San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 2nd, 2009
County meets jail deadline with Friday letter

Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff. File photo.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Hays County officials said last Friday that they met a 30-day deadline with a letter on that day to show the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) progress on bringing the county jail into compliance with state regulations.

The county had missed a chance Tuesday to vote for a contract to fix the roof of the jail. The commissioners declined to meet because the agenda wasn’t posted as required by state law.

TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz said in a letter received by the county on Oct. 1 that the county had 30 days to issue a response indicating progress along a timeline for repairing the jail.

As of mid-Friday afternoon, Muñoz said he had not yet received a response from the county. However, Muñoz said he would accept a letter as a response for the purpose of meeting the deadline.

“I got a phone call from the (Hays County) Judge’s office about an hour ago wanting to know if they could (email) it to me,” Muñoz said at 3 p.m. last Friday. “Will that be part of the overall evaluation? Sure, if it gets here, that’s great. If it gets here Monday, well, that’s still a response. It doesn’t trigger any other adverse action, by not being here within the 30 days … We would always like to have the response back within 30 days.”

Two weeks ago, the Hays County Commissioners Court unanimously authorized an expenditure of $1,455,388 to fix the jail. This budget cycle, the county allocated 4.5 cents in the property tax rate for capital improvements, which amounts to roughly $4.5 million. The county rolled $1 million over into the capital improvements fund from last year’s budget.

Muñoz said most counties in Hays’ position opt to replace their jails. A new jail may cost the county from $20 million to $25 million.

“I can’t tell you what recommendations I’m going to make, because that’s not fair to my commission, because I’ve got to wait for them to come in here,” Muñoz said. “So we should all take it as, it’s an overall picture of the entire circumstances in Hays that needs to be explained to the commission and also to … myself and my staff, and then … we’ll decide what kind of action to take.”

The Oct. 30 letter by Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), intended for Muñoz, said the county has repaired doors and cells in the jail, removed the rust from food passes, cleaned away the mold in the kitchen and fixed the two-way communications system in the Hays County Justice Center. Sumter’s letter added that the county is receiving bids for the replacement of the infirmary’s shower and new valves to improve water flow in sinks and showers. The response letter also said the county will repair indoor recreation areas within the first half of November, and has moved inmates living in flooded areas elsewhere in the jail. The letter informs TCJS that the county will let out the bid for replacement of the jail’s roof on Nov. 3.

The county failed the last two inspections of its jail, the first of which occurred in April. A TCJS September inspection found at least seven areas of noncompliance with state law, including mold and mildew on the walls of walk-in coolers and freezers, deterioration of cooler walls from rust, kitchen floors prone to cause slipping, lack of washable surfaces in the kitchen caused by cracked ceilings and missing and damaged kitchen floor tiles, rusted food passes in the holding and detox area, rusted walls, partitions, showers and vents, holes and cracks in the indoor recreation area’s walls, and roof damage causing leaking that the TCJS inspector said could result in further “deterioration” of the facility.

The response letter said that some inmates were moved to Guadalupe County’s jail. The county spent $264,900 during the last budget cycle to house 25 inmates in Guadalupe County. Sumter said a state study determined the county would need just fewer than 1,000 jail beds within the next 20 years. The Hays County Jail now has 362 beds.

Sumter’s letter said TCJS conducted a surprise inspection on Oct. 14, which resulted in the “violent cell” being shut down. The letter states the county is soliciting bids for repairs to that cell.

The response letter reports the county is assessing how to permanently fix the jail’s kitchen and cooler, and states that a request for proposal (RFP) will be issued within the first week of November. The letter also informs TCJS of consultant Broaddus and Associates’ (B&A) ongoing physical assessment of the jail. The B&A study will determine, along with input from another ongoing study of the county’s justice system by the company’s subcontractor MGT, whether the jail can be expanded or replaced. MGT’s study is expected to be completed Nov. 30 and B&A’s assessment is due in January. The cost to the county for B&A’s jail study is estimated to be $246,400.

Texas law requires counties to select the lowest responsible bidders for construction work. The low bidder for the roof replacement contract for the jail is Austin-based Texas Fifth Wall Roofing, which proposed a project cost of $424,000.

Muñoz sent a letter to Sumter and Sheriff Tommy Ratliff in the middle of October inviting them to attend the next TCJS meeting on Nov. 5. The 9 a.m. meeting, open to the public, will be in room 120 of the John H. Reagan Building in Austin. TCJS commission members will hear the county’s presentation, then Muñoz will make his recommendation. The commission will then deliberate and make a decision, which may entail shutting down at least part of the jail.

Download: Sumter’s letter to TCJS.

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