County to look into facility upgrades

Commissioners agree to study on utility efficiency improvements

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Ellis County jail is a major user of water and may benefit from an audit of county utility expenses which could result in cost-saving facility upgrades, the Commissioners' Court was told this week.

Ellis County commissioners got the ball rolling on a facility improvement project that is “budget-neutral” during Tuesday’s regular meeting at the Ellis County Historic Courthouse.

Commissioners agreed to an Investment Grade Audit agreement with the McKinstry firm to do a detailed analysis of the county’s utility expenses and recommend upgrades that would eventually pay for themselves. The cost of the audit is $50,000, but this amount will be paid only if the county does not go forward with the recommendations. The audit will take about three months to complete and will be evaluated by an independent third party.

Jorge Moreno, an account executive with McKinstry, said his firm last year did an initial study of the county’s facilities and their water, gas and electricity consumption, and found that a number of facilities were highly inefficient. Moreno said it was possible to pay for facility upgrades entirely through energy cost savings.

Moreno estimated the total cost of improvements at between $4 million and $6 million. He said his company would assume all the financial risks, leaving the county without any additional expense obligations — a provision that Todd Little, the county’s top executive, liked.

“That’s the key for me,” Little said. “From a finance standpoint, we have an insurance policy that says if we do their recommendations, here’s what we’re going to save. And that’s money that the citizens are going to save over the next 15 to 20 years.”

Moreno said the study found that the county could recover between $270,000 and $400,000 per year in energy savings, which would pay for the upgrades. The county at present is spending about $870,000 in utilities, Moreno said. A lot of it comes from water consumption at the county jail.

Moreno presented figures from other counties that are McKinstry clients. Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry questioned how those other counties in disparate parts of Texas with different climates and smaller populations compare with Ellis County, but McKinstry project director Dylan Gaisford told commissioners the data disregards climate and population and concentrates on utility costs per square foot.

All members of the commission were present.

Other items

• Commissioners approved agreements with certain hospitals outside of Ellis County to provide for indigent care. These “sister” hospitals are members of systems that currently operate inside the county, such as Baylor Scott & White Waxahachie, Methodist Midlothian and Ennis Regional Medical Center. Commissioners were assured these agreements won’t reduce the indigent funding of the local hospitals.

• The consent agenda consisted of approval of previous minutes, acceptance of reports, budgetary line item transfers, and approval of property tax refunds as submitted by the Ellis County Tax Assessor-Collector.

• Replats of a 10.435–acre property on the west side of Ensign Road in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Ennis and a 25.595-acre property on the east side of Bells Chapel Road were both OK’d. Also approved were a plat of a 10.051-acre tract on the southwest corner of Section House Road and FM 85 near Ennis, and a one-time variance for a cul-de-sac on Willow Bend Drive that exceeds the maximum length requirement.

• Commissioners approved the purchase of 17 night vision monoculars and mounts in the amount of $50,778 for the Sheriff’s Department using a state Homeland Security grant. Sheriff Brad Norman said the equipment is for the county’s SWAT unit.

• The county’s governing body agreed to solicit bids for election equipment and miscellaneous moving services. The current contract expires in August.

• A contract negotiation with Kitchell Corporation for facilities needs assessment, long-range planning and construction management services was approved as part of a bidding process.

• An amended agreement with Local Government Solutions, L.P. to provide software for the various county judicial courts, including the new County Court at Law No. 3, passed at a monthly cost of $2,094.

• Commissioners approved a total of $82,430 in expenses to repair heating units at the county jail that were damaged during last month’s winter storm. The county has applied for emergency management funds for full reimbursement of expenses.

• An agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was approved to provide sheriff’s deputy patrols around Lake Bardwell between May 15 and Sept. 6.

• In election matters, commissioners approved the use of a marking device for the Mountain Peak Special Utility District for its special election April 24, and approved an order of special election for the U.S. House District 6 special election on May 1.

• An interlocal agreement with the city of Palmer for the remainder of the 2021 calendar year was approved.

• After an executive session, commissioners approved the appointment of Safaa Cloud as law library coordinator, and also approved the release of funding for Ellis County Road Districts 1, 5 and 16.