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Ferris projects for WM funds questioned

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The Ellis County Press
FERRIS - Questions are being raised about how city council members were planning to use funds from Waste Management.

To settle a lawsuit filed by Ferris residents living in the Flats and northwestern section of town in the mid-1990s, WM, owner of Skyline Landfill, agreed to create an account to fund community projects in the 'Flats' and for the northwestern section of Ferris.

When the agreement was reached, residents living in the affected area were predominately African-American.

Last month council members agreed the city would take control of the remaining $43,700 set aside by WM.

After taking control of the money council members voted to spend $15,000 to remodel a portion of the former HeadStart building at the intersection of Church Street and Avenue A.

The city would also pay $300 a month to rent the facilities from a Corsicana-based company running the Ellis County Outreach program.

The Ferris Senior Citizens group would meet in the space once renovations were complete.

At the same time the council proposed using a portion of the remaining funds to install sprinkler systems and other improvements on the soccer fields in the northwestern area.

'That is not the original intention for those funds,' African American equal rights advocate Monique Foster told council members during Monday's council meeting.

'Why not go out and tell the community what was going on?'

She chastised council members for not holding a public hearing allowing residents to give feedback on how the funds should be spent to benefit those residents living in the northwestern section of town.

City councilman and WM employee Billy Don Dunn said it was not the city's job to mail letters to each resident letting them know that a decision would be made regarding the funds.

He said residents could read the agenda after it was posted outside city hall on Friday afternoons.

For several years the money sat untouched because, according to Foster, many officials believed citizens could not agree on which projects should be funded with the money.

Foster said city council members had no right to determine how those funds from Waste Management would be spent without first consulting the city's African-American community.

'It was designated for the citizens in the Flats and northwest section of town,' said Paul Coumpy, one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Dunn said he was just trying to find a way to fix the most pressing needs of the community - the senior citizens center and soccer fields.

'Those funds were to benefit the community,' he said.

'It is going to be our responsibility on how that money is going to be spent.'

Since January Ferris' Senior Citizens have meet at the Ferris Fellowship Baptist Church on Eighth Street because the former Ferris Community Center on Sixth Street could no longer be used, because officials feared the roof would cave in.

Foster said she did not have a problem with money being spent for renovations at the senior center building, but inquired if the site could be used for other purposes to benefit Flats-area residents.

She proposed the site also be used to house an after school or tutorial program to benefit children residing in the region.

'You have more than just senior citizens that live in that part of town,' Foster said.

Not all council members were present during Monday's meeting.

Mayor Jim Parks Jr, Councilmen Rick Barrett and Gary Ross were absent.

Dunn and the other council members present, Bill Pardue and Mayor Pro-Tem Fred Pontley, said they would not proceed with any work on the soccer fields until Foster could come back to present a project proposal to benefit the community using the rest of the money.

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