Local government

BELTON — Rising project costs prompted Bell County Commissioners to make changes to the amount of previously issued certificates of obligation.

Various projects were either reduced in scale or eliminated entirely from the county’s capital improvement plan project list Monday to limit the amount of debt issued. Commissioners voted unanimously for the changes, which will now limit the debt issued to $75 million.

The county originally approved a plan to issue $138 million in certificates of obligation in May, with most of the money dedicated towards a jail expansion. The county expected to be able to use money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“At the time, we were not sure about ARP funding so the court did a delegation at the time to allow for the original amount,” County Auditor Tina Entrop said. “Since then we have determined … that there are pieces that are eligible for this because of the negative impact at our jail facility and what that has caused for the jail population.”

Entrop said $63 million of the federal money will go towards the jail projects in the plan.

Of the combined $138 million in funds, county officials said about $129 million of that will go towards the jail expansion.

The county planned the expansion due to a rising inmate population that put the current facility over capacity. County officials previously estimated spending about $2 million this fiscal year in housing inmates in other Texas counties alone.

The biggest cut by the county was removing a $20 million project for a new Sheriff’s Department administration office.

County Judge David Blackburn said cutting the project did not mean the county didn’t think it was not important, but rather was unable to fit in this round of funding.

Other projects affected included a broadband project for the county that was cut from $5 million to $4 million and cutting funds for court technology in half to $500,000. Some smaller projects were also affected.

“One of the reasons we set that debt issuance amount at the level that we did was to preserve future capacity so that we do have the ability to address future projects as we go forward,” Blackburn said. “I think there is still a list of those projects for us to consider as we go forward. Certainly components associated with the jail, that we can’t fund in this go round, will be something we can consider at a future time.”

Entrop said the certificates are set to be issued on July 28, followed by their pricing on Aug. 2 and closing the sale on Aug. 26.

Commissioners said during the meeting that they wanted to limit the amount of debt issued through these certificates to $75 million for budgetary reasons.

Commissioner Bobby Whitson said the limit will keep property taxes in the county at the no-new-revenue rate — the tax rate for the county to rise the same amount as last year — for the next fiscal year.

“We have been talking about a lot of money here for a lot of very necessary projects, public safety projects,” Whitson said. “We’ve got to provide a jail, and our jail is woefully too small now.”