SAN MARCOS, Texas — The construction of a new jail to ease overcrowding in Hays County could be delayed due to a lack of funding after county commissioners moved ahead with plans to construct a new $74 million county government and judicial facility.
Commissioners voted unanimously to construct the 233,600-square-foot government center, and construction firm Balfour Beatty expects work on the new facility to begin in March 2010. Work is scheduled to finish in 2011.
The new county government center, designed by HDR Inc., is expected to house six district courts, three county courts, a justice of peace court, a law library and district and county clerks offices.
Adult and juvenile probation services and the offices of the Precinct 1 constable and district attorney will also be housed in the new center, which will cost an estimated $4.7 million per year to operate.
“For four years now, the county has been building into its budget a certain amount in order to not have to raise taxes to build our new government center,” says Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos). “We now have an amount that will pay the payment on the note with virtually little or no increase in our tax rate.”
However, while the majority of the funding for the government center is already in place, funding options for the expansion of the existing county jail or the construction of a new jail facility to relieve overcrowding are limited.
The Hays County Jail, which has a capacity of about 360 beds, is too small to handle the current inmate population. Many offenders are transferred to the county jail in nearby Guadalupe County, and Hays County will need almost 1,000 beds within the next 20 years to handle the increasing number of incarcerations, according to a recent study conducted by the state.
County officials recently commissioned an independent study of the existing 20-year-old jail to determine long-term capacity needs, suitability of the existing site for expansion and options for relocation of the facility. Project management firm Broaddus & Associates of Austin, Texas, is currently conducting a jail assessment, while MGT of America Inc. of Austin is analyzing Hays County’s criminal justice system.
“As for the jail, we will have to determine, once the B&A study is completed, how much money we will need to expand our current facility or relocate and build a new jail,” Ingalsbe says. “Until we have that information, we cannot determine how the county will finance the project.”
Depending on the findings and recommendations of the studies, which are expected to be completed in January, the county could face the prospect of committing $50 million to $60 million to construct a new jail — a difficult proposition to contemplate considering that commissioners approved the largest and most costly county building project in the history of Hays County, officials say.
Commissioners recently approved $1.4 million to repair the existing jail after a Texas Commission on Jail Standards review issued a failing grade to the facility. County officials are appealing the review adjudication, which mandated the county close the jail’s kitchen due to mold and structural problems.
Contractors are undertaking remediation work and repairs at the jail, including the installation of a new roof and a new HVAC system, renovating some cells, fixing deteriorating spaces between cells, replacing infirmary showers, retrofitting sink and shower valves and revamping the prison’s two-way communication system.
Workers are also making repairs and improvements to the kitchen floor to improve drainage and ease of cleaning and fixing the walk-in cooler, which stores the jail’s perishable food supplies.