• December 21, 2014

Coryell County takes heat for inaction on jail

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Posted: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 5:05 pm, Tue Feb 11, 2014.

GATESVILLE — Coryell County commissioners on Monday heard conflicting sentiments about the delay in building a new county jail.

County resident Donna Taylor told the commissioners court she “voted for a new jail” in 2011 and expressed her anger that construction of a new law enforcement center had stalled.

Taylor previously served on a county committee that recommended building a new jail.

“If the court had no intention to build a jail,” Taylor said, “why have a vote?”

She praised Precinct 1 Commissioner Jack Wall for pushing to start the jail construction immediately and berated other commissioners for delaying the project due to a lack of operating funds.

“Politicians who neglect the voters will sooner or later regret it,” Taylor said.

“No one has said we don’t need or shouldn’t build a new jail,” County Judge John Firth said. “We have to set priorities and, given our limited tax base, these are not easy decisions.”

County Attorney Brandon Belt Monday argued that the November 2011 bond election “was not a mandate for a new jail” and the court had not presented it as such.

Belt said the bond election was to “support an option for funding” a new jail and law enforcement center.

“Anyone who says (the vote) was a mandate is a liar,” Belt said. “That is not what it was sold as by the court.”

In April 2011, commissioners voted to accept conditions for a rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture of about $20 million. One condition was voter approval to issue bonds to repay the loan.

Seven months later, voters approved the ballot measure for “issuance of a tax bond of $18.8 million for a Coryell County Jail and Law Enforcement Facility.”

The commissioners court has final say on when to start the project. Wall has pressed to start construction immediately, but has been unable to rally support from the rest of the court.

Commissioners Daren Moore, Justin Latham and Don Jones have expressed the need for a new jail in the future, but have hesitated to sign off on the project because of the high cost of operating the proposed 240-bed facility.

The county’s plans to reallocate offices and expand into newly acquired space in the Extraco Banks building has stalled over the uncertain future of the new jail and a possible second court — either another district court or a county court-at-law with felony jurisdiction.

Moving plan presented

On Monday, David Wright of the Waco architectural firm RBDR, presented the commissioners with a phased plan for moving some county offices out of the historic county courthouse.

Under the first phase of Wright’s plan, the offices of the county judge, county auditor and county treasurer would be moved out of the courthouse into the Extraco building a block from the square. The move would free space in the courthouse for functions directly related to the courts.

Belt urged commissioners to reach a decision on the new jail. Firth said the issue would be on the agenda for next Monday’s meeting.

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