On Tuesday, January 13th the Blanco County Commissioner’s Court discussed the possibility of building a new jail for the county. According to Blanco County Judge, Bill Guthrie, land was purchased about two years ago next door to the sheriff sub station; across the street from the Johnson City Super S store.
The Jail Commission is recommending that the current eighteen bed jail be replaced with a new forty-eight bed jail, which is the minimum standard in the state of Texas. Judge Guthrie stated that the current Blanco County jail is suffering from overcrowding and they are constantly transporting prisoners to other area jails for booking. “The county is spending a lot of money on transporting these inmates as well as on boarding bills,” the Judge stated.
In a telephone interview with the Johnson City Record Courier, he stated that the county will essentially be out of debt in the next few months. Furthermore, Judge Guthrie believes that because “building costs are down, contractors are hungry for work, [and because] loan interest rates are at unprecedented lows – now would be a great time for [Blanco County] to move forward with such a project… as long as we are financially capable of doing so.”
The idea is that since the county is planning on paying off all of their debt, they will simply transfer the money that they have been paying on debt and put it towards the cost of the new jail. When asked how much the new jail will cost, Judge Guthrie stated that they think “it may cost around $6 million. Our financial advisor says we can get this done without raising taxes.”
The size of the proposed jail, as well as the cost is significantly smaller than the recently opened Bell County jail. Bell County recently completed construction on a brand new 658 bed prison that cost approximately $37 million. Blanco County is the fifth county to join a growing list in of counties in Central Texas trying to deal with rising inmate numbers. Coryell County is in the middle of conducting research; Limestone County is drawing up blueprints for a new facility, and Mclennan County is about to sell bonds to pay for construction of its new jail.
“We’ve really been operating on borrowed time,” Judge Guthrie stated. “We’ve been lucky to have lasted this long without the expansion…. the main thing everyone should know is with the way construction costs have dropped, coupled with the fact that we will be getting out of debt soon…I really think now is the time to do this…everyone should also know that we have no interest in raising anyone’s taxes at this time.”
He also stated that the new jail will be inconspicuous to the Blanco County landscape. “We’re not going to be putting up razor wire, or flood lamps… and you won’t see guard’s walking around on watch towers… we want this to be a multiuse facility that could also include a courtroom, as well as improving the Sheriff’s substation.”
Plans for the new jail have not been finalized as of yet, however the Commissioner’s Court is seriously considering moving forward with the project. If everything goes according to plan, Judge Guthrie hopes to begin construction by the end of 2009. Construction will probably take approximately eighteen months to two years to complete.
In 1893 the Commissioners court ordered the construction of the current Blanco County jail facility in Johnson City. Construction was completed the following year out of limestone by J.E.L. (Kergie) Dildine (1853-1925), a rock mason who came to Blanco County from Kansas in the 1880’s. Despite an 1897 jailbreak, the facility has continued to be in use, with interior modifications to meet state jail standards. Today, the current Blanco County jail is considered a historical building and it is unclear as to what its future purposes will serve, although Judge Guthrie would like to see it turned into a museum of sorts.