Friday, April 9, 2010

Commissioners' Court To Bite New Jail Bullet Monday

The outlook: There is no cheap or easy way out of trouble

Monday will be a day of decision for Bosque County.

The Commissioners' Court is expected to make clear their
intentions on how to commence placing the county jail in
compliance with complicated - and expensive - standards that
have been mandated, but not funded, by state officials.

About half of those who bothered to show up voted in a straw
poll to have county commissioners go ahead with plans to
build a new 96-bed Bosque County jail with certificates of

Meeting at the auditorium of the Clifton Elementary School
in a final briefing for taxpayers, 15 out of about 30 people
who asked probing questions and made incisive comments about
the unfunded mandate being forced by a state commission to
upgrade living conditions and safety equipment at the lock-
up said they would prefer that their leadership commence
construction of the new jail as soon as possible, while
interest and the cost of materials is still low.

The project is estimated to cost about $10.5 million for the
larger option of 96 beds, while a 64-bed jail would cost
$9.75 million. The larger facility would include a "shell"
for the increased population, at a cost of about $400,000.

The smaller jail would cost taxpayers an additional $.0615
per $100 of assessed valuation while the 96-bed option would
be done at a cost of $.0662.

"It would cost about a half a penny more per $100 assessed
valuation to build the larger jail," said Emergency Services
Manager Dewey Ratliff, the official who has been ramrodding
a citizen's committee's work with Southwest Architects
Jeffrey Heffelfinger to plan the new jail.

The numbers were put together by financing experts at
Specialized Public Finance of Lubbock.

The proposal is to have the public financing concern market
low-interest certificates of obligation on the authority of
the county commission and begin construction very soon - by
early fall - while interest rates are as low as possible.

Even so, County Judge Cole Word pointed out, 5 percent of
registered voters, or about 600 people, could sign a
petition once they Court authorizes such a scheme, and force
the issue to be either approved or disapproved in a general
obligation bond election on Nov. 2.

It all depends on what the Court decides next Monday, April

Only 5 persons straw-polled voted for the general obligation
bond issue at the Thursday night briefing.

It is a small but very vocal and highly dissatisfied
faction, led by a former County Commissioner, who said they
would prefer to put the project to a voters' test.

"It's like buying a used car. They tell you it's for sale
at this price - now. You can't come back later and buy it
for that price," he said. "You have to make up your mind
now. I say, let's wait and decide later - when we know

The rub of the green is this. If the Texas Commission on
Jail Standards can see a display of due diligence to remedy
the fact that the county jail is not in compliance with
standards, they will hold off on closing down the facility.
This is something that would force authorities to have
inmates housed in neighboring counties whose lockups are in
compliance - at an estimated cost of nearly $750,000 per
year. It cost taxpayers about $9,000 during the month of
March to house about half the county's prisoners at other
area lockups because of overcrowding issues at the old jail,
said Sheriff Anthony Malott.

This is a debt that will never be paid off, that of housing
prisoners in another county's jail, and will never go away,
according to a presentation made by the citizens' committee
and county officials.

"It's whether or not we want to spend our money - my money -
to build someone else's jail, or whether we want to spend it
to build our own jail," Dr. Tom Bratcher told the small
throng. He is the Bosque County Republican Chairman-Elect
and a mathematician, the head of a Baylor University
doctoral program that qualifies Ph.D. candidates to be
conferred a degree in statistical analysis. He agreed six
months ago to serve on a 10-citizen steering committee that
helped to plan the new jail.

"The key word is transparency," said Judge Word. He
explained that the county's growing pains are experienced at
the inadequate jail, a crumbling building erected in 1978,
prior to the new commission's standards, schools, hospitals,
law enforcement offices and judicial facilities such as
courtrooms and offices.

"How we pay for them, I don't know," he concluded in a
frustrated tone.

If the Court so authorizes on Monday, Commissioners will go
ahead with the purchase of a seven-acre property in the
Meridian Industrial Park on Highway 144, a project of the
Meridian Econonomic Development Corporation.

Voters would have 30 days from that date to assemble the
petition that would force an election in November.

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