Austin County Jail passes inspection

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Austin County Sheriff Jack Brandes presented information last week showing that the local jail is in compliance with state standards.

The facility has been plagued with mold, prompting county officials to discuss the possibility of issuing bonds to cover the cost of a new building – which could cost in the range of $27 million – or remodeling and renovating certain areas of the jail at a cost of about $13 million. To just clean and replace necessary items would be about $1 million, officials say. While officials have acknowledged that the numbers are high, they spent several months shelling out taxpayer money to transport prisoners to Fort Bend County because they couldn’t be housed in the moldy jail.

“We’ve got to do something,” Judge Tim Lapham said in an April meeting. “We can’t operate the way we are forever. We’ve either got to fix our little problems or move forward with some kind of project.”

The inspection report presented May 14 showed that inspectors with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reviewed safety equipment, observed an emergency drill, reviewed admission and release policies, reviewed records and procedures, conducted a facility walk-through to document personal hygiene and sanitation practices, conducted an inspection in the kitchen area and reviewed grievances and exercise policies, among other things. A certificate of compliance was issued April 16.

“They made sure all our i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed,” Brandes said. “We had a few very minor issues but basically we passed with flying colors. We have a real good jail … and everything is working well.”

Discussions are ongoing between county officials and architect Kenny Burns on plans for the future of the jail, courthouse and county offices.

“We do need to do the right thing,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Mark Lamp. “When all is said and done, I do not want to be spending money frivolously on a big building. I want to get everybody taken care of but do it within the cost structure of this county.”

If a bond election is to be on a November ballot, the court must make a decision by late July, Lapham advised.

During the month of April, the sheriff’s department received 3,512 calls, made 14 arrests and issued 76 citations. There are about 152 active cases under investigation.

In other matters during the May 14 meeting, commissioners:

• Judge Lapham presented Commissioner Lamp with a bag of fake paper money in response to the commissioner’s request for more funding for Mill Creek Bridge. Lamp said the state has asked the county to contribute to the $75,000 price tag for repairs. While the gesture was made in jest, commissioners agreed that the bridge is unsafe and action should be taken.

• Authorized the sale of fireworks for Memorial Day Season.

• Heard a proposal from a division of the Bellville Chamber of Commerce for a landscaping plan that will cost approximately $25,000, but thus far about $12,000 has been donated. The proposal includes adding a metal fence around a generator, installing a sprinkler system and adding flowers and planters around the courthouse. Maintenance costs are estimated at $200 a month for 42 mows a year.

• Postponed discussion on the TimeClock Plus system for county employees, pending availability of staff.

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