Voters To Decide Between Two Proposed Jail Sites - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3/13/06-Tyler

Voters To Decide Between Two Proposed Jail Sites

A major decision Moday in a project that has been in the works since the fall of 2003 in East Texas. Smith County commissioners decided today they want you to make the final call on the location of the new jail.

The downtown Tyler location would go from the railroad tracks to Beckham and from Line to Ferguson Streets. The remote location is about three miles northeast of downtown Tyler on County Road 378 and County Road 381.

Smith County Judge Becky Dempsey says today's decision is "bitter-sweet". She, and the commissioners court involved, says there's still a lot of work to be done.

The decision to let the voters have the final say on the Smith County jail location was not a unanimous one. Commissioner Joann Hampton opposed having both options on the ballot.

The guaranteed maximum price on the downtown location is $83,000,000. The remote location is $75,000,000. The costs include everything needed for the project: construction, demolition and "contingencies", funds set up in case extra costs arise.

"The citizens need to be involved in this process. Regardless of whose side they're on, they need to be involved," said Smith County Judge Becky Dempsey. On the ballot, there will be two propositions: one "for" or "against" bonds that will go toward the downtown location. The other "for" or "against" bonds for the remote location.

Originally, the cost of the downtown project was estimated at $95,000,000. But after weeks of calculations, a design committee that included commissioner Joann Fleming managed to bring the price down. "I'm happy to say that we have brought that spread down from $20,000,000 to $8,000,000," said Fleming.

For a taxpayer with $100,000 worth of property, the estimated yearly cost for the downtown project is $51 per year. The remote project would cost $46 per year. Those amounts are based on a 25-year level debt.  Residents 65 and over with a homestead exemption would see no difference in their taxes.

Judge Dempsey is happy with the decision, saying she wants the taxpayers to have input. "We'll have those that think, well, you were elected, you should have made the decision. And we'll have those that want to be involved in the process that are going to think it is a good decision," she said.

Both projects have the same number of beds, 1,692, and have the same number of square footage for the sheriff's department. Both projects are expected to take about 24 months to complete. With this behind them, commissioners plan to have additional town-hall meetings to get the public's input.

Oralia Ortega reporting, ortega@kltv.com

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