By Bill Spinks

Just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, the Waxahachie City Council on Monday night agreed unanimously to reopen the playgrounds at the city’s numerous parks effective this Saturday.

Councilmember Melissa Olson said she asked to put the playground matter on the agenda in light of the dropping number of active COVID-19 cases in both Waxahachie and Ellis County.

Mayor David Hill said the city was still waiting for word from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott regarding playgrounds but hadn’t received anything definitive. Hill said the city does have jurisdiction over the playgrounds, but that its jurisdiction is trumped by the governor’s executive orders.

“I have friends who call me saying their kids are driving them crazy and they need a swing to swing on and they need to go out and fall and get scraped up and go play in the dirt, and I understand that,” Hill said.

City attorney Robert Brown said he didn’t see playgrounds specifically mentioned in the governor’s orders. “I don’t think we would be in violation of the order if we opened up playgrounds subject to social distancing,” he said.

City manager Michael Scott said other neighboring cities are a mixed bag, with some cities closing playgrounds until further notice, others in the process of reopening them, and still others who never closed them in the first place.

“We wish we had clarity from the state,” Scott said. “Based on the previous actions of this council, we want to follow suit with the governor, but in this case I think it’s going to be open to interpretation.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mary Lou Shipley said because of the ambiguity of the governor’s order, she didn’t see how they would be legally enforceable. “No matter what we do, I hesitate to say this as a lawyer, but I just don’t see how we can get in too much trouble either way,” she said.

Assistant city manager Albert Lawrence said the Center for Disease Control recommended that playgrounds be closed because of the difficulty in sanitizing park equipment.

Signs will be posted by city staff reminding the public to observe social distancing and CDC guidelines, and hand sanitizer will be made available at each playground. Scott said the city has an ample supply of donated sanitizer.

COVID-19 update

City emergency management coordinator Thomas Griffith said 62 people were tested for COVID-19 at the Waxahachie Civic Center on Monday, bringing the drive-through total to 266 with a 1-percent positive rate.

There have been 3,524 tests performed in Ellis County since the pandemic began, and Griffith said more and more tests are being performed in the county every day as more tests become available.

Griffith told councilmembers that in the county, there have been 271 cases as of Monday, with 184 recoveries, 75 active cases and 12 deaths. In Waxahachie, there have been 102 cases with nine deaths and 62 recoveries.

Griffith also passed along some great news: that at Legend Oaks Healthcare and Rehabilitation, which has seen a total of eight deaths from the virus, there are only six cases that are presently active.

Active cases in Ellis County have been on the decline since April 21, and Waxahachie’s active case counts have been flat until May 14 and are now declining, Griffith said. Baylor Scott & White Waxahachie is doing well on its supply of ventilators and personal protective equipment, he added.

Other items

• The council continued the matter of a specific use permit for Oak Cliff Recycling at 500 Brown Industrial Road until its June 1 meeting, because of technical problems during last week’s Planning & Zoning meeting. The recycling plant has been the site of a number of large fires in recent years, most recently in December.

• Mayor Hill issued a proclamation that proclaims the week of May 17-23 as National Public Works Week. City public works director James Gaertner introduced members of the public works team and also gave an overview of recent street projects.

• A final plat for Phase 5 of the Buffalo Ridge development was approved, with a variance granted for 10-foot utility easements instead of 15-foot easements. The plat consists of 239 total lots on 60.8 acres generally south of Broadhead Road.

• A three-year contract to service the city’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system was awarded to Sipes Instrumentation and Electric Service in the amount of $221,145. The SCADA system monitors the city’s water and wastewater distribution.

• The council agreed on a $76,476 contract with G2 Construction to build a cover for fleet equipment at the city’s utilities headquarters at 400 East Madison. The cover will be 75 feet by 40 feet in size and will protect weather-sensitive vehicles and equipment from the elements.

• Following a discussion, councilmembers agreed to provide relief for First Look Pregnancy Center for city impact fees for its new location, which is under construction on YMCA Drive. The fees involve parks, water/wastewater, and right-of-way impacts, and amount to a total just under $100,000.

• A new ambulance services contract with American Medical Response was approved in order to align with the fiscal year calendar. The new contract will begin on Oct. 1 and will run through Oct. 1, 2022. The cost to the city will remain at $142,167 per year.