On Eve of San Angelo ISD Bond Election, County Eyes Borrowing an Additional $10 Million via Bond to Finish New Jail
SAN ANGELO, TX — Local government bodies that have local taxing authority in Tom Green County are seeking more money, through loans, to be paid for primarily with cash flow from property tax revenues. Tom Green County Commissioners' Court seeks to increase the size of its new county jail before it is completed in 2019. The San Angelo ISD Board of Trustees is seeking taxpayer approval to pay for infrastructure projects that include a new elementary school building for McGill Elementary and a large multi-purpose gym for Central High School.
Let’s look at the new county jail first.
The new county jail, now being built, was originally estimated to cost around $80 million. It was pared down to $60-65 million in 2014, but will have a final price tag of around $73 million when it is completed next year. The new jail will house 104 additional prisoners than the old jail and is located north of town off U.S. 67 next to the Roy K. Robb Corrections Facility.
The old jail, located across Harris Ave. from the main Tom Green County Courthouse, was originally built in the early 1970s and the facility does not meet State of Texas criteria for a modern jail. According to Commissioner Rick Bacon, who is spearheading the new jail effort for the Commissioners’ Court, the State has hinted very strongly that if Tom Green County doesn’t remedy the problems they see with the old jail, the State will step in and force the County to house prisoners in other counties, costing Tom Green County an unaffordable monthly recurring bed rental fee.
Bacon said the Commissioners’ Court set forth to build the new jail because some of the structural problems with the old jail cannot be fixed affordably, making a new jail much less expensive to the taxpayers.
The County’s original plan was to continue to use parts of the old jail in addition to the new jail. There were just 328 beds in the original new jail plan. That plan was scrapped when the State of Texas demanded the County implement two complete staffing plans, one for each jail. The cost of doing that was unaffordable, and it forced the Commissioners to formerly close the entire old jail, and to build additional pods at the new jail, bringing the new jail’s total bed count to 552.
The cost overrun the Commissioners will pay for today by issuing additional bonds will pay for four additional pods at the new jail. The new jail was designed in a modular fashion, or a “wagon wheel” design, allowing for additional bed space to the added without a major facelift. Having the construction crews already on site today reduces the overall cost of expanding the jail before the new facility is complete.
The cost of the new jail’s four-pod expansion is estimated to be $12.1 million
Commissioners will meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon to vote on issuing the new certificates of obligation. The Commissioners have about $10 million in additional credit they can issue in bonds. Earlier this month, Commissioner Bacon said the new certificates of obligation might not necessarily mean there will be another County tax rate increase. Growing sales tax revenue may cover the additional monthly bond payments.
The original loan for the new jail and courthouse renovations was $59 million. In the end, Bacon estimates, the $80 million jail, as originally estimated to be the cost, will have a final cost to the County of around $73 million. The renovations at the courthouse have been scrapped for now to allow County cash and credit to pay for the new jail.
Meanwhile, the San Angelo ISD, the largest portion of most property taxes in Tom Green County, is asking citizens to approve a $149 million bond in an election on May 5. The bond will increase the Interest and Sinking portion of the school district property tax rate 14.25 cents, or increase the ISD’s overall rate from $1.21 per $100 in property value to $1.3525, a 12 percent increase.