GATESVILLE — Coryell County may have to choose between maintaining its paved roads or building a new county jail, County Judge John Firth said during a budget workshop here Monday.
“If we commit to maintain 430 miles of paved roads, that will put us in the position that we cannot support the sheriff (with a new jail),” Firth said. “To me, we need to support the sheriff.”
Last month, commissioners voted 4-1 to start construction on a new 192-bed jail in fiscal year 2017 and select a site for the new facility by June 2016.
Commissioner Jack Wall and Firth pushed to build the jail sooner, citing the overcrowding of the current 21-year-old lockup that has required boarding Coryell inmates out of county at an estimated $500,000 a year.
Commissioner Justin Latham, the lone nay vote last month, said paying $500,000 a year to board inmates out of county would be less than the debt obligation of building a new law enforcement center.
“I think county residents would rather have their potholes fixed than bring inmates back from outside the county,” Latham said.
Latham’s comment may have framed the coming budget debate of roads versus jail.
County Road and Bridge Superintendent Allen Neel is asking for an additional $240,000 in next year’s budget to reseal 39 miles of county roads to prevent them from deteriorating.
Neel conceded the county may have paved too many miles of roads in the past and is now faced with keeping them maintained, abandoning them or rebuilding them in the future at a much higher cost.
“We talk about economic growth,” Latham said. “Ripping up roads is going to hinder our county.”
“The only way to maintain 430 miles of paved roads over time,” Firth said, “is to raise taxes.”
“We may have to go back to the people and let them anty up again” to pave the roads, Commissioner Don Jones said. “Or just go back to dirt (roads).”
Neel said he would rework his budget request after meeting with each commissioner to re-prioritize roads targeted for repair and bring his revised figures to the commissioners’ court next week.
Although the commissioners could not agree on whether the spending priority should be old roads or a new jail, they did agree that the choice would not be easy.
“We’ll need a solid two weeks of workshop just for this,” Commissioner Daren Moore said.
“It won’t be pretty,” Wall said.
“This is tough, folks,” Firth said. “This is really, really tough.”