By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor
Hays County Commissioner’s Court add a $237.8 million bond for improvements to public safety facilities and roads to the November ballot.
After an 11-hour meeting, commissioners crafted and passed the bond initiative to be added to the 2016 election ballot with a 5-0 vote.
The bond package will put $106.4 million into a colocated public safety facility, which will include a $62.4 million expansion to Hays County Jail and a $44.4 million 911 communications building.
Brenda Jenkins, senior vice president of ECM, said bringing the two facilities together provided a more cost effective design.
“Even though we really would have liked to have seen the number lower,” Hays County Pct. 1 Commissioner, Debbie Ingalsbe, said. “We at some point have to say these are things that are needed to make this jail work.”
Ingalsbe said the bond’s option B will leave opportunity for future expansion and ensure the jail will not reach capacity on day one.
Jenkins explained the problems associated with overcrowding in jails. She said the limited room forces inmates to sit in the intake area during busy times. She recommended renovating the existing jail and adding space to accommodate 192 more beds.
According to Sheriff Gary Culter, Hays County Jail resumed the practice of sending inmates to other facilities outside the county to avoid overcrowding in 2014. Last year, the county spent $708,000 in inmate housing costs outside the county.
“It would be irresponsible for us to consider a bond that doesn’t address any future growth (for the jail),” Ingalsbe said.
But the 911 center and jail expansion aren’t the only projects the bond package will cover. Officials will spend the remaining $131.4 million on road improvements throughout the county. The project will include at least 24 road reconstructions and expansions as well as low water crossings.
The Commissioners called the improvements crucial to handle traffic after the population jumped 23 percent from 2010 to 2015.
Dan Wegmiller, Hays County’s financial advisor, said the county could issue bonds up to $250 million over the next three years without increasing property taxes. New construction and properties with rising property values will bring in additional revenue under the current tax rate.
Voters will have the chance to vote on the bond initiative on the November ballot. The county commissioners are still working on the ballot language, but proposition 2 will list all the roads that are included in the improvement project.
The Austin American-Statesman reported that Commissioner Will Conley said, “I want the person who is going into the box to vote for President of the United States to be able to, without any of our materials, to be able to intelligently look at this and see what they’ll get.”