(June 24, 2008)—Sheriff’s officers packed the meeting of the McLennan County Commissioner’s Court Tuesday to air concerns about proposals that would turn operation of county jail facilities over to a private company.
A private firm now operates the downtown jail, but other facilities are still county-run.
But the county is under mounting pressure to solve its jail-overcrowding problem and one option commissioners are considering is construction of a new jail big enough to hold a thousand prisoners.
The price tag for the facility could run as high as $60 million.
Among the options on the table is hiring a private company to build and operate the new jail.
Without the new facility, County Judge Jim Lewis projects that by 2010, the county will be renting space for almost 450 prisoners it doesn't have room for, at a total cost of nearly $27,000 a day or almost $10 million a year.
But sheriff’s officers are concerned about what turning operations over to a private company could mean to their paychecks and their job security.
"They've told us that they would keep at us at our current rate of pay. (We’re) not sure how long that would happen or if they would demote us or terminated us," said Sgt. Ricky Armstrong.
They’re also concerned about the impact of privatization on retirement benefits of the officers now employed as jailers by the county.
"I can retire in seven years at this point with the county. If it's privatized I would have to work for another 15 years and it would still be less than if I retired in seven with the county," Armstrong said.
Commissioners, however, say they must weigh the impact on jail staffers against the potential burden on taxpayers.
"I'm the one that has to count the money and I'm the one that has to make the recommendation to raise taxes if that's what's needed. And we're trying to get this done where we're not affecting the county taxpayers," Lewis said.