Commissioners: Jail bond issue first step

Curry County commissioners are, by their own admission, short on concrete answers when it comes to building a new jail should voters approve a $9.8 million bond issue in August.

They don't have a design. They haven't hired an architect or building planner. They don't have a specific plot of land in mind to purchase. And, at least some think the cash generated by such a bond issue may not be enough to finish even the limited maximum security facility they envision.

Commissioners do, however, agree on one thing. The current jail is overcrowded and dangerous and something has to be done to fix the problem. The bond issue is a first step, they say.

"We've got to do something with the bad guys," said Wendell Bostwick. Adds Commissioner Robert Sandoval, "We don't have a place to put these bad guys and we have to send them somewhere that can hold them."

The county is spending about $700,000 a year to house inmates at facilities in Texas and other communities in New Mexico because of overcrowding.

Commissioner Ben McDaniel said finding places to put inmates is becoming increasingly difficult and more expensive. He noted that a recent warrant roundup by area law enforcement added 40 more inmates to the already over-capacity jail.

"We're way over right now and the places we usually send them aren't taking them," said McDaniel.

McDaniel, Bostwick, Sandoval, and commission Chairman Frank Blackburn all termed the proposed new jail a work in progress. Commissioner Tim Ashley wasn't reached.

Commissioners said a recent call by County Manager Lance Pyle for a 12-to-15 acre plot of land has generated at least two possibilities. Negotiations haven't started, but McDaniel is concerned the price may be inflated because the county is the buyer.

"I'm hoping the land is not going to be enormously expensive," McDaniel said. "That's been a big fear of mine all along. Things can get out of hand. I'm not an agriculture person … but I have sort of an idea what land is going for. But things can change. Hopefully we don't go down that road."

McDaniel said the plan is to have options to purchase the 12 to 15 acres needed before voters are asked to decide the issue. He and Blackburn said tours of facilities in Santa Rosa on Thursday and in Snyder, Texas, next week will help commissioners come up with a more concrete design plan.

Blackburn and Bostwick said they're not sure the $9.8 million being sought will be enough to build a maximum security facility once land is purchased and design costs are factored into the jail. That could mean borrowing or dipping into the county's reserve fund — now about $7 million — to complete what all commissioners see as the first phase of what could eventually be a law enforcement complex outside of downtown Clovis.

Blackburn said his estimate to build a jail capable of handling all inmates would be somewhere between $15 million to $18 million. Should voters approve the bond issue in August, maximum and some medium security inmates would be kept at the new jail and all others would remain in the existing facility, he said.

"It's very obvious this is just the beginning of a very long term … building process for (the next) 20 or 30 years," Blackburn said. "We do need some room. We need some room now."

Said Sandoval: "It's going to be hard to do with just that $9.8 million. But people are going to have to realize this is a necessity for Clovis and we're going to have to give a little bit."

Commissioners are asking voters to renew for 20 years a bond issue that was used to pay the cost of building the Events Center. Approval wouldn't increase property taxes. If it is rejected, property taxes would decrease slightly, though commissioners have yet to provide specific figures in what the decrease would be.

The election is Aug. 6.

Asked why voters should approve the bond issue, Blackburn said, " I think they've got to look at it real far down the road … they've got to have a long-range acceptance of this thing."

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