By Taylor Short

The Cove Herald

Coryell County commissioners agreed Monday to begin negotiations with an architectural firm for a larger county jail, and received updates on grants to pay for the building.

In an attempt to avoid continued payments to house inmates in other counties, the court agreed to begin discussing options with DRG Architects of San Antonio.

The court has been looking into 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 jails' 52 beds would be insufficient by 2027.

Commissioner Jack Wall said the county jail committee received nine submissions from architects and narrowed them down to four. Sheriff Johnny Burks recommended DRG, based on the company's past work with the county.

County Judge John Firth said an agreement with an architect is required before completing applications for U.S. Department of Agriculture grants or loans. Updated jail construction feasibility information is also needed.

Firth said the state is expediting the grant application process while the county is working to complete an environmental study of the land. He said there is a good chance that the funding for the prison could come from the state's 2010 fiscal year budget. The court also discussed locking in historically low interest rates.

"The bad news is that Coryell County has low per capita property values and median household income is the base criteria for the grants," he said.

The USDA is willing to use the 2000 Census numbers because current 2009 census data would ensure the county would not receive a grant, Firth said. Based on 2000 Census information, the county would be eligible for a grant for 15 percent of the project.

On a related topic, Firth announced that the Waco Regional Census office will complete the count of the state jails in Coryell County in the first week of August.

Since the census determines the level of federal funding for each area, out-of-county inmates could add millions of federal dollars. The Coryell County jails housed 8,062 offenders as of Feb. 28. Of this total, only 32 offenders were convicted in Coryell County, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Spokeswoman for the Census Bureau Jenna Arnold said the numbers are going through a quality assurance process and would be released next year for redistricting.

Contact Taylor Short at or (254) 501-7476. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcove.

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