Commissioners Court Told New Jail/Justice Center Will Cost at Least $135M

By Gloria Roemer

 Carl Griffith, former Jefferson County Judge and President and CEO of Griffith Moseley Johnson & Associates, Inc, was hired by Chambers County several months ago to assist in the development of the County’s proposed new jail/justice center. After a failed attempt in 2017 to finance the then $85 Million jail/justice center through Certificates of Obligation (which would have been issues without the public’s vote), Commissioners Court has sought different avenues of financial funding as well as a project design that would be more acceptable financially. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic lockdown, construction material shortages worldwide, and labor shortages, the cost of the project has at least doubled. Griffith told the Court that the cost of the new jail/justice center with everyone’s “wish list” would be about $214 Million. “The cost of the jail is about 25% of the total cost,” said Griffith. “We have been working with the Texas Jail Commission to be able to meet requirements without adding on exorbitant costs. We were able to decrease the jail cost about $5 Million.” Griffith added, “That was the best we could do. The TJC told us that for the last several years, they have granted variance after variance for Chambers County to comply with the requirements and now it is time to build a facility or face serious fines,” added Griffith. “With the concessions made on the justice center part, and the $5 Million we saved on the jail part, the costs will be around $135 Million.”

There are two possible options to finance the project. They are a “P3” or a bond referendum. A P3 is a public-private partnership. A P3 typically involves “a government agency contracting with a private partner to renovate, construct, operate, maintain, and/or manage a facility or system, in whole or in part, that provides a public service. Under these arrangements, the agency may retain ownership of the public facility or system, but the private party generally invests its own capital to design and develop the properties”. If the County chooses to have a bond referendum to be determined by the voters, Chambers County Auditor Aaron Thomas told The Seabreeze Beacon that the bond amount would be $140Million. “Interest rates are changing all the time, so we estimated a 30 year note at 4.5% interest. There are so many factors that determine the rates, but our hope is, if we go this route, we will do our best to not have to raise taxes. The first payment won’t be until 2024, so if the tax rate needs to increase, we are looking at no more than 2%,” he added. Commissioners Court did lower the tax rate from .053494/100 to .049155/100.

In other Court business, the Court did not announce or appoint a replacement for Denise Hutter, who is resigning her position as Chambers County Tax Assessor-Collector effective January 31, 2023. County Judge Jimmy Sylvia acknowledged that he spoke with Hutter last week and she recommended the Court to appoint her chief deputy Regina Castillo to the position. The Court decided to instead post the job and accept applications. The Court will review the applicants and choose after the review. To date, the job posting is not on the website.

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