Voters head to the polls Tuesday to determine the fate of Curry County's troubled jail for the second time in the last two years.
Commissioners are asking voters to approve a $9.3 bond issue to pay for expansion of the jail.
Approval wouldn't increase property taxes. Commissioners plan to extend by another 20 years an existing property tax scheduled to be paid off in 2014.
Commissioners say the expansion is badly needed and will help eliminate many past problems including overcrowding and escapes.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected similar bond issues totaling $33 million in November 2010 that would have brought a tax increase.
The commissioners' latest plan is to build a 60-bed addition to the north side of the existing jail. Once the expanded facility, called a Special Housing Unit (SHU) is finished, the plan is to renovate the original jail.
Money generated by the bond issue only covers the cost of building and equipping the SHU.
Chairman Wendell Bostwick said the estimated $1.5 million to $2 million needed to purchase land for the expansion and complete the renovation must come from the county's reserve cash.
The reserve fund now totals about $7 million.
The property tax voters are being asked to extend was approved in a special election 20 years ago to build the existing jail. It was also extended to build the Events Center.
The tax amounts to .771 mills.
The CNJ asked various county officials 10 questions on key issues in this election.
CNJ: In November 2010, voters overwhelmingly rejected a $33 million proposal for a judicial complex you said was needed to address safety concerns at the jail and county courthouse. Do you still think the larger project is necessary?
Commissioner Robert Sandoval: I still think it's necessary. However, I think that the jail was so bad that we had to look at our priorities. The jail was our number one priority. This is all we can do right now without raising taxes. It's still important. It's still needed. But with the economy, we figured this was the best chance at getting something done about the jail. We thought if it was so bad that we had to put everything else on hold in order to do this, then that's what we would do.
CNJ: How long do you think this $9.3 million proposal will meet the county's jail needs?
Sandoval: The building we need now is the SHU. That will serve our purposes, I think, for years to come. You can't really anticipate this. It's hard to say unless you're an expert on crime because things change so rapidly. It would be my best guess that it would meet our purposes for the next five to 10 years, maybe more.
CNJ: In 2005, the county completed a jail annex intended for maximum-security prisoners. It included 27 isolation cells.
In 2007, the county renovated the annex, removing the isolation cells and populating it with female inmates.
Now we're told the jail once again needs more isolation cells for maximum-security prisoners.
Was the 2007 renovation a mistake?
County Manager Lance Pyle: I do not feel that the renovations done to the Detention Annex (Old Fitness Building) in 2007 by turning that facility into a female housing unit was a mistake.
That decision allowed the county to house the females in a different facility than the men and reduced the amount of problems that were occurring by having both sexes housed in the same facility; which allowed for better management of the females.
The decisions were made with information current at the time provided by the detention administrator and based on the needs of the facility.
With the proposed addition of the special housing unit and the renovations it will only continue to improve the management and the operations of the detention center.
CNJ: The county has had 10 jail administrators or interim administrators since 2005. The jail's well-chronicled problems with escapes and accidental releases began soon after the revolving door of administrators. Why are you convinced the jail's problems are best addressed with an additional facility rather than better leadership?
Adult Detention Administrator Gerry Billy: The problems in the past … it's a combination of those issues. It's not one or the other. I have a different management style than others in the past. The new addition will help us to classify prisoners according to behavioral dynamics and special needs. That's something we haven't had capacity to do in a number of years.
CNJ: How does the expansion and renovation eliminate the need to house inmates outside the county? Has the jail population stabilized? And if it has stabilized, can we expect to see an increase or decrease in the future?
Billy: We have pulled inmates in from housing out of county. We have seven or eight (out of county) now. They used to have 35. Lots of the times it was simply because an inmate was acting out and they didn't know how to deal with it. But by having the SHU … we're going to have far greater capacity to divide the inmate population up according to need. It will resolve much of the correctional problems we have had in the past.
Right now, we're averaging around 200 inmates. We're a 200-bed facility; that's our rating capacity. I think the number is going to remain rather constant.
CNJ: Will the expansion require additional staff? How many and where will the money come from?
Billy: Yes it will require additional staff. We're not sure, we won't know until we've conducted a complete staffing assessment. We will do that when we get into design assessment. But I'm guess-timating we're probably looking at 10 to 12 people.
Last year, Curry County spent $770,000 to house inmates out of the county. The SHU eliminates the need to spend that kind of money. So, we have more than enough to hire additional staff.
It's going to take some more people but I don't think the number is going to be an exaggerated one.
CNJ: We're told taxes will not be increased if voters approve the bond; this would extend an existing tax by 20 years. How much will taxes decrease if voters reject the jail bond?
Treasurer Bernice Baker: "On a $100,000 house, it would amount to $25.70 a year."
CNJ: In 1991, voters agreed to build today's jail for $5 million. You were quoted by the Clovis News Journal saying, "This will take care of our needs for many decades."
Just two decades later, after multiple renovations and the addition of an annex that today houses all female prisoners, voters are being asked for $9 million-plus for another expansion.
What went wrong with your prediction from 20 years ago? And how long do you think this plan will meet county needs?
Commissioner Frank Blackburn: Let's just say I missed it. I'm not ashamed to admit it.
The SHU, as we call it, is badly needed. We need to improve our classification of inmates so badly. We need a separate place for the inmates with mental issues and the hard-core and violent inmates. We've got to change. We've got to have something. Some way, somehow, we've got to have something.
I would say until the rest of my lifetime it would meet the needs. There's likely going to have to be some renovation as we go along. These things change more rapidly than I ever expected.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday for the countywide special election.
The ballot question reads:
"SHALL CURRY COUNTY ISSUE UP TO $9,300,000 IN GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS PAYABLE FROM GENERAL (AD VALOREM) TAXES, TO REMODEL, EXPAND, AND IMPROVE THE COUNTY JAIL?"
Polling locations recently changed because of the Census and state-mandated redistricting.
County Clerk Coni Jo Lyman is cautioning voters to check the following list closely to ensure voting at the correct location:
Polling Place 1
Grady Senior Citizens Center, 104 W Main, Grady, NM 88120
Consolidates Precincts 1 and 34.
Polling Place 2
Melrose City Hall, 105 E Avenue B, Melrose, NM 88124
Consolidates Precincts 4 and 16.
Polling Place 3
Texico Community Building, 215 N Griffin, Texico, NM 88135
Consolidates Precincts 2 and 33.
Polling Place 4
Barry Elementary School, 3401 Thornton, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 3, 10 and 15.
Polling Place 5
Lockwood Elementary School, 400 Lockwood Drive, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 5, 28, 30 and 36.
Polling Place 6
Lincoln Jackson Family Center, 206 Alphon, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 6, 25, 29 and 31.
Polling Place 7
Clovis HS Freshman Campus, 1400 Cameo, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 7, 8 and 9.
Polling Place 8
Sandia Elementary School, 2801 Lore, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 11 and 12.
Polling Place 9
Highland Elementary, 100 E Plains, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 13 and 14.
Polling Place 10
Yucca Middle School, 1500 Sycamore, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 23, 24, 26, 27 and 32.
(Due to Standardized Testing, voting will be in the auxiliary gym)
Polling Place 11
Marshall Middle School, 100 Commerce Way, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 20, 21 and 22.
Polling Place 12
Mesa Elementary School, 4801 N Norris, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 18 and 19.
Polling Place 13
Colonial Clubhouse, 1300 Colonial Parkway, Clovis, NM 88101
Consolidates Precincts 17, 35 and 37.
Jail elections by the numbers:
Total Absentee Ballots Cast
2010 — 767
2012 — 305
(Abesentee and early voting ended at 5 p.m. Friday)
Total Ballots Cast in 2010 Election:
Total Registered Voters
2010 — 20,198
2012 — 21,415
2010 Final Vote Total
For — 2,566
Against — 6,816