Getting answers about a jail

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GRAYSON CO., Tex.--Hundreds of people attended a public forum to talk about options for a new Grayson County jail. Residents had several questions including who would run it, potential locations, if it’s needed, and how to pay for it.

Sheriff Keith Gary and Grayson County judge Drue Bynum both said the current facility is dilapidated and over-crowded and needs to be replaced.

Grayson County commissioners have been actively pursuing different options after consultant recommended a new jail at a cost of more than $90 million. The commissioners estimate a bond would increase property taxes by about 30 cents per $100.

To avoid a high tax increase, commissioners are exploring a partnership with a private company. A for-profit company would build the jail at no cost to the taxpayer. They could even run the facility.

Some of the proposed sites include adding onto the current facility in downtown Sherman, the old Sher-Den mall site on Texoma Pkwy, and the Grayson County airport.

While some say it’s a great situation, others say...not so fast. They are concerned a for-profit company could be a liability if the company ever went bankrupt. The county would be stuck paying for a facility they aren’t budgeted to fund. They also fear the company could, over time, overcharge fees for operation.

Opponents also cited an instance in Florida where a private company built a jail, then withheld records that would ordinarily be public, but said they were private documents not open for public scrutiny. Some say the lack of accountability is troubling.

Those in attendance submitted questions answered by a panel of county leaders. Event organizers say the open discussion is democracy in action.

County commissioners expect to make a decision on the jail situation sometime in early 2008. If they do choose to enter into a private agreement, that would not require an election.

The private company would provide funding, so residents would not have to vote to pay for the building. Judge Drue Bynum said the county would make the contract available to the public.

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