Hays County Commissioners Debbie Ingalsbe, left, and Jeff Barton, right, listen to the news that jail repairs are getting more expensive. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County commissioners are about to spend more for housing prisoners out-of-county in four months than they budgeted for the whole year. Along with that, commissioners discovered last week that they will wind up spending more for repairs to the Hays County Jail than they had budgeted.
Guadalupe County, where Hays County housed 64 prisoners as of earlier this month, billed Hays County for contract detention fees in the amounts of $71,700, $86,700, $97,500 and $97,300 for October, November, December, and January, respectively, for a total of $353,200. The county budgeted $350,000 for contract detention for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, which began Oct. 1.
Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff has sent more prisoners than normal to stay in Guadalupe County’s correctional facility, due to ongoing repairs of the Hays County Jail’s deteriorating roof and moldy, structurally-unsound kitchen. Last week, Ratliff said February’s costs for contract detention would be “in the neighborhood” of January’s costs, though “somewhat less,” because the county will begin shipping some prisoners back within seven days. Ratliff said some of his prisoners will have to stay in Guadalupe County even after the jail is fully repaired.
Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog said the commissioners court authorized $1.475 million for jail repairs. However, the county stands to spend about $1.68 million, plus soft costs, to repair the jail, according to consulting firm Broaddus and Associates (B&A), which is overseeing the repair work. B&A representatives told commissioners last week that the authorized expenditure of $1.475 million was planned with knowledge that there would be undetermined and unforeseen costs.
“This is a lot of money,” Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said last week. “What I hope our partners and our taxpayers understand is, in the great scheme of things, while it’s a lot of money, we are doing some things here that could save huge dollars down the road by remodeling and reinvesting in our current facility to make sure we can extend the life of (it) rather than just reflexively going out and building an over-sized, new facility. We could save tens of millions of dollars.”
B&A representatives said last week that they are looking for ways to decrease the costs of jail repairs. In October, commissioners agreed to pay $246,400 to B&A in return for a physical assessment of the jail. As of November, the county paid B&A $61,581.81 for overseeing the county jail repairs, plus $70,244.70 for related consultant fees to MGT for that firm’s analysis of the county’s justice system. As of November, the county had paid B&A $566,797.52 for project management services related to other capital improvement projects.
The MGT study is intended to show policymakers how to get people through the justice system faster, decreasing the number of inmates and incarceration times, among other benefits. A draft version of the MGT study awaits the full examination of a stakeholder group composed of the county’s justice system professionals. Barton told his court colleagues last week that the study’s “initial findings look very encouraging,” and said the final results may include the addition — whether by expanding the existing jail or constructing a new one — of a “much, much, much” smaller number of additional beds.
During a presentation by B&A, Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) said the county will save more than $100,000 on kitchen renovations, and stands to spend “way below” the initial estimate of “approximately $700,000.” Later in the discussion, B&A Senior Project Manager Phillip Buterbaugh told commissioners that kitchen repairs would cost about $650,000. Buterbaugh said the planned replacement of the jail’s HVAC system may cost about $450,000.
The county took part in a class action lawsuit against Beazer East, Inc., the manufacturer of the jail’s roof insulation, which was found to corrode metal. Repairs associated with the jail roof may cost $665,100, minus possibly as much as $293,442 in settlement money. Ratliff said the commissioners court became aware of the availability of settlement money on Dec. 13, 2000, and he and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) have criticized previous courts for not fixing the roof sooner. The deterioration of the roof led to some of the other problems now necessitating action.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) inspected the jail multiple times in 2009, finding noncompliance with state law in several areas. TCJS ordered the Hays County jail’s kitchen closed in early November, though commissioners were able to stall the closure until early February by requesting a re-hearing with the state agency, thereby saving tens of thousands of dollars in mobile kitchen rental fees.
The jail’s roof is more than 80 percent replaced, the kitchen is being repaired, and the heating ventilation & air conditioning (HVAC) system has yet to be replaced.
There was no item on Tuesday’s commissioners court agenda calling for the transfer of money to replenish the contract detention fund for Hays County’s agreement with Guadalupe County.
In early November, just after TCJS ordered the Hays County Jail kitchen closed, Ratliff said the costs Hays County is incurring for shipping prisoners elsewhere is not acceptable.
“We’re going to have to build another facility to house prisoners, because as you know, Hays County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country,” Ratliff said in November. Earlier this month, TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz said Hays County had “outgrown” its “deteriorating” jail, and needs a new one.
On April 7, 2009, Ratliff gave commissioners a report detailing jail problems, and asked them to “step forward” and fund repairs. More than two weeks later, Ratliff asked TCJS to inspect the jail. During the one-day inspection, TCJS Inspector Jackie Semmler found seven realms of noncompliance with state standards.
In early November, Ratliff said a new jail of at least 1,000 beds may cost the county “close to $50-or-$60 million, probably.” In October, Hays County accountant Vickie Wilhelm said the county is now spending more on capital improvements than ever before.
The court voted unanimously on Jan. 26 to publish notice of a March 30 sale of up to $72 million in certificates of obligation (COs) for design and construction of a 233,600-square-foot county office complex, the groundbreaking ceremony for which is slated for April 7. The county paid PBS&J $2.4 million for design work related to the government center project before ending that firm’s involvement in the project last year, though the entities are engaged in litigation over the status of the contract.
On Jan. 26, the court voted unanimously to execute a $1,452,500 contract with Flynn Construction for an expansion of the Resource Protection, Transportation and Planning Department (RPTP) building. The county paid MRB Group $66,102 for schematic design and programming services for the RPTP building expansion before ending that firm’s involvement in the project four months ago.
The county has allocated 4.5 cents per $100 of taxable valuation in the property tax rate for capital improvements, most of which it plans to spend in annual payments for the government center. The allocation amounts to about $4.5 million per year. The county’s last budget cycle devoted three cents of the tax rate to capital improvements. The county rolled $1 million over into the capital improvements fund from last year’s budget.
Ratliff said last week that he supports waiting until the MGT study is complete and all stakeholders have weighed-in before determining whether Hays County really needs a new jail. Sumter said she favors building a new jail as soon as possible, while Barton said he does not.
Barton and Sumter are running against one another in the Democratic primary for county judge. Bert Cobb and Peggy Jones are running against one another in the Republican primary. As of this month, Jones and Cobb have not expressed preferences between building a new jail or expanding the existing one, but favored examining the issue closely to determine the best course of action.
Jones said the ideal scenario would have been to build a new jail on land currently owned by the county near Thorpe Lane, and construct the proposed government center complex at the current location of Springtown Mall, where three big box structures now lay empty and smaller stores struggle to stay in business. The government center is planned for construction near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail.Email | Print