By Jamie Cushman
Staff writer 

Breaking ground for detention center

The new facility is funded by gross receipts tax increase.


May 20, 2018

CLOVIS — Curry County on Tuesday will break ground on a detention center addition and renovation project that’s 10 years in the making.

“It’s been a long road, but it’s finally headed towards the end,” Curry County Commission Chairman Ben McDaniel said. “A year and a half about construction time, so we’re not quite there yet, but slowly getting there.”

The project, which will include a nearly 14,000 square foot housing unit, a medical unit, two recreational yards and a new sally port to be constructed on Ninth Street, was debated for years, repeatedly rejected by voters, and ultimately funded by a gross receipts tax increase implemented by county commissioners.

“It was 10 years of working on funding and getting the funds secured to do the renovations and additions that are needed,” County Manager Lance Pyle said. “And also a lot of studies that went into doing the renovations and additions.”

Debate regarding the jail began in 2008 after a series of inmate escapes, most notably when eight men with violent criminal histories climbed through the jail's roof. All were ultimately recaptured, but Edward Salas — a convicted killer — eluded authorities for four years.

Despite county officials' contentions the escapes were related to poor construction of the jail, voters three times voted down proposals for improvements.

In November 2010, more than 70 percent of Curry County voters rejected a $33 million proposal that would have renovated the jail and courthouse.

In April 2012, voters said no to a $9.3 million project that would have renovated the jail. The vote was 1,014 to 946.

Then in August 2013, voters said no to a $9.9 million jail renovation project. That vote was 1,491 to 741.

“The detention center is not a popular item but it’s the largest liability exposure for the county,” Pyle said. “Looking back on those bond elections, I think we needed to (have done) a better job of educating the public on the need for the additions and renovations.”

“It’s not a very popular item to build a detention center,” former Commissioner Frank Blackburn agreed. “Most people don’t feel like the inmates deserve such a nice facility.”

Despite the voters’ preference, in August 2014 county commissioners voted to raise gross receipts taxes by .25 percent, generating $14 million to renovate the jail and move county administration offices to the Gidding Street post office building.

Pyle said the county then bonded against that tax to pay for the detention center project. He said the bond will be paid off by the end of 2036 and the tax will sunset June 30, 2037.

“I think that the gross receipts taxes, to me that was always a better option because not everybody pays property tax,” McDaniel said. “Everybody pays gross receipts tax and I thought it was a little more even and fair, but still yeah it’s a tax increase no matter how you look at it. It was an extremely tough decision. I think it was right, but I know it was not popular.”

Former Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said when he would talk to his constituents one-on-one about the challenges the detention center faced, they became more understanding of the need for the tax increase, something he thinks will continue over the coming years.

“I have no regrets in voting for that (gross receipts tax increase) because I think in the years ahead the county and the constituents will look back and see it was a good investment,” Bostwick said.

The project is scheduled to be completed by October 2019 at a total cost of $11.56 million.

Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony begins at 10 a.m.

Besides the new housing and medical unit, the detention center’s old sally port will be renovated to include eight video visitation stations, something the facility currently lacks, and a new heating system and security electronics.

“I think the medical unit is a huge advantage,” Pyle said. “The eight video visitation stations will be an asset at the facility as well as to the public.”


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