Hays Court says no to moving 911 center

Concerns over flooding problems at the site of Hays County’s new centralized 911 call center facility in San Marcos led a handful of residents to voice their worries Tuesday.

But an estimated $27 million to $29 million total price tag to move the site to a location in Kyle pushed the majority of county leaders to avoid taking any action.

County Judge Ruben Becerra said he brought up the item in order to address residents’ worries over flooding issues at the 911 center site, which is located behind Hays County’s Government Center in San Marcos.

Becerra said he wanted to bring up the item for transparency’s sake and for the public to “know I hear you and understand what your concerns are.”

Several residents expressed concerns with the site location during public comment. Frank Arredondo, a longtime San Marcos resident, said the current location behind the Government Center is a “bad idea,” citing a history of flooding.

Area resident Les Carnes said he didn’t think the location was a wise use of money, adding any flood mitigation measures will be done on the “public dime.”

County officials, however, said while flooding is an issue in the area, the Government Center property is not entirely in the flood plain.
Kharley Smith, Hays County Emergency Management Coordinator, said the 911 site location in San Marcos is not within the 100 year flood plain. Only a small portion behind the entire Government Center property borders the 500 year flood plain.

Smith said officials selected the San Marcos site for its centralized 911 center based on a 2014 feasibility study. That study assessed three total locations, including a site next to the Hays County Jail on Uhland Road in San Marcos and in the Plum Creek subdivision in Kyle.

At the time, officials chose the San Marcos site based on in-place infrastructure, such as roads and utilities. Since that time, officials said the Kyle and San Marcos locations are somewhat similar.

Kyle Taylor, Kyle Fire Department chief, said while flooding is an issue surrounding the San Marcos site, it’s also an issue county-wide. Taylor said quickly-receding flood waters in Hays County allows officials to mobilize quickly and without delay.

But officials with ECM International, the county’s consulting group on the 911 center, cautioned against moving the call center, based on the amount already invested in the project. Codi Newsom, senior project manager with ECM, said $7.43 million has already been spent toward the San Marcos 911 center.

If a move were to happen, estimated “walk-away” costs would range from $6 million to $8 million. A representative with Turner Construction said the “walk-away” costs include closing subcontractors and repaying them for concrete, steel, copper and other items purchased specifically for the San Marcos site.

Newsom said the total estimated impact of moving the 911 site to another location in Kyle could cost the county $27 million to $29 million. That would also push officials to redesign the facility for the new site.

Lon Shell, Pct. 3 Commissioner, said he “can’t see” the county spending $30 million more for another site “that might have as many concerns.”

While no site is perfect, Shell said the San Marcos site fits the county’s needs best. He also felt county officials vetted the 911 call center site the best they could with stakeholders.

Ultimately, Shell didn’t want to spend “a dollar more” than what was approved by voters under Proposition 1 of the 2016 bond.

Proposition 1, which accounted for $106 million of the $237 million 2016 bond, calls for upgrades to the Hays County Jail and a new centralized 911 center. Hays County legal counsel said while no language on the ballot identified where the 911 center would be located, the Attorney General’s office said there needed to be a nexus between the center and the Sheriff’s office. Had the county opted for a separate location, the 911 center would have required a separate proposition.

“The thought of increasing the cost of one portion of Proposition One by 30 percent is problematic,” said Walt Smith, Hays County Pct. 4 commissioner.

Becerra said he brought up the item based on his responsibility of being “a fiscal steward,” but also to think with an “emergency lens.” He added the area near the Government Center has historically flooded a lot. Becerra said he is not a fan of building where flooding issues have existed.

“I want to make sure the citizenry has all they are paying for and we’re not building a castle with a moat around it that we can’t access during an emergency,” Becerra said.

Becerra said he was not surprised with the $29 million estimated price tag to move the facility. Becerra said there is “lots to do that can bring cost down, whatever that may seem.”

Debbie Ingalsbe, Pct. 1 Commissioner, pushed to move forward with the site because of need.

“Every day we spend distracted on this issue, it’s costing residents,” Shell said.

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