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

August 27th, 2010
Commissioners consider $31M in county jail repair

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Broaddus and Associates (B&A) Senior Project Manager Phillip Buterbaugh, left, and B&A Vice President and Austin Area Manager Brenda Jenkins at a Hays County Commissioners Court meeting last month. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Hays County commissioners allocated $2 million in reserve funds for emergency repairs to the Hays County Jail this week, and they are considering more than $30 million in additional improvements to the jail and the sheriff’s office headquarters as consultants implore them to move quickly.

Commissioners are contemplating spending $23,750,000 in additional repairs and renovations to the jail. Also proposed is an expansion of the public safety building adjacent to the jail for an estimated cost of $7.4 million.

Commissioners may fund the additional $31.1 million in jail and public safety building costs in the next 12 months. The cost of an entirely new jail has been ballparked by Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff at $50-60 million.

The $2 million expenditure, authorized with a unanimous vote of the court, came after the county spent more than $1.2 million in repairs to the jail’s roof, kitchen, plumbing, and related items. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) ordered the county jail kitchen closed last November after the facility failed multiple inspections since April 2009.  A TCJS inspector gave the jail’s kitchen a passing grade on June 4.

However, Ratliff spoke to commissioners a week later about a constantly-leaking roof, corroded water pipes, and a failing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

In April, Broaddus and Associates (B&A) Senior Project Manager Phillip Buterbaugh told commissioners the HVAC system was being kept together “with duct tape and baling wire” and was past its useful life.

“We’ve talked about the air conditioning system since last fall, and every time I’m up at the jail there’s more and more people up on the roof working on more and more of the air conditioners,” Buterbaugh told commissioners on Aug. 17. “They grab my arms saying, ‘Please, please, can you help me?!’ These are critical, and if you could act today or soon, it would be in the interest of the court and the county to do so, certainly for the sheriff’s office. Not to editorialize, but this is the area that we might want to discuss in some detail.”

Buterbaugh was at the Aug. 17 meeting because Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley), who chairs the committee overseeing jail repairs, placed an item on the court’s agenda for that day which outlined $33.1 million in repairs and renovations. At the meeting, Conley advised his colleagues to digest the proposal rather than immediately approve any repairs, and he made no motion. However, Conley did not place the proposal for emergency repairs on the court’s Aug. 24 agenda, though he said he would have if Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) had not beat him to it.

“It’s just Liz — it’s the way she is,” said Conley, who has all but abandoned circumspection about Sumter in recent weeks. “She doesn’t communicate very well with her colleagues on the court. She has the right to put something on the agenda just as much as any of us do. But I’m the chairman of the committee. Technically, I should have been the one to put it on the agenda, but I’m not a petty person, and if she wants to put it on, fine. We do the best with what we have.”

Sumter said four of the jail’s air conditioning units had ceased functioning and three were in critical locations, so she had instructed staff to replace the units immediately. Sumter said the court’s approval of the $2 million in repairs would preempt another critical failure.

“There’s no more ways to fix them (the AC units),” said B&A Austin Area Manager Brenda Jenkins. “We’ve got to — I mean, they’re on and off, and on and off. This was kind of an emergency situation — we’ve got to replace the units.”

Jenkins said the three to five units needing immediate replacement would cost about $75,000.

“We’ll come back next week with a request for proposal that will go out and be advertised so that it can be competitively bid,” Jenkins said. “So, we’re hoping that we’ll get a little bit better price. It’s not ideal to do it this way. It would have been better if we had had one vendor do all of them so that we would have had one warranty, one installation. It would have been better to do it that way. But they don’t have a choice now. We have to do those.”

The $2 million in recently-approved expenditures includes the replacement of existing security cameras and monitors ($460,000), the repair and replacement of the fire alarm system ($500,000), the replacement of existing HVAC units ($480,000), the re-wiring of one smoke evacuation system ($100,000), and an upgrade for light fixtures ($256,000), among other items.

B&A also recommended that commissioners authorize an expansion of the public safety building for an estimated $7.4 million. The building houses the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) patrol division and provides 9-1-1 dispatch and emergency operations functions.

“They are crammed in there like sardines, to use a colloquialism,” Buterbaugh said. ” … They are all adding people now and there’s no where to put them. And as the county grows, even as the crime rate decreases, the population increases, we expect that we’ll have to add additional officers to perform the functions that will keep the crime rate going down.”

MGT of America recently finished a study of the jail, including inmate population projections, and concluded the crime rate in the county is decreasing faster than most other parts of Texas.

The proposed $23,750,000 in jail renovations and repairs would increase the capacity of the jail to accommodate 96 more prisoners and allow for a future expansion to 700 total beds. The jail now has 362 beds. The MGT Study recommended the facility be expanded by 96 beds. B&A conducted a physical assessment of the jail and concluded it could be expanded to 700 beds.

“We recommended that if they add 96 beds, they should be able to house all their inmates within the county,” said MGT Senior Associate Margo Frasier. “Particularly if they did some of the other thing that we have recommended as far as streamlining their criminal justice process.”

Hays County has paid Guadalupe County $551,950 to house prisoners since last Oct. 1 — the beginning of the 12-month fiscal year. Four months into this fiscal year, commissioners ran out of money to pay Guadalupe County for continued “contract detention” services. Subsequently, commissioners allocated $300,000 to the their $350,000 contract detention budget.

Hays County paid $264,900 to Guadalupe County for contract detention services last fiscal year. Repairs to the Hays County Jail’s roof and kitchen resulted in more prisoners than usual being housed out-of-county this year. Guadalupe County’s contract detention fee is $50 per day per inmate, and Ratliff said the charge is likely to increase soon.

Frasier said it costs the average county in the state $45 per inmate per day to house prisoners, though she said costs vary widely across Texas. Frasier said it is generally cheaper for a county to house 10 or more prisoners in its own jail. On Aug. 17, HCSO personnel told commissioners that holding people in the county’s jail costs between $35 and $40 per inmate per day.

Said Frasier, “The other part of it is, when you send your money to, say, Guadalupe County, that money — Guadalupe County is not buying products from Hays County merchants, they’re not spending their money in Hays County — you’re not getting the money back.”

Frasier, a former Travis County sheriff, said in April that Hays County’s jail may last another 30 years with proper care. The same month, Buterbaugh told commissioners the jail could have a useful life of 30-50 more years with proper maintenance.

With the unanimous consent of commissioners, B&A hired MGT last July to do a jail projection study and find ways to optimize the county’s law enforcement system. Commissioners agreed to pay B&A no more than $172,128 to oversee the MGT study. In April, B&A assured commissioners the jail could be expanded by 96 beds for less than $25 million. B&A now estimates the proposed jail expansion to cost $23,750,000.

Commissioners recently voted 3-2 to pay MGT no more than $22,000 to help the county implement the MGT Study’s recommendations. Sumter and Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) cast the votes against expanding MGT’s scope of work. Sumter and Ford criticized the MGT study and advocated a Facility Needs Analysis (FNA) by TCJS.

Sumter placed a proposal for an FNA on the court’s June 8 agenda. But commissioners voted 3-2 against inviting another FNA. Ford and Sumter cast the votes for an FNA. Conley said he should have been notified about the FNA item before it was placed on the agenda because he is chair of the jail facility assessment committee.

Sumter called the MGT study “incomplete” and based on faulty assumptions regarding crime rate projections and whether inmates ought to ever be housed elsewhere. The MGT study concluded that the county can manage its jail population with “minor outsourcing.” On May 25, Sumter cast the sole vote against accepting the MGT Study. Ford, cast her “yes” vote that day with the qualification that she did not accept all of its conclusions or recommendations. Ford and Sumter said the MGT study seems to drastically underestimate the number of additional space needed in the jail and is too much in conflict with the FNA the state conducted for the county in 2005.

Conley and Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), in turn, criticized the 2005 FNA as being superficial. Barton said inviting another FNA might be a waste of time. MGT representatives also criticized the last FNA. Conley said another FNA would be a waste of state taxpayer dollars. Conley said a new FNA would result in “another cookie cutter number thrown at us by the state,” which he “would take with a grain of salt.”

The proposed $31.1 million in expansions of the jail and public safety building, plus the $2 million in emergency jail repairs, includes $1.1 million in project management fees for B&A.

Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog said the county would likely fund the proposed $31.1 million with certificates of obligations, bonds, or a design-build/lease-purchase mechanism. Herzog said the county may reimburse the already-approved $2 million expenditure with a future debt issuance.

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0 thoughts on “Commissioners consider $31M in county jail repair

  1. Jail system is a huge burden on taxpayer. We unfortunately need it. But do we have to rely on it so much ? Lets sort out who we really should put in there and we will reduce that financial burden and increase social integration These numbers are huge and do not help at all with solving crime, especially not petty crime and soft drug crime. Once we have sorted out who really should go to jail, we could even cancel much of the cost. I do not know which areas are affected by the ac shortage (employee only or prisoner areas ? How many of us work all day long in non ac areas ! Offices and employee only areas should of course be with ac and have all comfort required for a professional environment but AC should be a privilege not a given right, specially for prisoners.

  2. Agree. Indoor AC is luxury. I’m wondering if they also get to watch cable TV. (Another luxury our house decided we couldn’t afford.)

    I also agree w/you about our dependence on incarcerating people who break the law- there’s got to be a more cost effective way to handle non-violent criminals.

  3. I wonder how many of these folks are in jail for failing to pay exorbitant probation fines for minor violations. Our justice system, while necessary, has become a racket. I’ve seen so many kids – teenagers who hardly hope to land a job paying more than minimum wage – who are locked up for failing to pay fines that I couldn’t afford.

    Another thing that makes me cynical is the comparison of the $31 million requested here with the paltry $245,000 paid to the family of the inmate who was recently killed in this jail due to staff negligence/abuse (see Torrey Smith). He was a probationer who turned himself in because he couldn’t keep up with his payments. It’s a nasty business to have to put a price on human life, but it’s even nastier when the price is so much cheaper than air conditioning.

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