GATESVILLE — Coryell County’s delay in starting work on a new law enforcement center could result in the loss of an $18 million rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
County Judge John Firth on Tuesday sought guidance from county commissioners on how to reply to an email from the USDA inspector general asking the status of the jail project and when the money would be spent.
“We have to justify the need for the money,” Firth said.
Despite the loan and passage of a 2011 bond election authorizing $18.8 million for a new law enforcement center, commissioners have delayed the project, citing insufficient funds to operate the new facility.
The federal loan offer is good for five years, Firth said, and the bond decision by the voters is valid for 10 years.
An email to Firth from Terri Chenoweth, a USDA rural development specialist, asked him for a memo on the jail project status by Thursday.
Commissioners remained split on the new jail Tuesday, with Commissioner Jack Wall urging an immediate start of the project. Commissioners Don Jones, Daren Moore and Justin Latham conceded a new jail will be needed within the next 10 years, but balked at committing county funds just yet.
If the county does not respond to Chenoweth’s email, Firth said, the federal money would likely be withdrawn. The correct response to the email, the commissioners concluded, would be to say the county is still undecided on the jail.
Moore said the county would be better off without the “strings attached” to the federal money.
County Auditor Ben Roberts said the interest rate on the federal loan — 4.87 percent — “is twice what we could get anywhere else.”
“If we were going to build a jail now, we would not use these funds,” Roberts said of the USDA loan.
The new jail remains the sticking point on reallocation of county office space to ease crowding in the historic courthouse and make use of about 15,000 newly acquired square feet in the Extraco Banks building the county agreed to buy.
The commissioners reconvened in open session and appointed Moore and Latham to close the deal on the Extraco Banks building at 800 Main St.
The commissioners court will meet in special session Monday for a budget workshop and to continue discussion of space reallocation.