Sunday, December 14, 2008

     

 

 

 

End in sight for jail expansion
Final Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection date set
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–The end is in sight for the Henderson County Jail expansion and renovation project.
Commissioners Joe Hall, Wade McKinney and Ronny Lawrence attended a construction meeting Thursday afternoon and heard that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards will inspect the last portion of the project Jan. 14.
“They will be inspecting the booking area, the last piece,” architect Kenny Burns said.
The news was welcomed by commissioners, who have grown increasingly frustrated with delays.
Two week ago, commissioners declined a chance to shift money in preparation for paying the next bill request from Templeton Construction, the company overseeing the jail project.
“They’re way late (on getting the work done) and I don’t want to pay them,” Lawrence said at that time.
The project’s delays have caused problems for the county in the revenue department, as well.
According to county officials, the fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget (which ends Dec. 31) was built with the idea that Henderson County would be housing out-of-county inmates at a profit by now. That hasn’t happened yet.
Fortunately, since the new portion of the jail has opened, the county has not had to house its inmates out-of-county, a common occurrence in the past. McKinney said that has helped this year’s budget.
While discussions regarding jail expansion have been ongoing since the late 1990s, it was in 2005 that Henderson County voters approved an $8.5 million bond to pay for building the jail expansion and renovating the existing jail. The county also added $3.5 million from its capital projects fund for the project.
Groundbreaking took place in July, 2006. At that time, completion was supposed to take 20 months – 16 months for the new construction and four for the renovation. That would have put completion of the project in February, 2008.
Weather was one of the culprits for the delay.
The upcoming inspection should be the last step before the jail can become fully operational.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspected and approved the jail expansion, which includes more than 300 beds, in June. The Henderson County Jail received its annual inspection in October.
McKinney said it could take up to 60 days from the date of the upcoming inspection to get everything operational.
While the state inspection would give the county the ability to fully occupy the jail, a punch list of loose items will likely remain for the contractor to finish.
During Thursday’s meeting, McKinney asked about possible problems with the jail’s lobby being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Lt. Ben Kinder – who has since left the Sheriff’s Department, officials said – told commissioners last week that ADA changes that could be necessary include enlarging bathroom stalls, providing signs in Braille, and installing multi-level drinking fountains.
Thursday, however, Burns said he didn’t believe there would be a problem for two reasons:
• because none of the construction was in the public areas of the jail facility, the lobby wouldn’t be included in ADA requirements; and,
• the instances pointed out by Kinder were common at the end of projects, and could be fixed fairly easily if there is a problem.
Commissioners said they were satisfied with Burns’ explanation following the meeting.

City eyes cameras at intersections
Photo system to reduce car accidents by 80 percent
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

GUN BARREL CITY–The Gun Barrel City Council gave the green light to RedFlex, a leader in photo enforcement, to conduct a traffic study of intersections in the city.
A Redflex representative presented some dramatic video of accidents caused by running red lights during the Tuesday regular council meeting.
“We had three accidents in November (at the State Highways 334 and 198 intersection) caused by red light violations,” Sgt. Damon Boswell said.
Commonly, there is a big drop in violations between the first and second month of operation, as people become aware of the enforcement system and alter their driving behavior, the representative said.
“Up to a 44 percent reduction in violations,” he said. That reduction greatly reduces the number of potential accidents and saves lives, he added.
RedFlex claims to lead in Texas with 63 percent of the market share, providing mounted camera and video equipment at intersections to record red-light violations.
The study will consist of mounting cameras and presenting traffic data over a month’s time to a citizens committee for analysis, along with recommended plans for the best use of the system.
There is no cost for the study. The company recoups its cost from generated citations, should the council decide to implement the system.
Recorded images and data of red light violations are packaged and sent to the city for a judgment by an officer or designated person, who then sends out the citation.
RedFlex mails the citation to the violator. The violator calls Redflex with any questions on their 24-hour customer service line. Images may also be pulled up on the Internet by those receiving citations.
Three photos are taken, one of the car approaching the red light at a speed not likely to be able to make the stop; a second one of the car going through the intersection and a third of a close-up of the license plate on the vehicle. A 12-second video of the movement is also recorded, a RedFlex representative explained.
The video also means law enforcement doesn’t have to go through recreation of the accident scene as it is captured on the video.
“No calls go to the city about the violation,” he said. “We walk them through the whole process.”
Fees are paid to RedFlex, who takes a percentage and forwards the rest to the city, who takes out their own administrative fee and than splits the rest with the state, he explained.
Funds sent to the state are tracked and used for upgrades to regional trauma services, he added.
The funds the city collects may also be used to build up the city’s own preventative safety programs.
The database being built by images captured by the system may also be used for Amber alerts, felony warrants and other needs, he said.
No pictures are recorded of vehicle operators or occupants in Texas, as state law says the vehicle’s owner is responsible, instead of the vehicle operator. RedFlex is in operation in nearly all 50 states, he said.
“The service is cost-neutral to the city,” the representative said.
In other business, council members:
• agreed to contract with Bureau Veritas North America Inc. to help the city review development plans and provide inspection services of residential and commercial projects, as needed.
The city attorney was reviewing the contract first, city administrator Gerry Boren said.
The eight-year-old company has been providing this third-party service to about 100 cities in Texas.
Its workforce is made up of retired contractors, military men and former city building inspectors. All are certified in specific areas of expertise, including fire suppression systems (sprinkler systems), representative Rick Herzberger said.
“You mean if another Landers project came in, they could track the permits, code enforcement, everything?” councilman Mel Hayes asked.
“Yes,” Herzberger answered.
“I like that,” Hayes responded.
“We need you,” Mayor Paul Eaton said.
• adopted a package of North Central Texas Council of Governments amendments pertaining to fire prevention and the installation of automatic sprinkler systems in any new building of 6,000 square feet or more.
• created a masonry standard ordinance, requiring new structures built in the local and general business districts of the city to provide a fire resistant facade covering a minimum of 60 percent of the building.
Other code standards were also set regarding roof pitch facing roadways and screening roof structures from view.
• decided to close city offices both Thursday, Christmas Day, and Friday, Dec. 26.
• cancelled the council’s regular Dec. 23 meeting.


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