It’s going to happen.”
During a public information meeting Tuesday night at the Hays VFW, Ellis County Commission chairman Dean Haselhorst said if the proposed half-cent county sales tax fails, “‘Plan B’ will likely mean an increase in property taxes.”
The sales tax would fund two projects, a new combined Emergency Medical Services/Rural Fire building, and safety and security improvements to the Ellis County jail and courthouse.
It would sunset in five years, or when the project is paid off, whichever comes first. Total costs, with interest, are estimated at $14.3 million dollars.
Presentations were made by Sheriff Ed Harbin, Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees, District Judge Glenn Braun, EMS Director Kerry McCue and Rural Fire Chief Dick Klaus. Each explained the problems the outdated and crowded facilities are causing.
The courthouse was built in 1940; the jail in 1970. There were 11 EMS employees in 1990; today there are 41 working in the same building. The rural fire station is too small to house all the vehicles.
County Administrator Greg Sund reassured a skeptical audience member that all possible scenarios have been studied the past three years. “These recommendations satisfy the county’s needs, not wants, ” he said.
“There are other benefit to this plan. We’ll be able to sell three buildings–EMS, Rural Fire and the Tholen Building, where EMS records are kept, ” said Sund. “There are also savings of nearly $28,000 a year that the county is currently paying to rent offices and storage buildings.”
Sheriff Harbin pointed out another savings. The jail capacity is 30, but the average daily inmate population is about 50. “Right now, we’re spending $185,000 a year to house prisoners out of county, ” said Harbin. That cost, and the liability, would end if a bigger jail is built.
Five more public meetings will be held. The sales tax election is May 14.