Harris County Considers $962 Million Bond Election

Harris County is moving forward with plans to authorize a close to $1 billion bond package. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the bond election would fund a massive overhaul of hte county's criminal justice system.

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Come November, voters could be asked to approve nearly $1 billion in bond issues for Harris County. The package covers everything from roads and parks to libraries. But the bulk of the money would go to the courts and jails. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says the county could pay back the bonds without raising taxes.

"It sounds funny to say $800 million, $900 million, but Harris County is larger than 23 states. And if some state issued a bond or said they were going to do a bond of $800 million, nobody would even blink. And you think about a county and you think well that's such a small thing. We're not. We have more people than 23 states and we're rapidly growing."

One of the main projects under consideration is the jail system. The current adult jail located at 1301 Franklin would be converted into a juvenile detention facility. And an entirely new jail would be built at a cost of around $250 million.

"Right now juveniles are scattered over several different facilities all over Harris County. One of them is in terrible shape and we don't want to reopen it. And we're overcrowded at the current juvenile justice center. And so this will allow us to consolidate all that in one facility down here close to the courthouse."

The Commissioners Court also plans to raze the current Family Law Center and build a new facility with room for expansion. And the final major undertaking is a 200,000 square foot expansion of the Medical Examiner's office for advanced forensic work. The proposal as it stands would amount to $962 million in improvements. Precinct Three Commissioner Steve Radack suggested they could save several million dollars by negotiating with the City of Houston on various fees the city levies.

"And since they're now our big partners now on this jail, I think we need to get Mr. Barnhill in the county attorney's office to negotiate with the city that we're not going to pay them permit fees and water connection fees and sanitary fees since they're our partners, and since we let them ride the tollroads free -- HPD and HFD. I think we could save probably just the buildings we're talking about, $20 million."

Radack jokingly made a motion to have the county attorney present this idea to the city. The court laughingly discussed the issue, but did approve the motion and Judge Emmett says they will look into the legality of how the county might be able to forgo paying some of those city fees. The commissioners pledged to have the final details of the bond package complete by August. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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