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County projects

1/12/2014

It might be time for Ellis County government officials, elected and appointed alike, to reassess their spending habits. Trends for the current fiscal year are not going in a direction anybody likes, let alone can defend.

Perhaps the county commission's rejection of the bids received for the construction of a new EMS/rural fire building and the remodeling of the future administrative building is a step in the right direction. The ultimate resolution for these two projects will be very telling.

Currently, it doesn't appear the county budgeted enough for either project. Commissioners set a ceiling of $600,000 to convert the former Commerce Bank building at 718 Main into office space for the register of deeds, county clerk, county appraiser, county treasurer, the information technology department, and the environmental department. The two bids received were $944,000 and $995,000.

For the EMS/rural fire building at 22nd Street and General Hays Road, the commission allocated $3.5 million. The addition of professional fees brings the total budget to $3.8 million. The six bids ranged from $3.95 million to $4.55 million.

The shortfall, therefore, ranges from approximately $500,000 to $1.45 million. New bids will be sought, with instructions to make them lower.

However, bridging that kind of gap either will require scaling back the projects significantly or increasing the budget. The first route would be to underdeliver what was promised taxpayers. The second could have repercussions on the expansion and renovation of the county jail, courthouse and Law Enforcement Center. Those projects, still being designed, will take up the lion's share of the $14.3 million sales tax collection approved by voters last May.

The additional 0.5-percent sales tax already is being collected. It began Oct. 1 and will last for five years or until the entire project is paid off, whichever comes sooner.

If bids for the last three buildings come in similarly higher, there is no way $14.3 million will be enough. That will not go over well with taxpayers of Ellis County, who had opted for the sales tax question after being threatened with a property tax increase.

We do not want to be disappointed again. Taxpayers already swallowed the fact county government passed a budget with approximately $7.5 million more expenses than last year. Then we watched in amazement as the commission moved more than $400,000 from emergency accounts because different departments were not staying on budget. Fee hikes have been approved for EMS services as well.

We have watched architects design buildings that don't meet city code and department heads loading up the new buildings with some less than necessary extras.

Perhaps we shouldn't be watching the sausage-making process, because all's well that ends well. Time will tell.

County commissioners need to understand their constituents want the projects as promised, and at the costs predicted. Ellis Countians agreed to $14.3 million -- not a penny more.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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