Commissioners Court approved placing the item on the ballot on August 14, and county officials are united in their support of moving forward with the construction of a new jail as a replacement for the current jail that was constructed more than 50 years ago, is falling apart and has fallen out of compliance with state standards.
Not all county officials are happy with the site that has been selected and purchased, however.
County Commissioner Carl Hummel said that he has serious concerns about the property located adjacent to the post office in Karnes City.
According to Hummel, the site which many years ago was the location of Ahrens Gin, may be contaminated with arsenic that was used as an herbicide for agricultural use many years ago. Hummel said the potential liability associated with constructing the county jail at that location should have ruled it out as a possible choice.
Environmental testing of soil samples at the site are ongoing, according to information presented by architect Lorraine Dailey at a recent meeting of Commissioners Court, but final results are not yet complete.
Hummel said he plans to vote in favor of the bond election, however, because the need for a new county jail is so urgent. If necessary, Hummel said, a new site could be selected.
County Judge Barbara Shaw also supports building the new jail and she said the tax impact on the average voter is expected to be minimal.
“Right now we probably have a AA credit rating with our income,” Shaw said. “This is a first for Karnes County. I don’t anticipate any large (tax rate) increase with our income base. We are in a position to be able to do things for Karnes County that we were not able to just a couple of years ago due to budget constraints. Hopefully, we can work together to be able to build Karnes County by providing the services needed in Karnes.”
Perhaps there is no stronger supporter of the bond project than Karnes County Sheriff David Jalufka who has struggled to keep the aging facility in operation and in compliance for the past eight years.
“This jail here will not work anymore,” Jalufka told Commissioners Court during their Oct. 25 meeting. “I have been pushing for a new jail since 2005. We’re here now.”
Jalufka said that with each passing year the jail falls farther into disrepair and at the same time it becomes harder for the jail to remain in compliance with ever-changing state standards.
“This is a liability waiting to happen, people,” Jalufka said. “Back before, we was poor. We didn’t have no money. Guess what? We’re not poor no more. Do the right thing – let’s get this jail built. We’ve got the architect, let’s get it going. We don’t want to be talking about this a year or two down the road here when you all are paying out millions of dollars.”