Polls open Saturday for Coryell County bond election
By LYNETTE SOWELL
After seven days of early voting that wrapped up on Tuesday, a total of 330 voters had cast ballots at the Copperas Cove Early Voting Center ahead of the Saturday, May 1 bond election on $30.9 million to fund a proposed new Coryell County jail.
Altogether, the Copperas Cove Early Voting Center along with the Gatesville Annex saw a total of 1,382 voters, with 1,052 ballots being cast in Gatesville.
Polls will be open on Saturday, May 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following locations:
- Copperas Cove Civic Center, 1206 W. Avenue B.
- Cove Early Voting Center, 508B Cove Terrace Shopping Center.
- Eastside Baptist Church, 1202 MLK Jr Blvd.
- Gatesville Elementary, 2537 E. Main St.
- Evant City Hall, 598 E. Hwy. 84.
- Flat Community Center, 159 CR 334.
- Oglesby Community Center, 118 Main St.
- Gatesville Annex, 801 E. Leon St.
For the second time in 10 years, Coryell County voters have the opportunity to vote on a bond election for funding a proposed new facility.
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.
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 has budgeted $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.
In mid-April, the sheriff's office received notice from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that it was non-compliant due to being over capacity.
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.
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.