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Commissioners say no burn ban

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WAXAHACHIE – After learning the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index is still well below 500 – the cut-off mark normally used by the Ellis County Commissioners – the Court took no action on the question of a burn ban in Monday’s regularly-scheduled meeting.

"The KBDI was 411 this morning," said Fire Marshal Investigator Jim Pharr.

"No counties surrounding us have a burn ban on at present – some have adopted a fire code. We haven’t had a lot of grass fires in the last few days."

In response to questions from the Commissioners, Pharr noted a burn ban would have the effect of making it illegal to discharge fireworks within the county, though it would not be illegal to purchase them.

Indicating concern that fireworks vendors may already have obtained inventory for the July 4 holiday, Commissioner Dennis Robinson, pct. 1, recommended the ban be reconsidered at another time.

"I looked on the Forest Service website and it shows we are in low to moderate range as far as fire danger," Robinson said.

Pharr agreed. "Yes – and it is estimated to stay there for about 14 days."

Additionally, Commissioner Heath Sims, pct. 3, asked Pharr whether fireworks or controlled outdoor burns are the cause of the majority of brush fires in Ellis County.

Discarding cigarettes out of car windows on roadsides (caused the majority of brush fires)," Pharr said. "(Roadsides) get mowed so they are dry first."

The Court approved two items aimed at taking advantage of available funding for transportation and air quality.

The first was a resolution in support of a proposal by the North Central Texas Council of Governments to expand the boundaries of the Metropolitan Planning Area for the Dallas Fort Worth region.

"This will include all of Ellis County and will also take in Kaufman County, Johnson County, Hood County, Parker, Wise and Hunt," said County Planner Barbra Leftwich. "It allows the southern half of the county to qualify for federal transportation dollars if they are available – they could be spent within the whole county."

Communities in the southern half of the county will also be able to utilize planning resources available through NCTCOG once the MPA is expanded, Leftwich said.

Also approved was an application for Supplemental Environmental Project funding through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to help offset the cost of hybrid non-pursuit vehicles.

"I was notified by staff at TCEQ that they were wanting to be able to funnel more dollars into the Metroplex to assist in air quality programs," said County Judge Chad Adams.

"It is a venue for fine money to be given to Ellis County, when an entity anywhere in the State is fined as a result of an infraction that took place."

Under the program, an entity that is fined can allocate some portion of the fine to be used on a supplemental environmental project, but the project must first be in place.

The only cost to the county is a minor amount of administrative work that would be done by staff in the County Judge’s office.

"Entities that are fined want to be able to allocate their dollars to a project within a reasonable area of their location," Adams said.

"We would have to monitor those, and then my office would make contact with that entity and request that they make allocation."

Adams indicated that each supplemental environmental project must be fairly narrow in scope, but that the county is free to develop as many qualifying projects as it would like to develop.

Following a request from Adams, the Court also authorized both Adams and Sims to enter into contract negotiations with emergency service providers and to have a subsequent contract reviewed by the County Attorney’s office before bringing it back to the Court for approval.

"As you know, we’ve sent out a request for qualifications for emergency medical services, and we’ve had two entities respond to that," Adams said.

"Where we are now in the process is really getting down on paper what they are going to provide for us. Commissioner Sims has worked quite a few hours on this particular process and is very familiar with contractual provisions."

Sims noted he would like to see the addition of more ambulances, particularly in the unincorporated areas of the county.

"I believe there are two areas in our rural area that are really underserved by these emergency responders," added Robinson. "That is in the southwest area and the northeast – which is Ferris and Palmer. So I would like for you to make it an important negotiating point to really look at getting vehicles to these areas."

In other business, Commissioners:

* Closed and abandoned a portion of an Ellis County roadway and/or easement in Bristol at the request of the property owner;

* Heard a presentation by Captain John Knight on the current status of radio communication in Ellis County and steps to move forward on improvement, as heard during the June 9 meeting;

* Approved a work order for road work within the City of Ferris under an existing interlocal agreement;

* Approved funding to hire a temporary deputy constable to assist with investigation of a mortgage fraud case in Constable pct. 4;

* Approved the appointment of Liz Tull, Dawn Rickman, and Jackie Wray to the Child Welfare Board to replace Bernice Crownover and Clair Crabb, whose terms of service have ended;

* Approved an application form to be used when appointing new members to Emergency Service District Boards;

* Granted a variance relating to the set back requirement on an existing FM road of 35 feet instead of 40 feet due to the land owner having dedicated an extra 10 feet of right of way as requested by the County previously, and approved the accompanying simplified plat;

* Granted a variance relating to utility easements inside property lines in precinct 3;

* Granted a variance to the fire hydrant requirement of 450 foot maximum spacing in precinct 2, noting that the requisite number of fire hydrants have been installed but spacing is out of compliance due to efforts to accommodate aesthetics in the development;

* Awarded the bid for #4 Pea Gravel to Trinity Materials for the period of July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009;

* Declared a list of items from the County Treasurer’s Office as surplus, approved their disposal at auction, and provided that any items not sold should be disposed of appropriately, noting that other county departments are free to request any of the items if they find them to be useable;

* Held a short executive session to consult with counsel regarding the possible sale or lease of real property and regarding an EEOC claim filed by Tondra L. Roberts.

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