Bailing out the jail? Commissioners vote for a bond for jail facility

By Anna Herod

A new jail might be in Hays County’s future.

After Hays County spent an estimated $500,000 to $1 million on outsourcing inmates last year, commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to pursue a November bond election to fund a new jail, law enforcement center and communications facility. 

As the standing jail’s infrastructure continues to age, the commissioners agreed that doing nothing about the time-weathered building is not a feasible option. 

Hays County Precinct No. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe 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 county currently outsources inmates to Bastrop, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties. 

“The jail facility is just really old and out of date and it’s becoming a huge liability for us,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley. “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 who will be charged with guiding the county through the bond election process, and then bringing the final proposal back to the court. 

According to County Judge Bert Cobb and the commissioners, a recent report from consultants said the current jail’s 300 beds simply aren’t enough for the growing county. 

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Hays County’s population has increased by 23.9 percent since 2010. 

The consultants suggested the new jail have anywhere from 500 to 600 beds. Although this may be more than needed at a given time, it puts a buffer in place, which is mandated by the Commission on Jail Standards. 

The court intends for the election, which must be called by August, to be for general obligation (GO) bonds. 

In order to expand the jail, property near the standing structure will need to be acquired and will require the city of San Marcos to finish improvements on Uhland Road. 

Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said the road is on the city’s list for capital improvements. 

A law enforcement facility and a communication facility will be covered by the bond election as well. The court agreed that the communication facility should house and serve both the county and municipalities within it. 

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 already planning that it was time to start planning for the next jail, Cobb said. 

“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.”

Keeping up with growth

The 157,107 population of 2010 has increased to 194,739 residents presently. 

Not only does Hays hold the top spot for fastest-growing county in the state, but it also ranks at No. 5 in the national ranking.

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