The long-awaited construction of an emergency medical service station in Sealy and the renovation of the sheriff’s office and county jail took a significant step forward Monday morning as the Austin County Commissioners Court started the process of paying for it.
Plans for the justice center, the biggest part of a $17 million bond issuance that voters approved in 2018, are being revised and are not yet ready to move forward.
Commissioners met with architect Kenny Burns and James Gilley Jr. of U.S. Capital Advisors to start the process of funding construction of the jail and EMS station.
The commissioners voted unanimously to approve contracts for the EMS station and the work on the sheriff’s office and jail. The maximum price for the EMS station is $2.9 million with 365 days for construction and the maximum price for the sheriff’s office and jail is $8.9 million with 520 days to complete.
Burns noted that contracts for materials testing came in far below budget with $31,639 for the EMS station and $28,210 for the SO/jail. He had budgeted $110,00 each.
“That gives us a nice cushion,” he said.
Gilley, who will coordinate the bond sale, said the clock is ticking to get the two projects started. He said it takes 45 days to sell the bonds and 60 days to close.
“You could sign those contracts today and start spending money out of fund balances and then at closing you could repay yourself. You could replenish the fund balances,” he said.
Burns said the county “can’t lose sight of 60 days.”
“We don’t want to drag our feet. The worst thing you can do is lose subcontractors because they don’t want to hold their price,” he said.
“I want to make sure we don’t end up shooting ourselves in the foot down the road,” Commissioner Mark Lamp said. “I’d rather be protected. If we could get these projects started in the next 45 days, possibly, that window would help our contractors.”
With those projects in motion, the commissioners discussed the justice center.
County Judge Tim Lapham asked Burns how much the justice center is expected to cost. He said the initial budget was $15 million for everything.
“Where we think we are right now compared to the $15 million is $12,613,000,” he said. “It came in under budget. Some things were not budgeted, and we had contingencies, that’s what covered us.”
He said all of the costs have not been factored in yet, but said the decision to relocate the center and avoid moving an electric transmission line resulted in huge savings.
“We haven’t bought furniture and filing systems and all these things that have to go in there.
We budgeted $12.2 million for the building construction-wise, and we’re at $10,828,000. That’s where we picked up quite a bit in the budget,” he said.
Lapham then summarized the projects together.
“We had $12.6 9 (million) and another $400,000 to cover everything and that would put us at $13 (million) if we put the EMS building at $2.96 (million) by the time you added in the testing, so if you took $13 (million) and added $3 (million) that gives you $16 million total all-in both buildings, that’s a million under that we told voters it was going to cost,” he said.
“The difference was not moving that transmission line. That was a huge ticket,” Burns said.
Commissioner Bobby Rinn shifted the discussion to paying back the debt.
“What does our debt service look like?” he asked. “How is that going to work into our budget? These are numbers I’ve been asking for from day one. We should have had a plan together looking at what this is going to cost taxpayers and the impact it’s going to have on the budget.”
Gilley estimated that the debt tax rate will go up three cents per $100,000 of property valuation. He reminded Rinn that voters had approved it.
Lamp also noted that the county is growing and that property tax revenues are increasing with new residents and businesses coming in. He said over time that will help save money.
In other action, the commissioners held a public hearing and then voted to make the intersection of Hintz Road and Settler’s Court Drive a three-way stop. They also voted to pay half, up to $27,000, of the cost of road repair at the Austin County Fairgrounds. The fair association will fund the remaining half of the estimated $53,379 project.