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County facilities might require bond election

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SHERRY LONG
News Editor
WAXAHACHIE - Ellis County offices and the Wayne McCollum Detention Center are busting at the seams.

There just does not seem to be enough room to keep up with the rapid growth occurring in Ellis County.

Last month the facilities report conducted by Stau-bach Company of Dallas anticipated the county would need 128,700 square feet of office space for a justice center and 240,150 square feet for the jail within the next 18 years.

Many of the current county owned buildings would require millions to renovate ensuring they were complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

County commissioners must now decide whether it would be more cost effective to renovate those structures or build new facilities.

A reccent Staubach report, ordered by Ellis County Commissioners, stated it would cost at least $50 million to build a new justice center and jail or renovate existing county owned properties.

One site in downtown Waxahachie and three sites along U.S. Highway 287 were proposed as new sites for the county facilities.

Each Hwy. 287 site would include enough land to allow the county to expand facilities as needed in the future.

George Curry, responsible for conducting the report for the Staubach Company, offered to take commissioners to each of the four sites to answer any questions they might have about the pros and cons of each.

When the report was initially presented, Commissioner Heath Sims, pct. 3, said he felt it was wise if the county built a new justice center and jail on one of the proposed Hwy. 287 lots allowing for future growth.

'If we have 60 acres and use only 30 acres then we have left our future generation room to grow,' he said.

During Monday morning's county commissioners meeting Sims said after much consideration that it might be better to keep the main county facilities downtown, but set up sub-courthouses in Ennis, Red Oak and Midlothian.

He argued by setting up subcourthouses citizens would not have to travel into Waxahachie to handle business and could possibly handle their business quicker than standing in line in Waxahachie.

Financing of the structures was another big issue discussed during Monday morning's county commissioners meeting.

Either way some county officials were anticipating they might have to ask voters to approve a bond.

'I would rather pay as we go,' said Commissioner Ron Brown, pct. 4.

Last year the county received about $ 11 million after the Superconducting supercollider site was sold and proceeds from settlement of the former Justice Center lawsuit.

County Judge Chad Adams asked Curry how much square feet could the county get for $11 million.

Curry told commissioners it would not cost much more to construct new buildings than to renovate existing structures.

'Whether it's $52 million or $55 million, including the $7.5 million offset, we don't have these funds,' County Judge Chad Adams said.

'It brings us to an important decision. Would the citizens vote for a $52 million bond downtown or outside downtown?'

The City of Waxahachie told county commissioners if county offices remained in downtown Waxahachie they would contribute $7.5 million to build a public parking garage on city-owned property.

Commissioner Dennis Robinson, pct. 1, said the county needed to look at this as two separate projects, not one.

'I'm not convinced that we necessarily have to have a bond for the justice and administration facilities,' said Robinson.

'I think there's no doubt we'll have to have one for the jail, but I'm not convinced we shouldn't just use the funds we have available and build the maximum amount of square footage that we can build for those dollars.

'Whether it can be done, I'm not sure, but I would definitely like to look at it that way.'

Adams said he wanted to look at the possibility of reducing taxes, so if a bond was needed homeowners would not be paying a higher rate than they are currently being taxed.

If taxes were reduced and a bond passed to construct a new justice center and jail, the taxes would then rise to the rate currently being paid.

Robinson said citizens living in the county today should not be responsible to pay for buildings needed in the future when more residents and businesses in the county could share the tax burden.

'I don't want to get carried away here,' he said. 'I don't want the 130,000 taxpayers here today to foot the bill for what the county is going to need 20 years from now when that population is going to be 350,000.'

When Al Cornelius served as county judge from 1994 to 2001, county commissioners presented a bond to voters twice. Each time voters did not support the proposal.

County officials at the time used a Tax Anticipation Note allowing them to find another way to borrow the money and build what would later become the 'pink elephant' and expand the jail.

The pink colored stucco Justice Center, built just a block from the historic Ellis County courthouse, was later demolished last January after it was determined to be structurally unsound.

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