By Bill Spinks

The Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday set COVID-19 and return-to-work guidelines for county employees at its regular bi-weekly meeting.

County Judge Todd Little said he was approached by Sheriff Chuck Edge a month ago about a COVID-19 testing program for the sheriff’s department, and Little thought this program would be good for all county employees.

"We want to know if somebody is positive so they can stay away," Little said. "But if they’re not positive, and they test negative, we want to get them back as quickly as we can. That gives us the ability, and mainly the sheriff, to get people back to work."

The court also approved the purchase of COVID-19 test kits at a maximum cost of $25,000 that will be paid for by funds received through the CARES Act.

County human resources director Theresa Taylor told commissioners the idea is to test county employees who have a work-related exposure or who have been out for a prolonged period of time, such as sheriff’s deputies and jail personnel.

Taylor said the test consists of a cheek swab, and persons receiving the test would administer it to themselves and take the sample to a FedEx drop themselves. Answering a question from Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry, Taylor said precautions are in place for those coming in to receive the test to avoid infecting others.

Tested persons would also sign a release that would allow the result to be sent to human resources. All test results will be held confidentially per HIPAA requirements, and Taylor said only the worker’s supervisor would be notified of test results. Results would be available between 24 and 48 hours after the test is sent.

Other items

• The court approved an advanced funding agreement from the Texas Department of Transportation for the replacement of a bridge on Hampton Road at Little Creek in Precinct 4. TxDOT will replace the bridge with the county providing 10 percent of matching funds, for just above $109,000. County engineer Ted Kantor said this process is a little different than in the past in that the county would be providing cash up front, as opposed to in-kind work.

• The court also agreed to the TxDOT replacement of four bridges in Precinct 3 — two on White Rock Road and one each on Harris Road and Bethel Road — of which the county’s share will be paid for with equivalent match projects.

• Commissioners discussed the restart of armored car service for county offices and will revisit the topic at their next meeting Aug. 11. County treasurer Cheryl Chambers said that although money is being safely moved now, armored car service is the safest way. The county’s current service contract with Brinks is still in effect until the end of November.

• The court set the rate for the Ellis County Local Provider Participation Fund for the new fiscal year at 0.6 percent of a hospital’s patient revenue from two years before. Chambers said the federal government will match what hospitals pay into the fund. Little said the county is the agent for disbursing the fund, which is part of the Medicaid program. The county receives federal funds and reimburses hospitals for uncompensated care that was not covered by private insurers or Medicare. Baylor Scott & White is set to receive just over $1 million and Ennis Regional Medical Center about $123,000 in the upcoming budget from their patient revenue, Little said.

• The court approved a $7,450 task order to change the ceiling height for the new County Court-at-Law No. 3 at 11 feet, which is consistent with other courtrooms. Purchasing agent E.J. Harbin said this ceiling height will allow most of the existing duct work in that area of the courthouse to remain in place. Kantor said the ducts were installed too low when the shell space was constructed eight years ago.

• Four development items were approved: a replat of a 3-acre property at the southeast corner of Marion Road and FM 157 in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Venus that was divided into two lots; a final plat of a 16.7-acre parcel into four lots on the north side of FM 1446 in the Waxahachie ETJ; a 5.33-acre tract on the west side of Buchanan Drive in Waxahachie’s ETJ into two lots; and a one-time variance to lot size requirements at 1015 Stevens Road.

• Tax abatement guidelines for the next two years were approved.

• Harbin was reappointed as county purchasing agent, and Harbin’s bond was also approved for a two-year term ending July 31, 2022.

• Commissioners agreed to a budget adjustment for job titles only at the request of Sheriff Edge, who asked for changes in classifications.