Saturday, April 07, 2012

County commissioners bypassing voters for new jail debt in Huntsville

Walker County Commissioners decided to bypass voters and build a new jail with "certificates of obligation" issued without voter approval. They say it's out of fear that waiting a few months for an election would allow construction costs to rise too dearly, but IMO it's because they've seen jail construction plebiscites in other mid-sized jurisdictions fail - most prominently in Smith County, where voters rejected jails three times before approving a radically scaled down version - and don't want to risk voters nixing the idea. In many cases, the decision to build a new jail results directly in a local property-tax increase. And of course, with so much state prison property in Huntsville, it's not like there's an excessively large property tax base in Walker County to begin with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some history in Rockwall County- They railroaded the public on the new courthouse, but the prime supporters were voted out next election...

But getting the it built has not been easy. In 2004, Rockwall County voters rejected a proposal to issue $29 million in bonds to build a facility identified on the ballot as a county government complex. In the same election, voters approved bonds for a new library but voted down the government complex bonds by almost 58 percent of the votes. County officials tried again in 2005 to win voter approval for the project only to have it defeated by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
Former Rockwall County Judge Chris Florance said state officials subsequently declared the county’s interim courthouse “grossly out of compliance” with state fire codes. The building also failed to meet safety requirements under the jail standards, Florance said. In his opinion, something had to be done.
“I decided the welfare of our people was more important than politics,” said Florance, who believes his efforts to get the courthouse built despite voters’ rejection of the bonds led to his defeat in 2010. In May 2008, the Rockwall County Commissioners Court voted 3-to-2 to issue $30 million in tax anticipation notes to fund construction of a courthouse. The two commissioners who voted against issuing the tax notes — Lorie Grinnen and David Magness — won re-election in 2010. Florance, who voted for the notes, ran third in a four-man Republican primary.

Rockwall County officials did not appoint a citizens advisory committee to review the government complex project before submitting the proposal to voters in 2004 and 2005. Precinct 1 Commissioner Jerry Wimpee said appointing a blue-ribbon committee to accomplish what the commissioners court wants to do is “big-city politics” but would not work in Rockwall County with its smaller population.

Bruce Beaty, former Precinct 3 commissioner in Rockwall County, said county officials had sent out mailers about the government complex proposal in 2004 and 2005. Beaty said that state law prohibits government from advocating for bond proposals. But he shoved it up our asses anyway.

He said members of the Friends of the Library, who had been successful in winning support for the library project in 2004, helped get the word out about the government complex proposal in 2005, and the local bar association lent its support to the effort.
“But we just never did get any grassroots support,” Beaty said.
Voters voiced varying reasons for opposing the project, includin
No shit Bruce! We didn't want it!

Also objections to building the courthouse on the I-30 property that the county had acquired in 2000.
Ken Jones, a former mayor of Rockwall, said that building the courthouse at that location removed prime real estate from the tax rolls.
“It was the most valuable real estate in the county of Rockwall,” Jones said. and the commissioners court could have built the courthouse on property near the county jail." But Wimpee said vacant property near the jail was not large enough for the courthouse.
Charles Kearns, a principal in Wiginton Hooker Jeffry, said education is the key to winning public support for such projects, and the education process may need to include telling the people the role the courthouse plays in a community.
“The public really doesn’t understand what a court does,” Kearns said.“They don’t understand that they (county officials) are not trying to build a castle for the judges.