By Andy Sevilla
Pressed for time and with many unresolved issues, Hays County commissioners postponed calling a $188 million bond election this November that would have funded a new jail, co-located 911 center, law enforcement center and a training hub.
In a special meeting Aug. 18, commissioners decided to delay a potential bond election — allowing time to firm up cost assessments, interlocal partnerships, real estate deliberations and public education — opting instead to push for a May 2015 initiative.
“I think this is too fast to put one (bond election) up for November,” Hays County Judge Bert Cobb said. “I think that we don’t have enough – I don’t have enough – information to talk about defining this carefully and putting it on the bond for November. I just don’t see how we would do that and do a fair job of educating the public on what our needs are and purpose is.”
Commissioners first discussed putting the matter up for a November vote at their Aug. 12 meeting, after the court deliberated the Public Safety Facilities Committee recommendation to fund a new jail through Certificates of Obligation (CO), which is a form of debt available to local governments typically to cover emergency expenses.
Commissioners moved away from the CO funding recommendation and instead decided on putting jail construction before voters. Officials also decided to ask voters to approve debt for the remaining public safety facilities, as recommended by the committee.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said he preferred a November ballot because historically voters turn out in higher numbers. However, he conceded that commissioners were not yet in a position to call for a bond election.
He said by the end of 2014 some interlocal partnerships, particularly with San Marcos, should be finalized and harder cost numbers could also surface. San Marcos could share some costs associated with the proposed law enforcement center and the training center.
“I trust the people of Hays County,” Cobb said. “If we explain to them, I think they will understand what we’re trying to do – they must know something. But I just want to be sure that we spend their dollars wisely, that we get the best bang for our buck.”
The cities of Kyle, Buda and San Marcos will be asked to pitch in for the proposed co-located 911 dispatch center. The PSAP (public safety answering point) is estimated to cost about $12.7 million. That cost would be shared amongst the jurisdictions using the facility, though those figures remain unknown and the partnerships have not been solidified.
Cobb also expressed concern over the acquisition of several acres of land immediately to the west of the approximate 23 acres the county already owns, which houses the existing jail.
“There are about 17,000 mobile homes on there with bonds people in them,” Cobb said in an exaggerated estimate highlighting some of the challenges still ahead. “They’re going to have to relocate. They’re contiguous to the jail, so has that been discussed? The price of that land, because that is an unknown, right now, as well.”
Stephen Coulston, executive vice president for planning at Broaddus & Associates, told commissioners an allowance for real estate is included in the cost estimates, but quotes for that land had not been pursued.
With all the unknowns, commissioners said they’ll take the next few months to dig into the details, get answers and educate the public on the need for a new jail and other public safety facilities.
“This is a dropping off point for Hays County,” Cobb said. “We either move ahead and trust our citizens, or we sit with our hands folded, and we can’t do that any longer. We have to move ahead.”