DALLAS — Officials in Harris County, Tex., still want to build a jail to house an over-capacity inmate population. The Arlington City Council still wants to upgrade streets around the new Cowboys stadium. Both municipalities seek the same size bond package for the November ballot — $144 million.

This past November, voters in Harris County, which includes Houston, rejected a $245 million referendum that included $195 million for a 2,500-bed jail. Officials want a new facility that will serve as a central processing center. The current facility is used for both men and women, and ideally the county would like to be able to process each gender separately.

Officials initially projected the center would cost $245 million, and Houston has committed to contribute $32 million. After the bond package failed, county commissioners asked for a revised proposal and the new $144 million plan targets meeting needs for additional room to process inmates through 2025.

One county official said “there’s no way we should put that to another vote … it’ll lose for sure.”

But commissioner Steve Radack said the needs for a new facility are obvious. He also expects the final bond package to be closer to $200 million.

“This really helps the city of Houston because it has a very old jail … I used to work for the Houston police department 30 years ago and remember thinking the jail was old back in ’74,” Radack said.

Radack said the November 2007 election failed, in part, because of some opposition from folks that felt the jail would be built too close to county parks. The new facility has a new location and Radack said that may help get the bond passed.

The county’s current inmate population of 11,114 is nearly 1,800 over capacity. A temporary variance from the state provides another 2,064 beds and the sheriff’s department has an agreement with a Louisiana parish to hold up to 730 inmates with an option to transfer another 1,000 there, if necessary.

First Southwest Co. is the financial adviser to the county, which is the third-largest in the country with nearly 4 million residents.

Harris County carries underlying ratings of Aa1 from Moody’s Investors Service, AA-plus from Fitch Ratings, and AAA from Standard & Poor’s.

In April, Standard & Poor’s upgraded the county to AAA from AA-plus due to a “substantial and continually diversifying economic and property-tax base,” continued strong reserve levels, low debt levels, modest capital needs, additional funds available through surplus toll-road revenue, and strong financial management.

Meanwhile, back in North Texas, Arlington officials are also mulling a $144 million bond package for November.

The growing city, which sits nearly equidistant between Dallas and Fort Worth, is in process of widening and improving various right-of-way projects around Interstate 30 in the northern part of the city near the new $1 billion stadium being built for the Dallas Cowboys football team. Other projects to be included in the bond package provide upgrades to the city airport. 

The city considered putting a bond package before voters in May but chose to wait until November so the question would coincide with the presidential election and allow more time to review the potential projects. The cCity Council must call for the election by August to have it before voters in November.

Arlington carries underlying ratings of AA-plus from Standard & Poor’s, AA from Fitch, and Aa2 from Moody’s.

The city’s estimated 2007 population of nearly 376,500 is up 13% from the 2000 Census tally of 332,969.



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