Howard County Voters To Decide On Controversial Jail Issue

By Michael Stafford
NewsWest 9

Voters from all across the Basin will head to the polls on Tuesday to decide issues ranging from school bond issues to statewide propositions.
But the stakes couldn't be any higher here locally than in Big Spring where voters will decide on a very controversial jail bond issue.

As you know, this is the second time for a jail vote.  Just last year voters overwhelmingly turned down a 144 bed jail with a ten million dollar price tag.
And on Tuesday, they'll decide on an eleven and a half million dollar bond proposal for a 96 bed prison.

But this time the stakes are really high, because county officials know that a 'thumbs down' vote will really put their budget in a bind.

County Judge Mark Barr says he's optimisitic, but he knows the vote is probaly going to very close.  Barr and jail opponents have spent the past few weeks conducting an aggressive phone campaign with private money to sway those undecided voters.

Barr knows a defeat will spell big trouble for the county's budget as officials are forced to transfer inmates elsewhere, and they won't be any closer to solving their problem.

"We'll have to come up with that million dollars from somewhere.  If the bond fails, we'll have to pay for more transfer inmates, and there will be a lot of stress and strain on our budget.  It will actually cost more if this bond fails," Barr says.  

We've told you repeatedly how the old jail doesn't meet new state standards and the state recently even went on record to say they'll recommend it be shut down to protect inmates and shield the county from potential lawsuits.

Meantime, every county employee NewsWest 9 spoke with on Monday shared the same feeling about the proposed jail.

"Yes I voted early, and I voted for it.  If this doesn't pass, we'll all be worrying about our jobs," says county employee Yolanda Mendoza.

"I've been here 33 years, and this is our third time for this.  I voted yes, because we are worried about our jobs here," says county clerk Donna Wright.

Some people spoke off camera and told us they didn't vote for it for two main reasons, the cost and the location, but one man told us it's a vote against county government, because the jail should never have gotten into a situation like this. 

If those no votes win out, Judge Barr says it could force commissioners to close down the Senior Center, and possibly the Library, not to mention potential job cuts again, but he says that may be a last resort.

A yes vote would mean a nickel higher in taxes, and for an owner of a 50 thousand dollar home that would equate to about 25 dollars more a year.

The stage is set and the voters will speak up loud and clear on Tuesday.