8 September 2006
And then there were three! One more to go. I await responses from Mr. Galligan and Mr. Trevino but will oblige Mr. Ellis’ request for another dose of reality in the meantime.
Before I do, I need to admit two mistakes and correct the record. The county will initially build 600 jail pods, not 438. The bond tax rate is also 4.1%, not 4.0%. A tax rate of 41.10 cents per $100 valuation is required to fund the $42 million jail project. This is a 3.5% increase over the current 37.6 cents valuation and equates to a bond rate of .3815 with an additional .0295 added for debt service.
Where were we?
1. In Texas, counties are an extension of the state and its statutes dictate county operations. Commissioners originally opted to fund the courts and jail project using a Certificate of Obligation per Texas Local Government Code, Title 8, Chapter 271.041. After the second bond election defeat, commissioners acknowledged that a CO was an inappropriate mechanism given that it must be put to an election while the facilities at issue didn’t require the same. Commissioners then coordinated with the Texas Attorney General to change the bond to an Anticipation Note (aka Limited Tax Note) per Government Code, Title 9, Chapter 1431. This instrument has a 7-year maturity, no election requirement and was the best financial instrument once the initial low bond interest rate gate was missed.
2. 20% of the bond election petition signatures were bogus. Mr.Galligan championed the effort to submit the required 6693 signatures by 20 June 2003. The petition ostensibly secured 8872 but the County Clerk determined the actual number to be 6870. The delta was subsequently verified by an independent CPA to be invalid registrations or multiple signers. (If anyone wants to accuse Vada Sutton of cooking the books then go for it.) Unfortunately the shortage was discovered too late to remove the initial bond from the September 2003 ballot. Commissioners formed the Jail Task Force after the first election defeat. The TF recommended that the new county (civic) court be deleted, the district (criminal) court and jail be built (albeit the latter scaled down) and the issue and revised bond placed again on the May 2004 ballot. In retrospect, commissioners were well intentioned but should have built the complex, bypassed the election process and accepted the political consequences.
3. It is nothing new but voter apathy exacerbates the impact of misinformation and fringe spin. This cuts both ways. In the Constitutional Amendment and Bond election of September 2003, Bell County had 135,390 registered voters yet only 7,237 voted for and 7,893 voted against the $61.1 million bond proposal. 89% didn’t vote. In the Bell County Bond Election of May 2004, Bell County had 139,475 registered voters yet only 5,274 voted for and 6,833 voted against the $46 million bond proposal. 91% didn’t vote. The impact on turn-out of other ballot initiatives must also be considered, like the Temple ISD bond initiative that was grouped with the county courts/jail project. Interestingly, an analysis by precinct reveals that the initiatives passed in the cities but not the rural areas.
4. Commissioners opened themselves to criticism by adding items totaling about $4 million to the May 2004 bond that were not directly related to the court and jail project. The Bell County Expo parking lot and Killeen Annex renovations may have been needed but it was probably not such a good idea to add them to an already emotional bond issue.
5. Commissioners bought an old building in downtown Belton to house the county court until a new facility could be built. The building cost $7K and was intended to serve as a temporary location for 5 years or less. The Central Texas Council of Governments loaned Bell County $800K for renovations with the agreement that the county would retain ownership and CTCOG would assume occupancy. This didn’t happen so Bell County had to reimburse CTCOG the remaining amount of $750K from General Revenues. This amount is another added cost to delaying the courts and jail complex construction.
6. Judge Burrows defeated Mr. Galligan in the Republican Primary held on 7 March 2006. Mr. Galligan received 3234 votes or 35%. Judge Burrows 5950 votes or 65%. A mandate to govern comes more from primary and general elections than it does from bond initiatives therefore these results should be compared to the numbers in paragraph 3. But in football lexicon, a hit of this magnitude is called a de-cleater.
7. Bell County transferred courts operations from the downtown Belton location to the new complex on Loop 121 effective 1 June 2006. It would be instructive to know if Mr. Galligan knew that the complex would be built before he started construction of his new office in downtown Belton. Perhaps he will finally answer that question in open forum.
8. This week, commissioners -- with Judge Burrows recused -- selected Skanska Construction to build the county jail. Before shrieks of “Collusion!” drown out reason it should be noted that the selection was based on a history of quality construction in central Texas, a bid that was $500K under the next highest bid, and an agreement to function as Construction Managers at Risk. Those who are still concerned should observe how commissioners handle any cost overruns.
9. Milam and Limestone counties charge Bell County $45 and $42 respectively per prisoner per day for out-sourced inmate housing. Transportation and medical costs raise those totals to $51 and $53. Fort Hood currently pays $49.37 and the new contract raises that to $52.
10. Hurricane Katrina is largely to blame for recent increases in construction material costs as high demand leads to short supply. As with gasoline, it’s called “market forces”. With 20-20 hindsight these cost increases could have also been avoided if construction of the courts and jail complex had not been delayed.
There are the facts; fair, balanced and lucid.