County Judge David Silva said during preliminary budget discussions Tuesday that the current jail is 25 years old, and it is time to start planning.
“I told the sheriff we are looking at the possibility and feasibility of building a new jail in the next year and a half,” Silva said. “We don’t know if that is going to happen or not.”
With mounting repairs and the need to make further improvements, it might be time to look at construction.
“I can appreciate something that is 20 plus years old and trying to keep it running,” he said.
Dolores “Chach” Rodriguez, who heads the jail, said that even their walk-in freezer, which is a fixed part of the jail, is starting to wear out.
“The floor is falling in,” she said.
Then there are the air conditioning units which are reaching the end of their lives.
There is the question of money though.
“I want to go to talk to the judge in Karnes County and see if we can borrow some money,” Silva said jokingly.
“Maybe they can give us a grant.”
Currently, Bee County has about $3 million in reserve funds. Karnes County reserves surpass that amount exponentially because of the amount of Eagle Ford drilling and related activity to the north.
The thought of a new jail brings up the question of just what does it cost to run such a facility.
This year, commissioners are being asked to fund $15,000 in cleaning supplies, an increase of $5,000 from last year.
Then there is the cost to purchase clothes, beds and sheets.
Rodriguez asked the commissioners to fund about $8,000 worth of supplies such as clothing, bedding and linen caused by a depletion in the commissary fund.
The commissary fund is where loved ones, friends or even inmates themselves put money to purchase snacks and other nonessential supplies.
A portion of the money spent by the inmates goes back to the county jail for purchasing items for the inmates. Rodriguez was referring to this portion of that fund.
Lt. Ronnie Jones, with the sheriff’s office, said, “We have been purchasing stuff for the inmates out of that, and it includes indigent prescriptions, which has killed us this year.”
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt joked, “You have to put clothes on them. I think we would probably get in trouble with the jail commission if we let them run around naked.”
Right now, they are stretching the money as far as they can.
“We have been trying to get by with mattresses, but we just go through them,” Jones said.
Also in need of repair are the gates that keep the prisoners secured.
Dennis Vasquez, maintenance supervisor at the jail, said, “Surrounding area jails have already upgraded their gates where they have a single motor above each gate.
“We have one motor, and everything is mechanical.
“It is getting to the point where I am going to have to call someone in, and it is going to cost us an arm and leg.”
Vasquez is hoping county leaders will add $9,000 to his $6,000 maintenance and repair budget for next year.
Silva was sympathetic to the plight of those trying to keep the building running and up to code. But, he reminded, Bee County is not as flush with funds as other areas.
“It is almost impossible to keep up with, and you are just one department,” Silva said.
“The money goes only so far.
“I feel the pain. I see it. You are not trying to convince me; I am convinced. I know this is a need.”
Seeing an increase in budgets is something that the judge and county leaders are becoming used to.
Even items like the cost of training are going up for deputies—specifically the cost of ammo.
“So bullets are increasing?” Silva asked. “Or do we have more people?”
Lt. John Davis, also with the sheriff’s office, said, “Ammo cost has skyrocketed.
Commissioner Ken Haggard said, “It is all those ammo hoarders.
“I work with guys that buy cases and cases, and they are not even law enforcement. But they have to have that ammo. Supply and demand drives it up.”
This is just a sampling of what commissioners were handling this past week as they began the first round of budget discussions.
In all, officials from 56 departments appeared before the court to make their case for additions to their budgets. Some were minor; others were more significant.
No decisions were made, and none expected as commissioners take a preliminary budget and whittle it down to a manageable size that the county can fund.
Silva said, “If we got everybody everything they wanted, this was about two or three years ago, our budget would have been $19 million. Our budget at that time was like $6 million.
“I know these are needs. I know we will have to look at what those needs are more.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at editor@mySouTex.com.