“This will work out as long as the jail is full or has adequate number of inmates in the jail, which is the case now and in the short term,” [County Treasurer Bill] Helton said. “My concern is 10 years down the line, if the jail population were to decrease and there are not enough inmates in the jail to produce revenue to cover the costs, what happens to the county’s bond rating and credit worthiness if they were to default on the payments?”That's an excellent question and depending on unpredictable things like the economy, the Legislature, and even national immigration policy, it could become an issue sooner than ten years from now. The interest rate they're hoping for is nearly as high as the one on my house:
Is it ethical to build a jail with such steep financial incentives for the county to fill it up? Shouldn't decisions about who is incarcerated remain free from such venal pressures? Particularly when McLennan County has other options besides jail building?If, as Mr. Helton fears, there comes a day when the county doesn't need so much jail space, McLennan County will find itself in the same situation as the Texas Youth Commission recently - paying a contractor for empty jail beds. And they're not the only ones making such a gamble.
The legal paperwork formalizing the bonds will be submitted to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for approval, which may take up to two weeks, said Herbert Bristow, the county’s attorney. However, the bonds will not be sold on the market until bond interest rates fall to 6.98 percent or lower, the point at which the financial costs for the new jail remain favorable.
“The documents have been formally approved for the bond transactions, so we have everything in place to react timely to any changes of the fickle market,” Bristow said.
The county treasurer is right to worry: McLennan taxpayers just bought a pig in a poke.