Early voting begins Monday for Coryell County May 1 bond election
By LYNETTE SOWELL
For the second time in 10 years, Coryell County voters will have the opportunity to head to the polls again for a vote on a $30.9 million bond election for the proposed construction of a new county jail facility.
Early voting will take place April 19 through April 27, ahead of the Saturday, May 1 election day.
The sole item on the ballot will be Proposition A for “The issuance of General Obligation Bonds in the Principal Amount not to Exceed $30,900,000 to Pay for the Construction and Equipping of a New Coryell County Detention Center and for the Costs of Issuance of the Bonds, and the Levy of a Tax in Payment Thereof.”
Polls will be open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday next week from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. On Tuesday, April 20, polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. The following week, polls will be open on Monday, April 26, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., and on Tuesday, April 27, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Early voting will take place at the Copperas Cove Early Voting Center, 508B Cove Terrace Shopping Center, and at the Gatesville Annex, 801 E. Leon St.
County officials have had two townhall meetings, one in Gatesville and another in Copperas Cove, which discussed the financial impact of the bond, along with the issues that the Sheriff’s Department faces in the current jail facility, constructed in 1992. Presently, there are so many inmates behind bars that the county is spending $1.11 million this fiscal year to house its overflow inmates in at other county jails—which numbered 84 as of April 1.
Coryell County Sheriff Scott Williams said at the April 1 townhall that the jail itself had exceeded capacity, with 95 inmates in its 92-bed facility as of that date.
Williams discussed the risk of the county jail being non-compliant with the Texas Commission of Jail Standards due to being over capacity. Williams said that if the jail is found noncompliant then the state could shut down the jail and the county would be faced with finding space for all of its inmates, rather than just the 84.
The cost to house county inmates elsewhere has grown from $700,000 back in 2011 to $1.11 million for the current fiscal year. Sheriff Williams said that this doesn’t include the costs for transporting inmates from Coryell County to the other counties and back, nor the fuel costs, nor the deputies’ time nor any liability costs.
Williams also pointed out safety concerns at the current jail, including sections in the fencing along the mandated exercise area where inmates have escaped and where contraband has been tossed into the exercise yard. A residential area lies just on the other side of that wall, he added.
Also, it was discussed that the infrastructure at the current jail site does not lend itself to expanding the facility at that location.
The last time Coryell County voters went to the polls regarding funding a new jail was in 2011.
At that time, voters approved an $18 million bond for a 240-bed facility, 1,508 in favor and 1,328 against.
But, the county commissioners voted 3-1 against hiring an architect and engineer to move forward, which halted the project.
Coryell County Judge Roger Miller has said at past meetings that just because voters approve the bond issuance does not mean that the Commissioners will move forward with the facility construction.
In the ensuing 10 years since the 2011 bond election, construction costs for a 240-bed facility have nearly doubled, and the costs for the county’s prisoner board have continued to increase.
The $30.9 million in bonds will have an estimated interest rate of 2.11 percent, with payments of nearly $2 million annually over 20 years, starting with calendar year 2022.
The estimated budget for the new jail, starting in fiscal year 2023, would be $4,297,624. This year’s jail budget is $3,296,328, which includes the $1,117,500 for housing inmates outside the county.
Should the bond election pass, officials have shared that Coryell County property owners would see an estimated tax rate increase of 6.7 cents per $100 valuation added to their county property tax bill starting in 2022.
Per the county’s presentation as examples, this would be an estimated $33.50 added to the annual county tax bill for a $50,000 home, an additional $50.75 for a $75,000 home, an additional $67.00 for a $100,000 home, and an additional $100.50 added to the tax bill for a $150,000 home. A homeowner with a $300,000 home would see their annual property tax bill increase by $201.
Taxpayers would see another county property tax increase in 2023 for the operating costs of the new jail, including the hiring of as many as 21 jailers. The tax rate would increase by an additional 1.32 cents per $100 in 2023, bringing the total tax rate increase to 8.02 cents per $100.
The proposed new facility would be located on county-owned property on F.M. 929 near Gatesville, next to the state prison’s Woodman Unit.
Sheriff Williams has said that even if a new county jail would not be filled to capacity, Coryell County would have the option to begin providing the same services it has needed for more than 10 years – housing other counties’ inmates.