Only about 60 people showed up Monday for a town hall-type meeting called by Hopkins County Judge Chris Brown to both share and gather information on the construction of a new county jail.
Brown, Sheriff Butch Adams and Wayne Gondeck, president of DRG Architects, explained the need for a new jail and how the county would pay for it.
In a special meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, county commissioners will face the question of calling a bond election for Nov. 5 on the proposition for a $16 million bond proposal.
Sheriff Adams pointed to problems in the existing jail that includes issues with electronic controls for cell doors that mandate a service call from a firm in San Antonio. Just to get a technician to come to the jail costs more than $2,000.
Adams also pointed to structural problems in the jail, along with electrical, plumbing and appliance problems that will need to be addressed in the very near future if the jail is not replaced.
Wayne Grondeck said his firm first looked at as many as five potential sites for a new jail, most of them on privately-owned land the county would have to purchase.
The site chosen, however, is on land the county already owns that extends north from the current jail to Houston Street.
The site, he said, would allow construction of a new facility while not disturbing the current jail and not having the additional financial and safety concerns of moving prisoners to other facilities.
Adams agreed and also said the cost of housing prisoners in neighboring counties was currently costing the county about $35 per person per day. Additionally, transporting prisoners back and forth for court appearances increases the cost considerably.
Both Brown and Gondeck said the cost of building a jail to meet future needs, housing more than 190 prisoners, would require county voters approve a $16 million bond proposal.
If passed, the bond issue would mean an increase of between 6.5 cents and 7.25 cents per $100 property value in ad valorem taxes.
The county's tax rate is 56 cents per $100 property value currently and the increase would take that rate up to 62 cents or 63 cents per $100 in property value.
Those county residents speaking at the town hall meeting agreed, for most part, with the need to build a new jail that would offer maximum safety for the community and which would house the sheriff’s department.
Few questions or comments were heard about the increase in property taxes to pay for jail construction and those who commented were amenable to the expense.
Although relatively few attended the meeting, Brown said he felt there was a lot of support for funding a $16 million project to build a new jail and law enforcement center.
“We did have a lot of people come out and speak highly for the concept of the project and a lot of people came out and said they were ready to support it,” the judge said. “We had a lot of good questions asked, too. Most of them we had already evaluated and were able to share that information.
“I don't believe that was a full sampling from the community, and I sure would like a lot better sampling,” he said. “I would love to hear some more input.”
With the question of calling a bond election on the agenda for a special meeting Thursday, and the Nov. 5 General Election just over two months away, Brown said the tight time frame was a problem.
“There is no time for any more meetings like this,” he said. “That's the problem — there is just not enough time until we have to make the call. After Thursday, there will be a lot more meetings, if we choose to move forward this year.”
If the commissioners court does not agree to call the bond election this year, Brown said there would certainly be a lot more meetings.
In talking about the time frame in which to call an election, Brown said it was like “being in between a rock and a hard spot.”
“You always get frustrated because government doesn't react soon enough,” he said. “Now that we have an opportunity to react soon enough, we don't have enough time to actually get all the information out that needs to be out there so people can actually make an informed decision — that's the situation we're in.”
The special session of the commissioners court to consider calling the bond election will convene at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Commissioners Court Room on the first floor of Hopkins County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.
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