The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

April 5, 2012

County OKs $20M for new jail

HUNTSVILLE — Walker County Commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to issue $20 million in certificates of obligation to fund the building of a new Walker County Jail.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has been recommending a new jail for at least the past six years and Executive Director Adan Munoz said he's glad to see the project come to fruition.

“The community is so in dire need of this,” he said. “It’s a local decision. It’s easy for us in the state of Texas to say you need a jail, but this is a sound decision. Looking at it from our perspective, I congratulate the citizens of Walker County.”

Sheriff Clint McRae and jail administrator Capt. Steve Fisher looked happy and relieved after court was adjourned Thursday. McRae said he was grateful to the many citizens who attended information meetings held about the jail.

“We have worked so hard to educate the community,” he said. “It’s a good day for Walker County. It was the right move. It’s something that has needed to be done. We have worked to stretch this facility as far as we could, but the state of Texas has been on our shoulders for quite some time.”

McRae said he feels it is part of his job to bring options to the community, then make the hard financial decisions.

“I’m a member of this community. I’m a taxpayer,” he said. “This is where my foundation is at, so it was really important to me to make a good financial decision. When you can build new construction and have a 40- or 50-year lifespan and spend less money — it’s an easy decision.”

Commissioners had three options Thursday — do nothing, renovate the existing jail or build a new one.

Doing nothing was not an option because the existing jail is not large enough to house the average population of inmates they county has, and some inmates are already must be taken to Houston County.

The decision to build a new jail rather than renovate the existing one was made based on several factors, including cost of renovation and the fact that the old jail has a limited amount of buildable space.

Fisher said it felt “awesome” to hear the unanimous vote come down because he believes a new jail has been needed for some time.

“It's a huge relief,” he said. “I’m really at a loss for words. It’s something we have worked on for several years. There’s been so many hours of work that so many people have put in and for it to finally all come together is a huge relief.”

A new jail is expected to cost just under $18 million. Commissioners are issuing $20 million in certificates of obligation to cover the cost of purchasing land and any unforeseen soft costs not already factored in though the bid process, according to McRae.

“Having to talk about that kind of money is not anything anyone wanted to do, but the decision that was unanimous today was a great example of how hard everyone has worked to make sure this is the best decision,” he said. “This is the best financial situation for the county and the taxpayers.”

Commissioners chose to issue certificates of obligation instead of holding a bond election because the cost could rise significantly over time.

“A quote on copper is only good for one day,” McRae said. “If you don't lock it in today, you have to get another quote. A quote on stainless steel is good for 15 days. Material costs are continually climbing and that’s one of our biggest concerns.”

Commissioners said they believed they had made the right dceision.

“The present jail has been stretched pretty far. It has served its purpose, but I feel like it's time to build a new jail. The homework's been done. I'm looking forward to it.” – B.J. Gaines, Pct. 1

“The only way I see to go with this is the new jail. Renovating costs too much. Doing nothing is not an option. The new route is the way we need to go. I haven’t heard any negative input at all.” – Ronnie White, Pct. 2

“We’re still coming up with ideas that we can use the old jail for. That's going to benefit us in lots of different areas, but the new jail is the way to go.” — Bobby Warren, Pct. 3

“It’s a difficult decision because we're spending taxpayers’ dollars, but it’s an easy decision. We needed an unbiased, professional opinion so we could make the right decision and I believe we are.” – Tim Paulsel, Pct. 4

County Judge Danny Pierce said he felt confident that the county enlisted the help of  knowledgeable people who are steering the process in the right direction.

“We have professional people who know what they’re talking about,” he said. “The Texas Jail Commission guided us through the entire process. We put it on the table in front of the public, and they have been 100 percent behind us. We have addressed every opportunity to reduce the population the jail up to this point, but we have stretched it as far as we can stretch it.”

Cooperation among agencies and public participation led commissioners and Pierce to the conclusion that the new jail has the support of Huntsville and Walker County citizens.

Munoz said he is impressed with the level of involvement of other agencies and private citizens.

“We have never seen the spirit of cooperation in this community to get this jail built the right way,” Munoz said. “We hardly ever see that in the state of Texas. You’re in a very precarious situation with the jail you have. I think you're going in the right direction. We'll make sure you get it done correctly.”

A notice of intent will be published in The Huntsville Item Sunday with the certificates of obligation offered on May 9.

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