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Jail Bond News Conference Details

Douglas G. Shryock, President

Grassroots America We the People

O: 903-526-1862

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

I’m Douglas Shryock, President of Grassroots America, We the People of Smith County.  I’m joined today by Grassroots’ Board members Ernie Clark and Rick Eisenbach, each of whom will follow me with more specific details of today’s announcement.  Unfortunately, our Executive Director, JoAnn Fleming, is unable to join us due to a health issue with her father.

Through diligent and ongoing efforts of our membership, our board, and supporters, Grassroots America is blessed to have earned a position of credibility and leadership across the state of Texas.  We are networked with over 300 Texas tea party, grassroots, and 912 organizations united under the umbrella of limited constitutitional government.  Our Executive Director serves as Chairman of the Citizen Advisory Committee to an important Caucus of the Texas Legislature. That Caucus is known as the Tea Party Caucus, but we need to make it very clear today that Grassroots America is NOT the Tyler Tea Party.  We are a separate and distinct organization established in February 2009.

Our mission is to return government at all levels to its limited, constitutionally specified functions, allowing the private sector to grow and thrive.  We stress the need for a return to personal responsibility instead of looking to government to solve every problem.  We are regular citizens, recognizing Texas’ strength comes from an active, educated populace.  Our role is to hold elected leaders accountable for their actions and their decisions.  When necessary, we’ve successfully opposed issues we found to be poorly planned and candidates we found less than best qualified for the offices they sought. 

However, we believe it is our duty not only to oppose those actions contrary to good government, but also to support good government and elected leaders as they seek to carry out their statutory responsibilities.  We must distinguish between good intentions poorly communicated and practical, realistic, and effective community planning.

In that regard, we must strongly disagree with the position taken by the Tyler Tea Party.  We believe justice and law enforcement are cornerstone functions of local government.  To accomplish those functions, officials must ensure safety and security for the men and women who wear the law enforcement uniform and for the citizens they serve.  We must accept that crime happens.  It is our responsibility to approve the tools government needs to deal with crime when it has chosen the right tools, at the best price, in an open and transparent way.

After several public hearings in which we had the opportunity to study the issue in detail and ask questions, we believe the jail bond plan effectively and efficiently addresses the long-running problem of jail overcrowding.  As a result, Grassroots America, We the People wholeheartedly endorses the proposed jail bond issue.

I’ll now turn the podium over to Ernie Clark to explain why we have come to our conclusion and then to Rick Eisenbach to explain how we execute due diligence.

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Grassroots America – We the People

News Conference: 11 AM, April 28, 2011, Smith County Annex Courtroom

Endorsement of Smith County Jail Proposal

Presentation made by:  Dr. Douglas Shryock, President; Ernie Clark, board member & Watchdog Leader; Rick Eisenbach, board member & Watchdog Leader; Marcia Johnson, County Watchdog Committee member; Stephen Thompson, GAWTP member and retired law enforcement officer

Grassroots America – We the People has reviewed all of the details presented in the Commissioners Court’s regular meetings over the past year, including information on the County website and in the more than two dozen public presentations made by Commissioner Jeff Warr and Judge Joel Baker.  We find that the Commissioners Court and Sheriff Smith have more than adequately demonstrated the need for the jail beds and have been absolutely transparent and pro-active in communicating the details far in advance of the beginning of early voting.

  • Smith County has been under a remedial order since 2004 from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for non-compliance due to overcrowding:
  1. Smith County has tried on three different occasions to get in compliance with jail plans that included much higher bed counts to meet long-range 10 – 20 year projections, but the voters have said “No” because the plans were too expensive or included court facilities that drove up the costs;
  2. Now is the opportunity, at a reasonable cost, to remove the remedial order for a jail – not a courthouse – with approval of the $35 million jail bond proposal. 

We well understand the economic challenges made worse by out-of-control  government spending that piles up debt.   Our members are actively at work on those issues; however, this jail project is not about “wants.”  It is about a “need” to house inmates locally at the lowest possible price and to stop spending millions of dollars in other counties.  It is about saving tax dollars on lower medical costs for inmates and lower transportation costs by having our inmates housed locally next to the courts. Most importantly, this jail plan is about assuming responsibility for the safety of the men and women who wear the law enforcement uniform and are now having to manage inmates in unsafe conditions.

  • A one-cent increase in the Smith County Tax Rate for the next 15 years will relieve the long-standing non-compliance problem, save taxpayers in operating costs, and make our law enforcement officers safer.
  1. The average home-owner’s property tax (debt service portion of the tax rate) would increase by approximately $13.00 per year, with the potential for early pay off. 

We have reviewed the County’s detailed supporting documentation and find the Jail Bond Proposal to be absolutely clear on the construction and financing costs of the plan and the cost  benefits for the jail bed expansion and the space for its core support functions (infirmary, laundry, kitchen, sally port, booking).  We found nothing contradictory in any of the supporting documents.

  • An in-jail infirmary, fully-staffed, will save the county between $600,000 to $800,000 per year, based on the numbers of the daily prisoner load.
     
  • The installation of a new book-in facility, relocation of the laundry, and the video visitation program will streamline operational efficiencies and reduce over-all operating costs.
     
  • The current daily estimated cost of all prisoners (county and out-of-county) is $53.83.  After the expansion and improvements, including the debt service, the estimated daily cost would be $46.85 – a savings of $6.98 per inmate, along with improved jail employee and deputy safety.  (debt service increases, but operational costs decrease)
     
  • At the last Smith County Commissioners’ Court Meeting (April 25) Sherriff Smith reported the out-of-county jail population was 70.  If you take the current contract per diem rate of $41.00 per inmate, times the 70 out-of-county prisoners, Smith County paid $2,870 for that one day.  This does not include the cost of transporting those prisoners (vehicle depreciation, personnel cost, gas, and upkeep of the vehicle), and the medical care the prisoners may need or receive (an out-of-county cost over which Smith County has no control). 

We want to set the record straight about what kind of jail beds the county is short on – the beds needed are for medium and high risk inmates.  The County has a sufficient number of beds for low risk inmates.  The County cannot mix these populations of inmates, neither can they mix male and female, or inmates with certain medical conditions into the general population.  So while the County may have some local jail beds “vacant” and still ship out inmates to other counties, it is because the empty beds are in the low risk facility.

Now, to address the proposed legislation that would allow tents for housing inmates – first of all, Texas is not Arizona.  Our local jail system is regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards – an agency that came about as the result of a federal lawsuit involving inmate conditions.  If legislation passed to allow tents, the tents would have to be in compliance with all of the standards imposed by the federal ruling, and the tents would likely be approved only for low risk inmates.   Tents for more dangerous populations of inmates would require far more detention officers and would require tent jails to be set up out in the county. This would drive up operating costs and pose the question – Who wants a tent jail city  close to their rural neighborhood?   The proposed tent legislation is not a way to solve the Smith County jail overcrowding problem – which is overcrowding for the medium to high risk inmate population.

We believe it makes sense to lease out any extra beds to the federal government or to another county or city. With a federal court in Tyler, it will be more cost-effective to house federal inmates in a local jail rather than in another county.   We appreciate the covenant agreement the Commissioners Court signed which pledges any surplus revenue from contract beds to be applied to paying off the debt faster.   This same type of public pledge signed by the Tyler City Council worked well for local taxpayers.  The Half-cent sales tax pledge lowered city property taxes because local officials kept their word, and the citizens held them to the pledge.  Grassroots America has no reason to distrust the Commissioners Court’s pledge and has every reason to believe that citizens will hold them (and future court members) to this pledge. Since the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee and the Alternatives to Incarceration Program are successfully working to reduce recidivism and streamline the criminal justice process, we have every reason to believe that the 384 beds included in this basic plan would not be immediately filled with our own inmates.   A revenue stream to retire the debt early makes good business sense, and a review of the financing plan with the projected revenue stream for leased beds shows county taxpayers could save up to $13 million on the project.

Next, let me clear up a mis-representation that Smith County does not pay off its debt:

  1. In 2001, outstanding debt  –  $22,525,000
  2. In 2011, outstanding debt  –     $5,710,000
  3. In 2012, another $1.4 million will be paid off. 

Finally, while we were not happy with the 2.5 cent county tax increase last year, the Commissioners Court reduced the initially proposed increase by almost half and reduced spending by 12.5% from the 2010 revised budget amount. The spending cuts were accomplished by overall operating cuts in the majority of departments, the elimination of 33 full-time positions, employee pension contribution reductions, and no major equipment purchases for FY11.   In addition, three members of the Commissioners Court annually cut their own pay and do not receive the full budgeted amount in the salary plan for Commissioners.  Not many elected officials will cut their own pay before cutting benefits for employees, and we find the Commissioners Court to be very receptive to sound recommendations for cost cutting and open to citizen involvement. 

Tough economic times usually bring more crime.  Every day news reports are full of stories about fuel theft and burglaries.  Crime stats may be down in certain areas now, but we want to be responsible and back up law enforcement with a place to lock up law breakers when the space is needed.  Because we have fully studied the plan details and deemed them sound, seen the presentation numerous times, had our questions answered, and want to support increased safety for the men and women in county law enforcement, we endorse the Smith County Jail Bond Proposal and urge citizens to vote “yes.” 

Where applicable, a political advertisement paid for by Grassroots America – We the People PAC,

 P.O. Box 130012,Tyler, TX 75713, Jimmie Taylor, PAC Treasurer.