With most of the immediate urgent actions required against the COVID-19 pandemic out of the way, the Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday afternoon took measured steps to add reinforcement to its defense against the encroaching virus while turning its attention back to more mundane matters.

The court agreed to an interlocal agreement with the city of Ferris for use of that city’s Scout House for sequestration of first responders if necessary due to virus exposure.

County purchasing agent E.J. Harbin said the recently-renovated Scout House has a floor plan which allows for placement of eight to 10 beds and also has a kitchen. The county would be responsible for disinfecting the property, should it need to be used.

The Scout House would be a supplemental site to the county’s agreement with the Salvation Army’s Camp Hoblitzelle, County Judge Todd Little noted. The court later in the meeting approved an interlocal agreement with the city of Waxahachie whereby the county would incur no financial responsibility for the use of the Salvation Army camp.

In a supplemental agenda item that was added before the meeting, the court approved as part of its consent agenda an emergency expenditure of $11,214.45 out of the county attorney’s forfeiture fund to buy the software required for electronic document production.

Little said the document system’s hardware and software were not ready for approval at last week’s special meeting, and the county attorney’s office agreed to the use of forfeiture funds.

Commissioners also approved a contract for services with Ron Clyde during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an added cap on expenditure not to exceed $25,000. That motion carried 3-1, with Precinct 4 Commissioner Kyle Butler voting no.

Finally, commissioners OK’d policies and request forms for two new federally-mandated legislations for county employees regarding the pandemic: the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave policy. Both laws exclude first responders and are effective through Dec. 31.

“I’m hoping, and I think we’re all hoping, this ends very quickly,” county Human Resources director Theresa Taylor said. “Once we get past that, most of the reasons that are here that would impact us will go away.”

Other items

• Among other consent agenda items were approval of a total payment of $136,987.77 for right-of-way funds in accordance with a November 2018 action by the court; approval of tax refunds; and acceptance of $21,425 in revenue from a March 3 auction.

• The court approved the final plat of an 11-acre property in Italy’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, dividing it into equal 5.5-acre halves. The final plat of a 36-acre property near Ennis was also approved.

• Acceptance of a $660,638.22 performance bond for the 70.8-acre Ferris Ranch development was agreed to. The subdivision will consist of 49 lots and will contain 3,200 linear feet of roads.

• At the request of the United Way of West Ellis County, commissioners approved the use of no more than $1,000 in county funds to print informational material to promote the 2020 U.S. Census, which is underway. Little said the United Way of West Ellis County, which is partnering with the county on the Ellis County Counts Committee, has requested printed material in Spanish. “We want everybody to be counted,” Little said.

• Commissioners agreed to create a committee of up to 10 members to address the county’s indigent defense program. Little would chair the committee, each commissioner will appoint a committee member, and each of the district and County Court at Law judges will appoint a committee member. The committee will weigh whether a public defender’s office or a managed assigned counsel program is more appropriate for the county and will report back to the court with recommendations before July 1.

• The court approved, at Harbin’s request, an upgrade to a position in the purchasing department to provide more expertise. The position will be funded from existing funds via a line item transfer and will be compensated within a range of $55,000 to $60,000 annually.

• Following an hour-long executive session to discuss county property, the court took no action.