Margo Frazier of MGT, left, and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, right, discuss jail matters at a recent meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County commissioners voted unanimously last week to initiate an expenditure of $1,455,388 to avoid a possible closure of part or all of the Hays County Jail by state authorities.
The county jail failed two consecutive inspections conducted by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), which threatened enforcement action in a letter received by County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) on Oct. 1. The county has 30 days after receipt of the letter to formulate and initiate a plan of action to come into compliance with state law.
TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz said Monday that the county had not yet contacted his agency with such a plan.
“It’s OK to tell us that they plan to do certain things, but we’ve got to have a timeline,” Munoz said. “For example, the roof — have they let out the contract, are they working on it, things of that nature. So, not only do they have to be specific as to what their plans are, they also have to follow up as to what stage (they are) in.”
The county estimates it will receive $245,000 in settlement money to help with repairs to the roof, which is leaking and, according to the last TCJS inspection, may result in further “deterioration” of the jail. 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.
Commissioners directed consulting firm Broaddus and Associates (B&A) to conduct a comprehensive physical assessment of the jail. The court also asked B&A to coordinate its work with the county justice system assessment being conducted by its subcontractor, MGT.
The MGT study may offer the county ways to streamline the justice system so that prisoners move through the courts faster, thereby lessening the burden on the jail. The MGT study is expected to be completed Nov. 30 and the B&A assessment in January. The cost to the county for the B&A jail study is estimated to be $246,400.
The court asked B&A to come up with a list this week of roofing contractors qualified to repair the jail’s roof.
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 under 1,000 jail beds within the next 20 years. The Hays County Jail now has 362 beds.
“I do believe that the jail will have to be at least 660 for us to be able to get any life out of it,” said Sumter last week. “And I think we can do it in increments. I think we can do 660 with an expansion in 10 years, if we have to.”
Munoz said counties in Hays County’s position usually opt to build a new jail.
“(Hays County needs) to start looking at long-term solutions, such as building another jail,” Munoz said.
A new jail may cost the county from $20 million to $25 million. The county has 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.
County commissioners recently voted unanimously to choose design-build team Balfour Beatty and HDR to construct a county government center for no more than $73,955,339. Payments on the government center may cost the county from $4.4 million to $4.8 million, depending on what interest rate is available.
“We will not have enough in that infrastructure fund to pay (for) both the government center and the jail,” said Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) said last week. “I think another that thing we can do as we continue on and if we can buy some time with the short-term fixes (to the jail) is that we continue to build (more cents) into that fund. And so, if we do go out and borrow the money (for the jail), then we won’t have to either raise taxes, or it would be a minimal increase.”Email | Print