Jail decision may not be made by voters

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - By Morgan Chesky - bio | email | Twitter
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email | Twitter

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It is a new jail plan, and officials say it is half the price of the last one. This week, county commissioners were presented with a new jail plan, which utilizes existing jail space. Taxpayers at the meeting welcomed the idea, but since previous plans have been rejected at the polls, commissioners are debating, taking the decision out of the voters' hands.

The fifth proposal's popularity with voters may not even matter.

Discussing the future of Smith County jail, it appeared practice had made almost perfect.

"I think that this is a good plan in that it gives us the beds we need for now and for some time in the future to grow into it," said County Judge Joel Baker.

The $33,000,000 proposal promised expansions with more than 300 new beds at the downtown facility and renovations of the low risk site.

"We've turned down several jail options that have been brought before us, but I feel this time, you finally reached what we were saying," said voter, JoAnn Holt.

But, it might be too little too late for Smith County taxpayers to decide. Commissioners say after four defeats, the jail's need for growth is so important, they are considering certificates of obligation.

"Really and truly, if it came down to issuing CO's, I would vote with Co's in a minute, but I would still make sure the public knew what was going on," said Precinct 4 Commissioner JoAnn Hampton.

The certificates, given to local governments by the Texas legislature would allow the passing of the jail bond without it ever seeing a ballot.

"We don't want Smith County to go around the voters," said former commissioner JoAnn Fleming.

Fleming supports the recent proposal as long as she is allowed to vote on it.

"If they do it one time, then another court will want to do it again and before you know it other taxing entities in Smith County will say, 'Let's do the same thing. We really don't need to go to the voters,'" said Fleming.

The county has gone to the voters, four times. Yet the impact of overcrowding on county costs wasn't reflected at the polls.

"We can educate all we want to," said Hampton. "We can't make anybody do anything."

"In a perfect world the best thing to do would be to get approval from the voters - in a perfect world," said Baker.

Soon enough, voters will see just what type of world Smith County inmates will live in.

If you were unable to make the special meeting on the jail's future, Smith County has put their latest proposal presentation online.

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