Coryell County officials inch ahead on jail, justice center construction projects, discuss possible bond issuances
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Coryell County Commissioners held a special meeting Thursday to discuss and take action on moving forward with constructing a new jail facility and a government/justice center.
Commissioners were presented with the findings for the Coryell County Masterplan and the costs and finance options for the project by Jeff Heffelfinger of Southwest Architects and Butler-Cohen Design Build and Specialized Public Finance.
The topic of a new jail is old news in Coryell County and has had heightened discussions with the rising costs to house jail inmates outside Coryell County.
During the November 2011 election, Coryell County voters initially voted for a proposed bond of $18,764,000 to help pay for a proposed 240-bed jail facility. However, in April 2012, the Commissioners Court voted 3-1 against hiring an architect and an engineer to begin planning the jail facility, with former County Commissioner Jack Wall being the sole commissioner in favor of the project.
Then in 2019, the Commissioners Court approached the topic again and on October 30 of last year, sent out Requests for Qualifications for an architect firm for both a new jail facility and a “Justice Center” which would house multiple county departments including the County Attorney, the Justices of the Peace for Precincts 3 and 4, and more. The court awarded the bids for both facility projects to Southwest Architects, Inc. during a special meeting the following month.
County costs to house jail inmates outside the county exceeding $1 million annually
Presently, the county budgets more than $1,000,000 annually for its prisoner board, which pays to house overflow prisoners at other county jails. In a 2012 article by the Leader-Press, the county was reported to have paid a total of $1.35 million in prisoner board from fiscal years 2006-2011, but those costs have increased in subsequent years.
For fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the county’s annual budget was $1,117,500 for prisoner board alone, an increase to the $1.045 million budgeted for fiscal year 2019.
The proposed new jail would be an estimated 80,000-square-foot facility and be located at 1300 F.M. 929. A proposed government building, formerly called the Justice Center, would be located at 420 E. Main St. and would be an estimated 50,000 square-feet, with three floors. This building would house different governmental entities like the County Attorney, Department of Public Safety, Justices of the Peace Precincts 3 and 4, the game warden and the Emergency Management Coordinator and Emergency Management Operations, etc.
Current anticipated costs for jail, justice center – put it to the voters again?
The cost of issuance for a Certificate of Obligation for the jail would be $29,435,000, more than $10 million over the costs back in 2011. The base bid for the government building would be $15,507,000.
The commissioners heard from Specialized Public Financing regarding the impact the bonds would have on the county’s tax rate, looking at scenarios with a 20-year payoff and a 25-year payoff.
For the detention facility and the base bid for the government building, with a 20-year fixed rate of 2.4 percent, the county’s tax rate would increase by 9.9 cents.
For the two projects with a 25-year fixed rate of 2.5 percent, the tax rate would increase by 9.0 cents.
Commissioner Daren Moore later asked for clarification on Certificates of Obligation Bonds versus General Obligation Bonds.
Certificate of Obligations are issued by the county, after publishing a notice in the newspaper. The publication process can then kick off a petition process, which requires five percent of the county’s registered voters to sign onto a petition to be presented prior to the time that the commissioners consider an order authorizing the issuance of the CO bonds, thus resulting in an election.
If Coryell County did get a petition on a CO issuance, it would require an election before the issuance of the bonds.
If county officials decide to issue General Obligation Bonds, it would be either May or November election. If the county wanted to have a General Obligation bond election in May 2021, the last day for the court to call for a bond election would be mid-February 2021.
County Judge Roger Miller said he wanted to bring a future agenda item to the commissioners to go on record of whether to go with CO bonds or General Obligation bonds.
“In my opinion, I think that the dollar figures that were discussed, in the tens of millions of dollars, I absolutely believe that the voters should have a say in whether they want to pay for those new facilities,” Miller said.
The action items that the commissioners voted on during Thursday’s meeting included voting to move forward with the two construction projects.
“Rest assured that the court did not vote to build either one of those because we’re still many, many steps away from doing that,” Miller said. “We needed to have that vote because there were three other items that are a direct function of moving forward.”
The commissioners approved a professional services contract with Mitchell & Associates, Inc. for surveying both properties, $4,500 for the East Main Street property and $12,750 for the F.M. 929 location.
The commissioners also approved a professional services contract with Rone Engineering for geotechnical services at 420 E. Main St and 1300 F.M. 929, to determine if the site is suitable for construction, with estimated fees of $10,735 and $12,635, respectively.
The commissioners approved authorizing Southwest Architects, Inc. and Coryell County Sheriff Scott Williams to submit the detention center schematic design plans to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for approval, along with a resolution of intent to finance expenditures incurred by Coryell County. The resolution allows the county to pay itself back using the bond funds for expenditures that the county is occurring currently, like the surveying fees and other fees.
The estimated total financing is not to exceed $47.3 million, with the reimbursement amount not to exceed $7.5 million.
Miller said that the county is still technically in the design phase for the projects.
“I don’t think it’s prudent for us to make a decision until we know what is the real cost, and that’s operating cost, debt service, all of that, and then the taxpayers, in my opinion, should have a voice in whether they want to pay for that increase in the tax rate, and it’s going to be an increase in the tax rate,” Miller said. “There’s no two ways about it, if the jail is included.”