ferris animal control officer Tracy Nettles said it was definitely a full-time job.
Pappas said he would like to see the animal control officer put under the police department, since they both involve law enforcement duties.
'Part of the reason is the way it works,' Pappas said,
'They tend to use the dispatch service and it is nice to have the police support.'
Pappas informed the council if the city left the patrol officer position vacant they could afford to hire another detective and a full-time animal control officer because the officers who resigned were on the higher end of the pay scale.
'Are you better off with dogs or crooks?' Pardue asked, inquiring if the patrol position was not filled, would the police department be crippled.
Not filling the slot with a full-time patrol officer would mean there would be only one officer patrolling during the evening and early morning hours.
Parks said the councilmember who placed the newspaper on the workshop session agenda was absent and council members decided to table the discussion about changing legal publication newspapers until the city's lawyers had responded with an answer about the laws concerning legal paper choices.
The Ellis County Press has been the city's legal publication for 14 years, but recently Councilman Gary Ross invited Waxahachie Daily Light's Publisher Neal White to present information regarding his publication's circulation figures and advertising rates.
Ross and Mayor Pro-Tem Fred Pontley were not present at the meeting, but Ross previously said he had heard from residents who wanted a daily newspaper in town.
Lieutenant to Patrol
The council briefly discussed several other issues including whether Zaidle's title should be changed to sergeant, but at the same pay.
Dunn said he didn't feel like a town the size of Ferris needed a lieutenant title on the police force.
Secretary to the City Manager position in Administration
Pappas' secretary recently resigned because she was relocating to Houston.
He told council members she not only served as his secretary, but as a typist for other city departments and letter writer.
Dunn asked why current employees were not being utilized more, instead of hiring more staff.
'It is time to demand as much performance from the people we have, but we are not overstaffed,' Pappas said noting the city was demanding too much from too few employees prior to his arrival.
'You had too few people doing and handling more jobs than they could have expertise in.'
Pardue said with the exemption of Pappas the city had the same number of employees at city hall and the municipal court as was before the city manager was hired.
Pappas said his secretary was the fastest and most accurate typist the city had and the position needed to be replaced with someone of the same caliber.
Pardue said in his opinion the current council was one of the most informed councils the city ever had because they were getting much more detailed information.
4A EDC & 4B EDC
Pappas informed the council he would meet with the 4A and 4B Economic Development Board members about setting a day of the week to hold their meetings and discuss electing a chairperson.
Prohibition of raising/keeping chickens in the city limits
Parks said the wild chickens running throughout Ferris were a worse problem than the stray dog issue.
'I don't have a problem banning chickens, because they smell,' he said.
Kubin said it was difficult to determine whose chickens were running wild because when he arrives no one would claim ownership of the animals.
Dunn said the city was not a place for livestock animals to be raised, but rather they should be in the county.
Many also pointed out due to a culture difference, chickens and other livestock were sometimes slaughtered in public.
With the large number of Hispanic residents living in Ferris, Dunn said the city needed to educate them that you can't raise chickens and kill the animals in public.
Pappas urged the council to remember when an ordinance was passed they would have to develop a special set of criteria so 4-H and Future Farmers of America students would not be penalized for raising their animals.
'We are not trying to eliminate a kid in FFA with a project,' Pardue said.
'We want to eliminate people with several chickens.'
Pappas educated the public on what Building Official Tim Rawlings duties entail.
He said Rawlings was responsible for enforcing building codes and code enforcement, which were two separate items.
Most of Rawlings duties come from handling building codes when new structures are built.
'Not only is he is doing his job,' Pappas said.
'He is bringing profit.'
Rawlings brought in 108 percent of his budget last year.
Remodeling existing properties and nuisance control including high weeds, health issues junk cars or other eyesores fall under the code enforcement issues, according to Pappas.
When Rawlings cites a code enforcement violation the people have up to 15 days to fix the issue. 'Almost nothing that's reported to Tim can have immediate results unless the property owner corrects the observed infraction right away,' Pappas said.
Since the meeting was just a workshop, no formal action was taken on any of the issues.