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County in need

County in need

The Ellis County Commission is faced with the need to make significant renovations to our jail and courthouse in order to protect the safety and security of its citizens. The question now is how to pay for these projects -- by using a 0.5 percent sales tax or raising property taxes? Ellis County voters will decide on May 14 what they prefer.

Our jail is at maximum capacity, and we house an average of 16 inmates out of county every day, at an annual cost of more than $200,000. Inmates are walked from the jail through the courthouse for hearings intermingling with the public, jurors, witnesses and court staff.

Most of these are felons with serious charges such as aggravated battery/assault, robbery, child sex offenses and distribution of drugs. They are using the same restrooms, hallways, and waiting areas as you and I.

The courthouse is a great building but after 70 years is in need of updating to improve security. The renovation project will give us one dedicated, staffed entrance equipped with a metal detector. The jail will be redesigned to add more cells and give jailers complete surveillance of all inmates. Holding cells will be constructed so that inmates will be separated from the public and moved from the jail to courtroom without use of the public hallways.

Anyone who has served on a jury or conducted business in the courthouse with inmates walking past understands the need for improved security. The public and courthouse staff deserve to be safe and secure. This project has been studied for over 10 years. Now is an opportune time to provide the necessary security improvements to the jail and courthouse.

The election on May 14 lets the voters decide. The sales tax, if passed, will sunset in five years, earlier if the bonds are paid off. The question is: Do you want to pay for these projects with a sales tax or an increase in property taxes?

Edward E. Bouker and Glenn R. Braun, district judges; Ross Wichman, Hays municipal judge; Thomas J. Drees, Ellis County attorney; and Ed Harbin, Ellis County sheriff