By Michael Stafford
In less than three weeks, Howard County voters head to the polls to decide a very controversial jail bond election.
It has been one year since voters turned down the last ten million dollar proposal, but on Tuesday night during a town hall meeting, the Commission on Jail Standards made a huge announcement that raises the stakes this go-round.
About 75 county taxpayers showed up to the town hall meeting at Howard College to ask questions and form opinions. But they also received some unexpected news when the Jail Commission Director said a no vote in November will force him to shut down the old dilapidated jail immediately because of safety concerns.
"An obligation to recommend this facility be shut down. The life safety issues are too much of a concern. If something happens in that jail without the jail being fixed, something may happen. And I don't want to be held responsible," says Executive Director Adan Munoz Jr.
This hot button issue has been a nightmare on the county's budget. The high cost of inmate transfers has already forced huge budget cuts and layoffs in the county this year.
Officials were hoping Tuesday Night's meeting would convince those undecided and opponents that the county is in a desperate situation.
County Judge Mark Barr promised listeners that a tax hike would surely follow even if the jail proposal fails, and he says the county would still be without a jail and in worse situation.
Several taxpayers we spoke with say they've come to grips with the idea of a new jail, but one gentlemen told us he's still not pleased with the proposed site on Highway 80.
"I've been against the jail in the rural area since they started talking about it. I think it should be downtown. I don't think they're going to change my mind. So I'm going to vote no," says Marcellous Weaver.
"Access as far as getting people in and out of the old jail safely, fire, medical. I most likely will vote for it," adds Nolan Beall. "A nickel per 100 dollar valuation. That's not bad and 25 years to pay for it. We need it. We have to have it at this point" says taxpayer Jeff Land.
Architects and jail consultants answered every question imagineable Tuesday Night from maintenance costs and future expansion to staff size and tax increases. They also did their best to convince the audience that this metal building they're proposing would be anything but a Taj Mahal.