County commissioners discuss new jail cost, operations
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Coryell County Commissioners’ Court held a special workshop meeting via Zoom Friday morning to discuss the maintenance and operating cost and property tax rate for the proposed 250-bed jail facility.
The construction project is estimated to cost nearly $30 million and would be paid for through a bond. The commissioners discussed the various elements of the maintenance and operation of the new jail to determine that portion of the tax rate.
By the end of the meeting, County Judge Roger Miller revealed that the tax rate associated with the operating costs would be somewhere in the neighborhood of an additional 2 cents added to the property tax rate, which is less than a prior estimated increase of 7.8 cents per $100.
The debt portion of the jail would lead to a projected increase of 6.6 cents per $100 valuation to the county’s property tax rate.
The total projected increase, to cover the debt issuance plus the operating costs of the jail facility, would be at least 8.6 cents per $100 evaluation, according to Miller.
The projected annual estimate for the overall maintenance and operations of the new jail is $3,490,101.83, higher than the current county budget for the jail for fiscal year 2021. The current budget on the county’s website shows that $3.29 million was budgeted for the county jail.
This amount also includes $1,117,500 budgeted for out-of-county prisoner board to house inmates in other counties’ jails.
Miller said the cost for the county jail plus housing inmates out of county for fiscal year 2020 totaled $3,097,709.25.
“It’s not cheap, but we’re factoring in the out-of-county costs, so when you include what we’re spending out of county, it comes out to almost a wash,” said Commissioner Daren Moore. “It’s not cheaper to operate a new facility than this one, until you factor in what we’re spending out of county.”
Moore added that the county is just now at a ticking point where it was spending too much to house inmates in other counties.
Jail operational costs, line by line: staffing, food, healthcare
With the discussions Friday morning, the commissioners and Miller went line by line through the jail budget to determine the additional costs associated with operating a 250-bed facility. Some costs were based on a lesser number of inmates, such as initial additional staff compensation, since it was unlikely the jail would be at full capacity immediately.
Sheriff Scott Williams said that the new jail wouldn’t need more than 20 additional employees.
“I was under the impression that if we opened up a 250-bed facility, we have to staff it as a 250-bed facility,” Miller said.
Williams explained that the county would only need to staff the beds that it’s utilizing.
“So, 17 is the number to start it up to say that we could house up to 200 inmates,” Miller said after clarification from Sheriff Williams.
“It’s 1 in 48 is the standard, so we don’t have to worry about staffing for a full 250-bed facility if we don’t have 250 inmates,” Williams said.
The commissioners briefly discussed food costs for inmates. Miller shared that the meals per inmate averaged out to $6 per day over the past two years and wanted to look into lowering that cost if possible.
The county has a contract with Cisco to provide meals. The company has its own nutritionist that would come up with meals specific to any dietary restrictions, and Commissioner Kyle Matthews said he noticed there were some differences in the price per meal throughout the year.
Matthews said that it was evident, when looking at the beginning versus the end of the year, that the county had been overpaying on food.
The Commissioners also touched on the medical services for the jail, proposing an annual base rate of approximately $192,000.
Miller listed $347,700 as a proposed new contract rate of $16,058 plus historical data on overages of $775 per inmate based off 200 inmates.
Matthews said he also visited with about five to six different counties who have medical coverage nurses versus contracting the services out. They work with their local hospital with the nurse.
“They’re saving so much money,” Matthews said. “I mean, they were going from $200,000, $300,000 a year on medical for the jail down to about $100,000, $150,000 by just using their local hospital.”
Matthews added that the 24-hour coverage of the contracted services is a misconception.
“It’s basically a nurse who works eight hours,” Matthews said. “A lot of them had a med tech who came out and handed out the medicine. Some of the jails do like we do - they’re under the direction of the nurse and they hand out the medicines, which we’re doing.”
Currently, Coryell County has partnered with Southern Health Partners. Miller estimated that the base cost for medical for the larger facility would start at $16,058 per month for an annual base rate of $192,700. With the overage charges of $775 per inmate, the new contract rate for the new facility would come out to $347,700, according to Miller.
Prior to contracting with Southern Health Partners, Coryell County had hired its own nurse. Williams said the benefit of partnering with a third-party company is that the liability falls back on the company versus the county.
Out-of-county housing of jail inmates
Matthews mentioned that even with following the other counties and using the hospital, the county will still be contracting and not hiring an employee, but they will be contracting locally.
The discussion also touched on how much the county is spending housing inmates out of county.
Miller said the state reported that Coryell County was averaging about 68 inmates a month being housed out of county through October, November, December.
“I think the biggest part of it is not being able to move some cases,” Miller said. “They’re all incarcerated, but there’s a bunch of those misdemeanors but they can’t even get them in court to do the arraignment to then start the ‘Do you want to have a plea deal?’”
Sheriff Scott Williams said he met with the director and deputy director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards earlier and that there were talks about building a temporary building to house the jail overages as an option.
“The key thing that I took away from it is with us continuing to be overpopulated, and [Director Brandon Wood] said it is statewide, there is a chance of being held out of compliance, and there is also a fine chance of them closing the jail,” Williams said.
Williams added that Wood told him that it was evident that the Sheriff and county are trying their hardest and doing everything they can for the jail.
The Coryell County Commissioners’ Court met on Jan. 26, to consider actions concerning the plans, costs, and/or analysis for construction projects to establish criteria for a Bond Election Order. The court had previously decided on moving forward with the process of holding a bond election for both the new jail construction project and for the county government building.
On Tuesdy morning, the commissioners' court will be meeting again for its regular meeting and will take action on calling for a bond election to be held within Coryell County and making provisions for the conduct of the election and other matters related to the election.
The court will also consider and take action on interlocal agreements with Limestone County and Mills County to house Coryell County inmates, for a per diem rate of $45 and $50 respectively and will consider options for housing inmates out of county.
An update to this will be provided in Friday’s Leader-Press.