County manager: Judicial complex operating costs hinge on tax increase

Sharna Johnson

It will cost Curry County an estimated $1.2 million more a year to staff and operate a proposed judicial complex. And meeting those operating costs hinges on voters passing an increase in gross receipts tax, according to County Manager Lance Pyle.

Voters will decide Nov. 2 if the county will raise taxes to build a new jail and courthouse — projects totaling $33 million — when they consider ballot questions for a general obligation bond raising property taxes and a .25 percent GRT increase.

Planned is a two-story, 120-bed medium and maximum security jail and a new, four-story courthouse built north of the existing courthouse on Main Street. The county also plans to renovate the existing courthouse, jail and a recently acquired postal building on Gidding Street.

The GOB would provide $16.5 million for the proposed courthouse and the GRT is expected to generate $16.5 million for a new jail and renovations, plus ongoing operating costs.

But if voters pass the GOB question and not the GRT question, county leaders say they will be faced with a difficult challenge because the operating costs for the courthouse won’t be included.

“If it’s (the courthouse bond only), we’ve got a problem,” County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said Tuesday.

“We would have loved to do it as one (GRT bond but) we couldn’t.”

Bostwick said the county was forced by statute to split the bond question into two questions to stay within amount limitations.

“It would be a challenge,” Pyle said, explaining a vote for only the courthouse project would leave the county without a budget for operating and securing the courthouse.

The 9th Judicial District Court, a state entity, has a $3.5 million state-funded budget to support a staff of 55 and cover expenses, said Chief Judge Teddy Hartley, but by statute the county has to provide the building and security.

Pyle said he estimates the county’s increased contribution to courthouse operations in the new facility around $245,000, which would include utilities, two new security officers and two additional custodians.

The increase is a jump from the approximately $40,000 budgeted this year to operate the existing courthouse and provide security.

Part of the proposed bond monies are planned for renovation of the existing courthouse, which would be used to house county offices.

Pyle said the money for the increased overhead to run and staff the two facilities will come from revenue generated by the GRT increase and from costs saved by keeping inmates in-house.

Last year because of jail overcrowding, Pyle said the county paid approximately $430,000 to house inmates in other jails, primarily in west Texas.

With the GRT increase projected to generate more than $1.8 million in its first year, Pyle said $1 million will go to pay back the bonds used to build the jail and the remaining $800,000 will be used to operate the new courthouse and jail.

Combined with the cost savings from out-of-area inmate housing, Pyle said he has estimated a budget of $1.2 million to support the facilities if the plans are approved.

Of that, approximately 80 percent, or about $975,000 a year, would go to hire 19 new personnel, cover utilities and other estimated costs for the new jail.

Last year, the jail operated on a budget of a little more than $4 million, according to figures provided by county Finance Manager Mark Lansford.

Based on the sale of goods and services in the county, Pyle said he is projecting the extra revenue generated by the GRT to increase at a conservative rate of 1.2 percent a year with community growth and inflation, meaning as time passes the amount the county has for operating costs should grow to compensate for rising expenses.