Ellis County commissioners approved a burn ban last week, as requested by fire marshall investigator Jim Pharr.

The latest index reading for the county was 570, with Pharr saying the ban would be in place for 90 days unless conditions warrant commissioners removing it sooner.

As matters stand, "(the ban) would prohibit fireworks during the Christmas and New Year's holidays," he said.

A related Texas A&M University Web site indicates the northern part of Ellis County has a moisture level between 400 and 500 on the Keetch Byram Drought Index scale of 0 to 800. The majority of Ellis County, however, ranks from 500 to 700 on the scale.

A drought index of 0 represents no moisture depletion and an index of 800 represents absolutely dry conditions, according to the Web site.

Ratings of 500 or more typically draw burn bans, with information on the Web site indicating that fire intensity begins to significantly increase at a rating of from 400 to 600.

"Fires will readily burn in all directions, exposing mineral soils in some locations. Larger fuels may burn or smolder for several days, creating possible smoke and control problems," the site reads.

With a rating of from 600 to 800 (the maximum), fires will burn to the mineral soil.

"Stumps will burn to the end of the undergrounds roots and spotting will be a major problem," the site reads. "Fires will burn though the night and heavier fuels will actively burn and contribute to fire intensity."

The ban will stay in effect 90 days unless removed sooner by the court as based upon a determination by the Texas Forest Service that drought conditions no longer exist.

Ellis County was placed under an extended burn ban last winter after a lengthy drought was followed by a dry cold winter that kept grass and brush extremely dry.

In a split vote, 3-2, the commissioners court approved County Judge Chad Adams' request to dissolve the positions of human resource director and indigent health care administrator and consolidate the management of the human resource, indigent health care and communications department under a human services director.

Commissioners Pct. 3 Heath Sims and Pct. 2 Bill Dodson expressed several concerns with the agenda item, saying they would like further study and more time to look at the proposal.

The Daily Light has requested a copy of the paperwork presented by Adams to the commissioners relating to the changes made.

In other business, the commissioners approved interlocal agreements with the cities of Italy, Maypearl, Midlothian, Milford and Waxahachie and the Italy, Maypearl, Milford and Waxahachie ISDs as requested by Pct. Commissioner Heath Sims.

Susie Toal was appointed to serve on the Ellis County Woman's Building board, with commissioners deciding to cast their votes for Linda Alvarez and Jimmy Johnson in the Ellis Central Appraisal District board election. Five candidates are running for five positions, with Phillip Lynch, Ken Marks and Joe Pitts as the other three candidates.

Commissioners approved Adams to sign a letter of intent with Balfour Beatty for estimating services as construction manager at risk on the county's building projects. The letter of intent will allow Balfour Beatty representatives to begin attending meetings with the county, its architectural firm and the Staubach Company. County engineer Joe White told commissioners he expects contract negotiations with Balfour Beatty to be completed within several weeks.

At the request of Chief Deputy Charles Sullins, commissioners approved an amendment to the contract with Correctional Health Management for an agreed upon price increase of 2.7 percent or $91,202.75 per month for inmate medical services.

In a discussion item only, commissioners requested the county attorney's office look further into a possible ordinance relating to alcohol sales.