After years of outsourcing inmates at a lofty price, Hays County commissioners are working to allocate money to fund a new jail.
The county spent an estimated $500,000-$1 million outsourcing inmates to Bastrop, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties last year. In response, commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to pursue a bond election in November to fund a new jail, law enforcement center and communications facility.
As the jail continues to age, the commissioners agreed doing nothing about the time-weathered building is not a feasible option. Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, Precinct 1, said if a new jail is not funded soon, the county will continue to pour money into fixing the old one and outsourcing inmates.
“The jail facility is just really old and out-of-date and it’s becoming a huge liability for us,” said Commissioner Will Conley, Precinct 3. “Cell doors don’t lock and the place can catch on fire from wiring that is 30 years old. We’d be in an endless cycle of funding a couple of million dollars for a while on an annual basis of duct-taping that whole thing together.”
Commissioners voted for the county’s Law Enforcement Committee to recommend a program director. The person selected will guide the county through the bond election process and bring the final proposal back to the court.
According to County Judge Bert Cobb and the commissioners, a report from consultants said the current jail’s 300 beds aren’t enough.
According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Hays County’s population has increased by 23.9 percent since 2010, rising from 157,127 people to 194,739 residents presently.
Not only does Hays hold the top spot for fastest-growing county in the state, but it also ranks fifth in the national ranking.
The consultants suggested the new jail have 500-600 beds. Although this may be more than needed at one time, it puts a buffer in place, which is mandated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The court intends for the election, which must be called by August, to be for general obligation bonds. In order to expand the jail, land near the standing structure will need to be acquired and the city of San Marcos must finish improvements on Uhland Road.
Ingalsbe said the road is on the city’s list for capital improvements.
Law enforcement and communication facilities are intended to be covered by the bond election as well. The court agreed the communication facility should house and serve both the county and municipalities within.
Cobb said he still remembers the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the current jail in 1990 by former County Judge Don Rains. Even as the doors to the brand new jail were opening, Rains was ready to start planning for the next jail.
“That’s a good feeling to know there’s not another one coming two years from now,” Conley said. “We’ll be set up for the next 20 or 30 years.”