After suffering what district attorney Vance Hinds called “sticker shock” at the submitted contract proposal amount, the Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday discussed and tabled a contract for the design of a new courtroom and supporting offices.

The court agreed to postpone until the next court meeting on Dec. 30 taking up a contract with HDR Architectural Services for design and other related services for the build-out of the Ellis County Court at Law No. 3. Commissioners also agreed to continue negotiations with the firm to seek a lower amount which is more in line with industry standards, authorizing purchasing director E.J. Harbin to negotiate on the county’s behalf and county judge Todd Little to do so in Harbin’s absence.

Hinds said the county is already in ongoing negotiations with HDR and has received a bid of about $383,000 for their proposal, which in his opinion needed to be negotiated down. “From a legal standpoint, I’ve gone through the contract and made a lot of recommended changes,” he said.

The construction timeline involves a little more than one year, and the clock starts ticking with approval of the architectural contract. Little said County Court at Law No. 3 will likely start court on Jan. 2, 2021, and he noted that renegotiating the contract or going with a second vendor could result in pushing back the completion by as many as 45 days.

“Any delays in our process are going to possibly delay the dates of that court opening,” Little said. “When you look at soft costs or you look at engineering architecture in the private sector, you’re looking at an industry standard of between 10 and 15 percent on total building cost ... In this case, if you run the calculations based on our proposed $1.5 million court costs, you’re looking at about 25 percent.”

Little added that he was comfortable with the scope of work that HDR wants to do, and that architectural fees are always going to be higher on smaller projects. Because the new court will be a family court, the design will differ from other courts and savings could be realized in several areas. One option for commissioners would be to stipulate a maximum amount for the contract.

“We would be starting from ground zero if we went with anybody else,” Hinds told the court. “I still have sticker shock from the price … but they are in a unique position. It would put us in a worse position if we don’t go with them.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Randy Stinson urged the court to renegotiate the contract and lamented the public nature of the discussion, saying it puts the county at a negotiating disadvantage.

“I hate to discuss this out here,” Stinson said. “I realize how government is, and you, the taxpayers, are fixing to get hosed for quite a bit of money because we have to deal the way the government expects us to deal because they think we’re all crooks sitting up here. In some cases that’s the truth, but I think there’s money that can be saved. But I don’t think we can with the way our government is set up. We have to adhere to the law.”

Other items

• Michelle Mejorado was sworn in as assistant Ellis County auditor.

• A lengthy consent agenda, including interlocal agreements with the cities of Ennis and Palmer, several budgetary and line item adjustments, and payments to special prosecutors, was approved.

• The court renewed a bid for armored car service for the county for one year. The contract will be for about $4,600 per month, an approximately 5-percent increase over the previous year. Eventually, all county departments that handle cash will have vaults, which will reduce the need to use armored car service.

• A six-month extension of a contract with Arcosa Aggregates through July 1 was approved, with an eye toward eventually shifting the timeline away from a mid-year renewal because of higher aggregate costs during road-building season.

• Commissioners agreed to pay $5,000 to the Ellis County Historical Commission. The payment, which has been made every year, assists county citizens in obtaining historical markers and designations or property and helps to fund county courthouse tours. The payment has been done in the past without an existing contract, and commissioners urged drawing up a contract with the Historical Commission moving forward.

• A request for a public improvement district for the city of Ferris was tabled until the Dec. 30 meeting.

• A request by Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry for the installation stop signs at North Oak Branch and Campbell Roads was tabled pending an engineering approval.

• Public information specialist Nathaniel Pecina provided an overview of a video program offered by CGI Communications that would promote the county. The service, which includes seven videos in total, is being offered to members of the National Association of Counties at no cost to the county. The court took no action pending legal review.

• The court also discussed, without action taken, a potential agreement with OpenGov, a government budgeting/transparency software company.

• Following an executive session, the relocation of a utility pole on Greathouse Road was approved, subject to adding a 10-day notice requirement.