On Tuesday, Hopkins County voters will go to the polls to cast their ballots either for or against a $16 million bond proposal to fund the construction of a new county jail.
Hopkins County Judge Chris Brown and county commissioners have, for the past two months, held as many as 20 presentations around the county to explain the need for a new jail.
If approved, taxpayers in the county can expect to see an increase of more than seven cents per $100 property value.
If the bond issue doesn’t get voter approval, taxpayers in Hopkins County will still have to foot the bill for housing county jail inmates.
This has been explained by the commissioners court in the meetings, but it is difficult to adequately sum it up, according to the county judge.
“Based on State Commission on Jail Standards projections, we need to be able to accommodate about 145 prisoners within the next five years,” Brown said Friday morning. “In order to accommodate those, we either build a new jail or house the prisoners in other counties. If the bond issue fails, we will have to continue to house out and, in round numbers, we are going to pay about $40 a day per prisoner plus the transportation costs.”
The current jail facility is about 30 years old and there are many concerns, including safety, of the facility, Brown said.
“It’s not designed for another addition or any more improvements without another significant amount of money,” Brown explained. “From the 2010 projection, it was $8 million to $10 million just to improve the facility we have.”
One specific issue pointed out in the presentations is the current control room in the jail and the electronic control panel that opens and closes cell doors. It is obsolete and replacement parts are simply not available, according to members of the commissioners court.
If the bond issue fails, what will the county do?
“Of course, we will keep using the board until it doesn’t work any more and we are looking at the end of life on that board,” the judge said. “So, you’re looking at at least $200,000 just for the control aspect of it and then having to run the new control lines to each jail cell, to each door that opens inside that jail. Remember, you’re not going through drop-down ceilings, you are going through concrete ceilings, and you are going through concrete walls to be able to do this. That’s the advantage of the newer designs in the newer jails. When an expansion needs to happen or a replacement needs to happen, it is designed where you are able to make those replacements.”
When the current jail was built in the early 1980s, it was not designed with the technology of today in mind.
The jail standards — those requirements mandated by the state — which the county is held to today present many problems, some insurmountable, in the jail’s current state, Brown said.
“We’re approaching an end of life for this facility,” Brown said. “With the new one, we should be looking at 40, maybe 50 years because of the design, because of the building standards we are held to now and because it is planned to allow expansion to extend the life of the jail.”
While there are still counties in Texas that are using jails that are as much as 100 years old, they can do that because their population is not growing and demands on those old jails are not approaching capacities.
“Our population has had a good, healthy and steady increase,” Brown said. “We have had a not-so-healthy but steady increase in jail population, and that is what we need to be able to account for and plan for.
“We’re going to grow, all projections show we are going to grow,” he continued. “You look at Dallas and the direction of growth. We’re set to continue to grow. We’ve got too many good things happening right here in Hopkins County. The problem with good things happening, also we get some of the problems with growth.”
When the current jail was built 30 years ago, it was built with a capacity to house 48 prisoners and quickly became overcrowded and was soon expanded to the current capacity of 96 prisoners.
“It was quickly overcrowded, so what we want to do is build something so we are not going to be in the same position in 15 to 25 years,” he said. “I think we’ve been able to effectively show that in our presentations, and hopefully, people understand the information we’ve been putting out there.”
If the bond issue passes, Brown said property taxes will go up about 7.6 cents per $100 [about $76 for property valued at $100,000].
If the bond issue fails, taxpayers will still be faced with an increase in what they pay.
“We are going to build [the taxrate] into a very similar cost, “ Brown said. “But, what’s going to have to happen is we are going to have to look at increased costs on housing, the cost of maintaining and upkeep in our facility and bringing it up to some new standards.
“We are also going to have to look at the need to eventually build a new jail,” he continued. “That need is still going to be there and it will be very greatly so, in 10 years. We can pay the increased cost of housing, put all that money into upkeep and minor renovations to the jail or we can put all that money into a new facility right now. In 20 years, we will have it paid off and be able to continue to move forward on the master plan we are going to have to develop for the county.”
The polls will open at the regular voting places at 7 a.m. Tuesday and remain open until 7 p.m. The jail question is up to the voters.
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