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County issues 90 day burn ban

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WAXAHACHIE - A burn ban is in effect for Ellis County for the next 90 days.

'This morning the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index (KBDI) average was 445 for Ellis County,' said Fire Marshal Investigator Jim Pharr during a regular meeting of the Commissioners' Court.

'This is below where we would normally consider adopting a burn ban, but due to the heavy fire load available from the tall winter grass, we have had a tremendous increase in grass fires in Ellis County.'

Pharr told the court the Ellis County Sheriff's Office had dispatched responders to more than 100 grass fires since Jan. 1.

'For this reason, I am recommending that Ellis County adopt a burn ban for 90 days on outdoor burning but allow welders to continue to work under certain conditions,' Pharr concluded.

Commissioner Dennis Robinson, pct. 1, asked the Court to approve an amended ordinance pertaining to animal control, to authorize the Ellis County Sheriff or other authorized official to remove and impound stray dogs in the unincorporated area of Ellis County upon which a complain
has been made.

'I don't believe this is a permanent solution, but it is a temporary solution that will allow us time to create the committee that can sit down and discuss this and look at the issues we are having with our animal control,' Robinson said. 'I believe there's a lot of misconception and
misunderstanding. Rescuing and saving of animals is above and beyond the call of government and is more of a responsibility of us as citizens to support this cause, whether by volunteering our time or making donations to a non-profit.'

Robinson also made a motion to form a subcommittee to discuss and recommend further changes in the animal control ordinance.

'We are not going to appoint the committee today - we will come back at the next Commissioners' Court and make appointments,' he added.

Commissioners also approved two proclamations during the meeting - the first declaring the month of January as Ellis County Wellness Month, and the second declaring the week of January 20, 2008 as Sanctity of Human Life Week.

Rita Hodges, an agent with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service of Ellis County, presented the first proclamation.

'I wanted to visit about two programs currently going on - the Wellness Volunteer program… and Walk Across Texas,' Hodges said. 'And yes, we will be leaning on you to have a
team!'

The Wellness Volunteer training program provides volunteers with the latest information on healthy lifestyle choices, with the volunteers in turn helping to provide programs for others or assist with health fairs. The program begins on January 31 and is being done in partnership with Navarro and Freestone Counties.

'Walk Across Texas is strictly a program to get people moving - children and adults,' Hodges said. 'We form teams of eight to walk or do exercise 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. If
we've done it for eight weeks, it's a habit and hopefully we will continue it.'

Walk Across Texas begins on March 10 and continues through May 5.

Extension Agent Mark Arnold was also on hand to inform the Court about the agency's name change.

'As of January 1, we did change our name to Texas AgriLife Extension service,' Arnold said. 'As far as what we do in all 254 counties in Texas - we are still a non-biased resource for
information - that hasn't changed.'

The name change, Arnold said, was part of a push to increase the agency's appeal among urban populations.

'We are one of the best kept secrets in Texas, and we want to change that,' he added.

Donna Young, executive director of the WRC Pregnancy Center of Ellis County, talked with the Court about the Sanctity of Human Life.

'As we approach the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we want to celebrate the fact that each of us is unique and is created by God in His image,' Young said. 'I am here to represent the
WRC Pregnancy Center, which began in Waxahachie in 1995 when we were known as the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Ellis County. We have served continuously in the County since that time.'

Young said the organization has two locations, one in Waxahachie and one in Ennis, and provides a variety of services to assist women and men facing unplanned pregnancies and to promote premarital abstinence.

'In 2007, we served 490 mothers and families, with 1250 client visits and 300 pregnancy tests,' Young said. 'We also participate in the Texas Safe Riders program, which allows us to offer a free car seat to any parent who comes in and declares that they cannot afford to purchase one.'

On a more somber note, Young told the Court that preliminary reports show 256 induced abortions were performed on Ellis County residents during 2006.

'The last verified numbers we have are 2004,' she said. 'In 2004, in Ellis County, ten percent of total pregnancies ended in induced abortion. Also, 35 percent of all births in the County were to unmarried women. Of those, 75 percent were between the ages of 15 and 24. Most had less
than a 12-year education.'

Young noted a number of events are scheduled for the week throughout the region.

County Engineer Joe White was on hand to provide the Court with an update on the facility building projects currently underway, as presented to members of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee during its quarterly meeting on January 7.

Specifically, the selection committee has selected Balfour Beatty as its first choice for construction manager at risk, with contract negotiations in process. The contract will be presented to the Commissioners' Court when negotiations have concluded.

The selection process for technology and hydrology consultants is also nearing completion, with contracts expected on the Commissioners' Court agenda within the next month.

Representatives from the Sheriff's Department joined members of the project's architectural design firm, HDR, on a tour of the Collin County Jail, which was designed by HDR, and a second trip is scheduled to tour a facility in Galveston that was built using similar design criteria. The next
request for proposal to be sent out will be for geotechnical testing.

'We will do the same thing with materials testing soon,' White said. 'In the near future we will present a final site plan for facility placement for the Court to look at.'

Commissioner Bill Dodson thanked White for his work.

'I was at the Oversight Committee meeting, and you and Jon Vidaurri (of the Staubach Company) did an excellent job of going through the issues and explaining it to the members,'
Dodson said. 'It was well put together and a lot of good questions were asked.'

In other business, Commissioners:
* Approved an interlocal agreement with the North Central Texas Council of
Governments for the Cities Readiness Initiative project implementation;

* Approved a professional services contract with Tim Glendening and Associates to administer ORCA grant funds;

* Approved a series of resolutions in order to accept money for an emergency disaster grant as required by the State of Texas;

* Approved purchase of a Chevrolet Trailblazer, declared a list of vehicles from the Sheriff's Department as surplus and approved their disposal at auction, and awarded a contract for counseling services for the Community Supervision and Correction Department to the Counseling Center of Ellis County under the Purchasing Department; and

* Approved two replats in the Eastgate Industrial Park under the Department of Development.

An executive session was held to consult with counsel regarding the possible sale or lease of real property, with no action taken after the closed session.

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