GATESVILLE — Construction of a new Coryell County jail has been the center of the county’s pitch for a proposed 2.5-cent property tax increase, but the project is not in the county’s 2013 budget.
The Coryell County commissioners court will conduct a public hearing on the proposed tax increase today at 9 a.m. in the county annex in Gatesville.
Whenever County Judge John Firth talks about the 2012-13 tax rate hike that would generate an estimated $500,000 earmarked for “capital improvements,” he always talks about the need for a new jail.
Last November, county voters approved an $18.8 million bond issue for construction of a new jail complex near Woodman State Jail on the north side of Gatesville.
“Ultimately, it’s still up to the commissioners court to decide if taxpayers can afford to move forward and obligate debt to this project,” Firth said after the vote. “It’s still up to the commissioners court to decide, ‘Is this project in the best interest of the citizens of this county?’”
The commissioners, in fact, decided not to start the new jail project this year on the grounds that operating costs may be more than the county can afford.
The current jail, built in 1991 to house a maximum of 92 inmates, has been overcrowded for the past several years, and the overflow — averaging about 35 inmates a day — must be housed in jails outside the county.
Coryell County has inter-local agreements with Milam, McLennan and Limestone counties to house Coryell inmates at a cost of about $50 per inmate per day.
In keeping with state jail standards, County Sheriff Johnny Burks said he tries to keep occupancy at 10 percent below maximum capacity.
Of the available 82 jail beds, 16 are designated for female inmates, leaving the rest for males.
One eight-bed cell is designated for minimum security and another eight-bed cell is designated for maximum security. Inmates must be kept separated based on gender and security classification.
As of Monday, there were 119 inmates on the Coryell jail roster — 101 males and 18 females.
While there is no new jail construction in the budget for the coming year, there are expenditures aimed at easing the overcrowding, including nearly $94,000 for a pre-trial services director. The commissioners are currently screening 33 applicants for the new position.
The county also proposes increasing the use of electronic monitoring in lieu of incarceration for certain nonviolent offenders. Leasing a portion of the old Bell County jail, which is empty, also has been discussed.