By Wyatt Goolsby
BIG SPRING - It's been a battle between Howard County Commissioners over the size of the new jail. But after one final vote Monday, engineers and construction crews got the green light to start construction.
Commissioners decided to build a 96 bed jail with the voter-approved bond money from the November election. Commissioners had the option of building a larger jail to hold more inmates. NewsWest 9 traveled to Big Spring Monday to find out why commissioners made that decision, and how they'll spend the tax money.
It's finally time to turn dirt in Howard County on the new jail. Plans to build a new facility have been discussed for years, but Monday crews started to make it a reality.
"I know people are concerned with the drive-by shootings we've had. We've had some drug raids and stuff like that, and yes, there are people out there that need to be in jail, and we'll have the capacity to handle it now," County Judge Mark Barr, said.
Judge Barr said the final 3-2 vote in Monday morning's Commissioner's Court didn't come without a lot of debate. He said it all started Thursday, when their architect and construction manager told Commissioners there will be bond money left over after the jail is built.
"When that came back, that 800 thousand dollars, what that meant was we could add on another 48 beds to the jail and have it paid for, and still come within our bond," Barr explained.
Commissioners have been debating pros and cons on both sides of the argument. However, in Monday's vote, he said the bigger, 144 bed jail, would be too much upkeep among other reasons.
"We advertised it as a 96 bed jail when we went out on the bond, and if we were to go ahead and add those forty eight beds, our credibility with the people of Howard County would not be as well as it was," said Barr.
He also added if the weather stays dry like it's been recently, they can expect construction to be finished in about nine months. He said once it is, more than likely authorities won't have to worry about outsourcing any of there inmates to other counties.
One major downside to the smaller size is that it will cost more money in the future if officials decide the jail needs to be expanded. For now, the project appears to be moving forward one step at a time.