The single proposition on the state constitutional amendment ballot was overwhelmingly approved Saturday, with 87.7 percent for and 12.30 percent against.
The amendment gives seniors and disabled homeowners the same property tax reductions that all other homeowners received in 2006. If adopted, the current frozen tax rates for senior and disabled homeowners would be lowered and then locked in at the new, reduced rates.
In Ellis County, the measure passed by almost the same margin: 84.48 percent for and 15.51 against.
All local measures up for voter approval in Ellis County were passed, including the county facility bond, the Emergency Services District No. 6 taxation issue, the Red Oak ISD bond, the Maypearl 4B tax issue and the city of Garrett local option for alcohol.
“With the county bond, with the fire department, I think this is a great day for Ellis County, for Waxahachie and, of course, for me,” said Chuck Beatty, who was re-elected with Buck Jordan to the Waxahachie City Council.
“We’re still growing, and we’ve got issues we’ve got to deal with,” Beatty said.
ESD No. 6
Commissioners with ESD No. 6 expressed their pleasure with the voters’ approval, which will set the district’s tax rate at 10 centers per $100 valuation.
The commissioners had previously passed a resolution that caps the increase at 6 cents through at least 2008.
The increase the district will receive from the tax rate being at 6 cents represents about $150,000 extra per year for the district, essentially doubling its annual funding for the Waxahachie Rural and Forreston volunteer fire departments.
“We started about a year ago, planning and thinking, asking, ‘What do we do, how do we do it, can we do it ourselves?’ ” Commissioner Jack Dineen said, noting the assistance provided by Jane Anderson of the County Elections Office.
“I’m excited for the volunteers, for the firemen. I’m just so thankful for the commissioners, for the hard work they put into this election, everyone who’s come together to support this election,” Dineen said. “And the really true winners of all this are going to be the folks in ESD No. 6, and they really are the winners tonight, and I’m really just thrilled about that.”
“The bottom line of this thing is the wisdom and the intelligence of the voters is what made this thing happen. They recognized the needs, came to the polls and made it happen,” Commissioner Jimmy Roy said.
Ellis County bond
With approval of the $53.875 million county facilities bond, officials note much work awaits them ahead.
The bonds will cover the cost for the acquisition of real estate not currently owned by the county, all professional consultant’s fees such as architects, engineers, surveyors, building permits and fees, building technology such as phone systems, voice and data cabling, security system, and access control, furniture, fixtures, and equipment, relocation of all county employees and their furniture, files, computers, and equipment from current multiple locations in the county into a single consolidated new facility, construction of a new two-story 78,799 square-foot administrative and justice office building and a new 273 bed county jail facility.
The project will also include a 500-car parking garage located one block away from the courthouse square. The cost for this parking garage will be paid for by the city of Waxahachie and is not included in the bond package.
Also recently approved by the commissioners court was a new sub-courthouse for the Ennis area. That will be paid for out of the funds received by the county in the settlement on the failed justice center project.
“I think we’ve got to do what we told the people,” Commissioner Pct. 3 Heath Sims said. “I think it’s a good step for the county, but we’ve got to move forward and do what we said. We’ve got to build a good building, and we’ve got to do it right.”
“But above all, we’ve got to thank Larry Burns and Layne Ballard for working hard with the Friends of Ellis County to get this out,” Sims said, noting the PAC’s role in the bond’s passage.
“I think it was very important,” Sims said of the PAC. “Just by looking at the difference in the vote, from the early vote, there was about a 500 vote difference, and the final vote was about a 500 vote difference, so I think the early votes made a difference, and I think that was a lot of what the Friends of Ellis County did.”
Sims said he wants to have the citizens oversight committee in place before mid-June.
“I think the commissioners need to start lining out folks that they think will help in that, that will be good citizens that will go back to their communities and tell them what we’re doing, and I think that needs to happen before anything else,” he said.
County residents are welcome to submit their suggestions for the committee.
“I think they should, and I think we’ve really got to look at doing this broader than a four- or five-member committee,” Sims said. “I think it needs to be a 12-person, maybe up to a 15-person committee, that way Milford, Italy, Avalon, Palmer, Ferris, Bristol, Garrett (are involved) and that way we get these communities out there and get them represented, that way the public knows.
“I think that’ll be what’s best for everybody,” he said.
Sims said he was relieved at the voters’ approval, but said he felt the timing was right for putting a bond before the public.
“I feel relieved, but I feel that the time was right,” he said. “People know that the growth is here and it’s not going to get any cheaper.”
County Judge Chad Adams expressed his appreciation to his fellow commissioners court members and the PAC for the bond’s passage.
“I appreciate the commissioners and their willingness to work as a team on this matter, and lay aside differences they may have and work as a team toward a common goal of getting this bond presented to the public for their vote,” he said. “I also want to thank the grass-roots organization that worked very hard in order to see that the public was properly educated.
“In a lot of respects, there is a sense of excitement with the passage of the bond, but there is also a sense of humbleness, I guess, that the voters, based upon the information the commissioners and the Friends of Ellis County got out to everybody, the voters got out to the polls and said ‘yes,’ for this bond,” he said. “I knew it’d be close, but I just didn’t know which way, to be honest. It was kind of a hard one to tell which way it’d go because you hear different things on the street. But you know, when people were presented with the facts of the situation - and that’s 22 people moving into Ellis County every day, and that’s not going to decrease anytime soon.”
Adams said he hopes the bond’s passage also means a renewed trust between the public and the county.
“I think my initial reaction is trust. I would hope that would be trust. In any relationship, when there’s a breakdown in that relationship, it takes a while to build it back together, and it requires both parties giving to each other,” he said. “I think in some respects what happened here is over the last four years, we’ve worked to re-establish a trusting relationship with the citizens, and the citizens have responded with, ‘Here you go. Now, we’re going to see if we can continue to trust you.’ ”
One of the efforts to rebuild that trust is the citizens oversight committee, which is being put into place by the commissioners court to prevent what happened with the failed justice center project.
“The citizens oversight committee is just one facet that is pretty much standard for any public building project that happens, it just wasn’t done last time,” Adams said. “I think this court desires to be very transparent, and this is one way to continue to be transparent.”
The Staubach report includes a timeline, with Adams noting action will begin to be taken beginning with the May 28 meeting.
As with other officials, Adams said he was thankful the measure passed because it will allow the county to address pressing facility needs.
“I guess I’m a little … it’s just very sacred, that the voters said yes, that they said, ‘We’re trusting you with $53 million,’ and that’s pretty sacred,” he said. “And I guess it’s kind of like my daughter giving me something very special and saying “Daddy, I want you to put this in your office or take this with you.’ It really has a sacredness about it, in that we have to be very, very careful with it and its something entrusted to us and we want to exceed (the public’s) expectations.”