Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, left, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, right. Ford voted for the $89.5 million county office building option, while Conley voted against it. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
The Hays County Commissioners Court, presented with three project scenarios for a new county office building Tuesday, opted Tuesday to go with the most expensive.
By a 3-2 vote, commissioners court members directed consultant Broaddus and Associates (B&A) to work up a short list of design build proposals calling for less than $89.5 million for the government center planned for construction near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail.
The proposed government center – the largest and most costly building ever constructed by the county – will likely be built within two years and house most county offices, though commissioners haven’t decided precisely which departments will be located there. B&A probably will present the short list to the court within two weeks.
Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) and Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos), who voted in the minority, expressed support for a scenario proposed by B&A that called for a maximum total project cost of $73.8 million and fewer county offices located in the future government center.
“Y’all don’t have to drill into my head the (space) needs for the county,” Conley said to his colleagues. “I’m familiar with just about every office in the county, and (I) certainly understand where we are. At the same time, this isn’t an endless pot of money that we have to deal with here.”
County Auditor Bill Herzog said the scenario proposed by B&A and chosen by the court may entail the county making payments of $6.9 million annually for 20 years, which would put the actual cost to taxpayers at about $140 million. Commissioners have said they may allocate 4.5 cents in the property tax rate for spending on building improvements in next year’s budget, which Herzog said would yield about $4.5 million per year.
B&A representative Brenda Jenkins said firms submitting design-build proposals will compete with one another to make the total project cost as low as possible.
“If we start lower and lock them in on price and want to do more, we will be hit with change orders, and we will be exploited,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle). “It’ll be the perfect opening to break the bank.”
People working in county offices, such as those located in the Justice Center in the old H-E-B building on Guadalupe Street, have reported overcrowding. The county, lacking sufficient space at its jail, is paying to have prisoners housed elsewhere. Herzog said maintaining probation offices costs the county maintain $11,000 per month in rent, which he said increases five percent every year. If the county does not build the government center within two years, land near Wonderworld Drive the county acquired from W.C. Carson will be given back to him without a refund.
“I believe we need to move forward as quickly as possible,” Conley said. “Our justice center is a dump. Everybody knows it. And there are bigger things happening in San Marcos that (make it) essential for the county to get out of the downtown area at this point in time, for those plans to move forward. I’m just trying not to take such a big bite and (trying to) narrow that (design concept) a little bit (by leaving out) the auditor, human resources and treasurer and elections folks. It doesn’t mean there aren’t issues there, but I think they are manageable issues.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), who has spearheaded the effort to build a government center for four years, said she might support the offices of auditor, human resources, treasurer and elections being left out of the government center. Ingalsbe said she does not want the government center to be smaller than 233,000 square feet, about the size proposed by B&A in its Scenario 1.
Scenario 2, supported by Conley and Sumter, entailed an 181,300 square-foot building. Conley proposed modifying that scenario by eliminating a district courtroom to yield space for the adult probation and juvenile probation departments, whose inclusion in the government center he called “a no-brainer.” B&A had not included those departments in the government centers of Scenarios 2 or 3, the latter of which entailed a 141,000 square foot building with a total project cost of $59.6 million.
Sumter said the court should consider putting the district attorney’s office and the county’s other justice system-related offices in the same complex as a new county jail.
“I was making the assumption that the jail facility stays where it is,” said Conley after hearing Sumter’s idea.
The county jail in April failed a state inspection conducted at the behest of Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff. The inspector found at least seven areas of noncompliance with state law, some of which, she said, posed health, safety and security concerns for inmates, staff and the public. Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Adan Munoz said recently that Hays County needs a new jail.
The county last month authorized B&A to hire MGT of America, Inc. (MGT) to conduct a study of the existing jail. The results of the MGT study will be factored into B&A’s county facilities assessment, the results of which may be used to determine what offices may be relocated to the future government center.
Sumter advised the court to avoid acting on the government center issue in haste, as the county’s budget for next year has not been approved, nor the jail study completed. After Sumter proposed returning to the government center issue later, Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) objected.
“This decision has been weighed and weighed and waited on for many years now, and the costs have only gone up,” Ford said. “So I think we need to be realistic about what we’re going to need in the next 20 to 30 years. And that’s what we’re going to be putting into this building, not something that’s a number that we’re going to be afraid to put on our tax rate today.”Email | Print