By Taylor Short
The Cove Herald
Coryell County commissioners Monday postponed the decision to contract with an architect to design a solution to dwindling jail space, citing a lack of money for a proper upgrade.
Commissioners agreed July 12 to begin negotiations with DRG Architects of San Antonio about the county's options to alleviate pressure on the current county jail by either adding onto the facility or constructing a new building. Another option is to continue payments for housing inmates out-of-county.
"Do we take advantage of reasonable construction costs and low interest rates or do nothing?" said County Judge John Firth. "The issue ultimately becomes about what we can afford."
Commissioners have discussed building a new jail on 33 acres of county-owned land since receiving a report last year from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that stated the current jail's 52 beds would be insufficient by 2027.
Wayne Gondeck, an architect with DRG, presented conceptual plans for both construction options Monday and outlined the advantages of each.
A new facility would increase the capacity to 240 beds - enough to meet projected long-term space requirements. The concept plan called for a roughly 64,000-square-foot building with two large wings for housing male inmates and a smaller wing for females.
While the plan would ease the strain from transporting inmates from jail to jail and create jobs in the area, the cost of the construction would likely lead to an increase in property tax rates.
A second option to build onto the existing facility would increase the number of beds to 144. That could solve the immediate problem of out-of-county costs, but would also involve upgrades to meet TJSC requirements that could cost an estimated $2 million extra.
"Locks may have to be replaced, there could be plumbing work and you would have to move inmates out to that," Gondeck said.
The commissioners currently have the opportunity to take advantage of a competitive construction market, historically low interest rates and funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and other federal grants, Firth said. But the court decided that a tough budget season and the possibility of more unfunded state mandates put them in a poor position to dedicate money to the jail.
"A new jail is ideal but, realistically, we can't pay for it," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Daren Moore. "And for the old jail, it's just throwing good money at a bad project."
Firth said officials from USDA Rural Development told him there could be 2011 stimulus money available next year, and Rebuild America bonds could cover about 31 percent of the cost, instead of the roughly 15 percent covered by the current USDA grant option.
County Attorney Brandon Belt said the court should also consider the costs of operating a new jail and staffing requirements before making any decisions.
For the county to receive any federal dollars from the current fiscal year, the USDA grant in progress requires an official application and a contract with an architectural firm to be submitted by the Aug. 30 deadline.
Firth said the future of the project depends on the commissioners' ability to balance the price of a new jail with current out-of-county costs.
"We're just not in the financial position to proceed with this at all," he said.
The commissioners refused to approve a contribution of additional funds to the Texas Department of Transportation for miscalculations on four road projects, totaling more than $200,000.
TxDOT Engineer Richard Brown said there was an increase in actual appraisal values, utility readjustments and higher compensation that was awarded in condemnation cases for projects on U.S. Highway 190, U.S. Highway 84, Farm-to-Market 107 and Farm-to-Market 930.
Brown said counties are required by state law to contribute ten percent of the cost of right-of-way acquisitions and utility relocates.
According to the letter from TxDOT, actual costs on individual projects exceeded estimates by as little as $619 and as much as $81,000.
"Based on what we're looking at, somebody didn't do their job correctly," said Precinct 4 Commissioner Elizabeth Taylor.
The court decided to take no action, instead requesting that TxDOT deliver an itemized account of actual costs before making any payments.
Another item called for a payment of $8,185 to TxDOT for costs associated with improvements to the intersection of State Highway 36 and Farm-to-Market 215, after years of safety complaints and vehicle accidents, Brown said.
The contribution includes land acquisitions, utility relocates and fencing. Though Brown said the costs are based on actual prices, Belt said it would be "foolish to enter anymore agreements with TxDOT without documentation."
The court again requested documents that show if there would be any additional costs associated with the project.
Contact Taylor Short at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcove.