Commissioners mull future of county jail facility Commissioners mull future of county jail facility

Finding a way to fund a new jail in McCulloch County’and before the state mandates such action or issues subsequent consequences’ was a big topic of discussion during Monday’s commissioners court meeting. While it’s a topic many hope will go away if ignored long enough, it is’in fact’one that warrants the attention of all McCulloch County taxpapers. Not to be taken lightly, constructing a replacement for the McCulloch County Jail is becoming a desperate means to resolving a longtime problem with overcrowding and inadequate jail conditions’ as established by the Texas Jail Commission. With the commissioners previously authorizing McCulloch County Sheriff Earl Howell to seek architectural bids for several types of facilities, Howell reported to the commissioners Monday morning that a bid for $10.4 million for a 107-bed facility was received. While noting that the estimate was on the ‘high end’ for construction material, he explained that the architect didn’t want to underbid a project that would require an additional $1-2 million in funding. Under this particular plan, the facility would include a courtroom, an emergency operating center and a training room. At six percent interest, the county could expect to pay $720,000 per year over a 30- year payout, according to Sheriff Howell. While plans were also sought for a 48-bed facility, According to Howell, the lower number wouldn’t give the county much leaway in housing other county inmates’a service that could help pay for the facility in the long run or at least help contribute to the operating revenue. If 50 of the 107 beds are made available to shelter outside inmates, the county could stand to earn $660,000 per year. Another obstacle the county would face with that option, is that with an increased number of inmates, there will subsequently be a need for an increased number of employees to oversee the operation. A sad truth to the story is that the longer the county waits to build a new facility, the more expensive the cost of material and associated labor costs will be. Nonetheless, the commissioners feel the decision will rest upon the voters’unless the state forces the county to take the necessary actions in complying with their mandates. ‘It’s an ‘unfunded’ mandate’that’s what it is,’ Commissioner Joe Johnson said Monday. ‘We have to decide pretty quick what we are going to do,’ said Sheriff Howell. ‘Every county is in the same boat as we are’maybe worse.’ Howell added that only one jail in this part of the state in Taylor County can accommodate inmates at this particular point in time. Tom Green, Brown, Midland and Hector counties are all at full capacity. One comment that remained constant from architects Howell spoke with, was that the county won’t have any problem filling the extra beds with out-of-county inmates. Howell also added that both Menard and Mason Counties may be willing to pay for an ‘x’ amount of beds when the county reaches its final decision. As the first item up for action, the commissioners, conducting the meeting in the absence of McCulloch County Judge Randy Young, whose services were required for other court proceedings Monday morning, voted to table the item concerning retiree health insurance coverage until additional information could be made available. According to Johnson, who opened Monday’s meeting, a similar service is being offered in Hays County where retirees at least 75 years of age having worked at least 10 years with the county are offered participation in the program. Because the commissioners were void of any concrete information needed to make a firm decision and did not want to create a burden for the county at this time, they voted unanimously to table the item until the next commissioners court meeting. At the request of Brady Mayor James Stewart, the commissioners voted to approve $1,400 as the county’s participation with the City of Brady in the expansion of the spay/neuter clinic which has been deemed an overwhelming success since its initial visit in May. Because the first clinic drew such positive response and demand for repeat visits, the city has offered to expand the project to include residents within the county. In turn, the city requested that the county play a role in funding the project, as well. ‘This is probably a good expense,’ Johnson said Monday morning after discussing the item with other members of the commissioners court. With all in agreement, Commissioner Nelson Solsbery made the motion to approve the request, and the item carried a unanimous approval. Another item approved Monday was the request from County Clerk Tina Smith to purchase voting equipment from Hart Company. Mrs. Smith informed the commissioners that the county has a $3,500 credit through their existing contract with Hart, and with rates quoted to increase at the end of the month, both the commissioners and Mrs. Smith felt that locking in cheaper rates was in the best interest of the county. ‘We have to purchase more equipment’ regardless,’ Smith told the commissioners as she suggested that the money be used to purchase E-Scans (ballot counters). The amount will allow for at least two, possibly three, machines to be purchased by the county.

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