Talking about the old jail facility, my sentiments are that the County holds a fair amount of prime real estate in Johnson City and some of it has higher and better uses then the present ones. Arguably even the new jail as well as the yard for precinct 2, both with 281 highway frontage are probably not well located as those sorts of facilities do not need high traffic count and visibility for their operations nor do I imagine are they particularly the types of facilities we want to present as the face of Johnson City. Ideally buildings and activities like that could be located a block or two off of 281 at a lesser real estate cost and at the same time leaving prime commercial highway real estate open for development that would not only pay property taxes, but provide sales tax revenue for the benefit of all. Well, of course hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy to be an armchair quarterback. That’s all water under the bridge, but underutilized or surplus prime county property within the city perpetually off of the tax rolls is not. I certainly cannot imagine that anyone thought that the county had any intentions of “doing away with the building” (referring to the jail), however I also have to question whether housing Adult Probation in the dispatch office and using the jail for “storage” is the best use. The Old Jail has so much potential and could be SO much more than a storage building. Just a little creative thinking and one can envision an invigorating new life for one of our few architecturally interesting buildings and a breath of life for the square. The notion that there is no other place for Adult Probation or that the county would have to spend a lot of money and it would be an added expense for the citizens doesn’t seem to bear up with a little constructive thinking. Adult Probation could be moved to the Court House (as I am told it used to be); there should be plenty of room there now with some operations having moved to the new annex complex. If that is unpalatable, then I am sure there is plenty of land at the new jail facility. Perhaps a portable building could be located where the contractor’s onsite office trailer was. I don’t see how any of this plays into the statement that “ You don’t want to mix probation clientele with an active jail… folks who are on probation don’t need to be anywhere near active law enforcement who are conducting on-going investigations.”
The county could easily sell the old jail (and other property), obtain more than enough money for any needs of Adult Probation and in the process create the opportunity for jobs and tax revenue for the benefit of everyone. At the same time the revenues generated could help pay operating expenses and help retire the obligations for all the new construction that has taken place. I know that my opinions are just that and everyone has their own perspective. The county is taking what it feels is the correct course of action. I urge anyone with any thoughts or opinions to express them. After all, this is a democracy and the county works for the citizens. Disclosure, public input and discourse should be not only be encouraged, but solicited.
Using the Old Blanco County Jail as Storage - is that really the best and most cost effective use? It takes open communications and creative thinking to reach the best solutions. Has the county explored all viable options for our 119-year jail before demoting it to a storage facility? Surely, there are preferable alternatives that would better serve Blanco County taxpayers and preserve the dignity of this building. In this fiscal year, the county is on track to receive more than $100,000 in additional sales tax revenue than budgeted. During this same period, the sales tax revenue receipts throughout Blanco County will exceed $1 million. Rather than increasing county property tax rates again this year, shouldn't our county look at the financial impact of promoting economic development to provide services to our citizens rather than stifling it?
How about selling the old Jail property? There is currently an interested buyer who has a track record of improving Johnson City and increasing local sales tax revenues. If the best use is sell, NOW is the time. The jail property placed in private hands would result in increased property tax, add to local commerce and decrease the county's cost of maintaining an old building.
How about moving the Probation Office? According to Judge Guthrie “Our plan all along was to relocate the jail and to move the probation department from the old annex building into the old jail facility". While I won't question the judge's decision to not include in recent government expansion our probation officers who serve a vital role in law enforcement, the upkeep of a new, small prefab building would surely be less than maintaining and insuring a 119-year old building. Our county has an expanse of vacant county land in the vicinity of the Law Enforcement Center that could accommodate such a small building without having to purchase new real estate.
What about storage? Files are currently stored in the old warehouse annex. If the best return on the old annex is placing it on the market, returning it to the tax rolls, and encouraging development, these boxes will need a new home. The old jail is not the place. Surely, file storage was taken into account when the new annex was built…such as a metal storage building on current county-owned property.
How about following the lead of Johnson City's economic direction? The Johnson City Council has taken steps to alleviate the burden of local government land on taxpayers. Regarding the Perry Museum, they are currently exploring alternatives with the Texas Ranger Heritage Museum in Fredericksburg. The council has further demonstrated their understanding of the positive impact of economic growth by taking steps to explore commercial options available for the old Johnson City Library.
Blanco County citizens cannot afford to subsidize off-the-tax-roll county property that is not being used for its highest and best use. A 119-year-old history-laden building demoted to storage is a prime example.