Cheaper Jail Plan For Smith County Unveiled

It is half the price of the last proposal. Wednesday, we got a look at the revised Smith County jail bond. It's a plan officials believe, this time, voters will approve.

If passed, the new jail would be built in downtown Tyler adjacent to the current jail, along Erwin and Fannin Street. They've been comparing costs since the beginning of this year. And basically they say the price of transporting inmates would just be too expensive. And everything needs to be centralized downtown.

Senator Kevin Eltife, county officials, and even a strong voice who opposed the former package all came together and said they've created the most efficient and low-cost plan for Smith County.

It has a price tag just shy of $60 million, a big difference from the $125 million package that voters refused to pay for last year.

"We believe this is the best plan we can possibly produce after listening to all the comments from the public and learning some lessons in previous bond proposals," said Smith County Judge Joel Baker.

But how is it cheaper? A big reason is it reduces the number of beds and keeps the Low Risk Facility operating.

"By continuing the operation of the Low Risk Facility, we are able to achieve the numbers we need to achieve for inmate housing, for the number of beds, and this will carry us forward for the next 15 possibly 20 years," said Baker.

Baker said it would cost the average homeowner $2.61 cents a month in property tax. Or, based on the average home price, a little more than $30 a year. He said it will also cut down on medical costs, because the new jail would include an infirmary.

"So rather than taking inmates to the hospital for minor needs, it will have 42 beds at the jail," said Baker.

Bobby Curtis led an opposition group against last year's package. He worked closely with Smith County to design what he calls a "no frills jail".

"It's not going to have a bell tower, it's not going to have a clock tower, it's going to be a jail," said Curtis.

"We could work on this process for many more years, but the cost is not going to decrease and our need is not going to decrease," said Baker. "I think it's very important for the community to embrace this idea."

Committee members are scheduled to present a plan to city leaders this Friday. The State Jail Commission has already given a preliminary green light.

The proposal is set to go before the commissioner's court August 6th. The deadline to get the proposal on the November ballot is late August.

Courtney Lane, Reporting