County contemplates jail repairs

Published 12:13 am Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Dallas County Commission will take longer to decide how to proceed with electrical repairs for the Dallas County Jail.

A proposal Monday from consultant Michael McCann, who works with the technician from Fort Deposit, called for a new $49,000 control panel. Additional repairs could tack on another $20,000 to $30,000.

Prisoners have shorted out wires in the jail, causing damage to the main electrical system and control panel. The lighting system and video surveillance equipment have suffered damage.

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The electrical system died Memorial Day because of the abuse. Since then, McCann has continually attempted to make repairs to help the system limp along.

The commission has a few factors to consider before proceeding with a permanent fix, however.

An insurance claim could cover a good deal, if not most of the repairs, because of damage caused over the years by lightning strikes.

“It’s an old system, and part of it is deterioration,” Ballard said during the commission’s meeting. “We have already submitted a preliminary estimate to the insurance company, and we feel like like we’re going to get recovery. We really are not and cannot afford to go full steam on this until we know what the insurance company’s going to do.”

If the council classifies the cost of Monday’s proposed plan as an emergency repair, the project could go ahead without the time-consuming bid process.

Building repairs exceeding $50,000 in cost require bids, county attorney John E. Kelly III said.

The commission, which operates off a $150,000 repair budget for the jail, approved $10,000 in emergency repairs shortly after Memorial Day.

“It’s going to be up to you all to determine whether this is an emergency,” Kelly said to the commission. “You have a $50,000 threshold for capital improvement or capital repair, and I assume that this would be a capital improvement or repair.”

The issue of the Dallas County sheriff’s role in the matter came up late in the discussion.

“We keep pouring money into this jail, and so far I hadn’t seen anyone here from the sheriff’s department. This is his jail,” Commissioner Roy Moore said, referring to Sheriff Harris Huffman. “I think there needs to be a representative of his office here to listen and know what’s going on.”

Even when it is determined how to pay for the project, the problems don’t end.

The commission and county law enforcement have to make preparations for down time as a result of repairs.

“It doesn’t just take a week, we’re talking months or more because they build it per jail,” McCann said. “Everything’s different in every jail, so for some it may take at least three months to get it all together. When the system went down, you had no control over anything, which was a danger to your guards and inmates.”