Year in review: Jail bonds overwhelmingly voted down

File photo Two bond issues aimed at raising taxes to pay for a new jail and courthouse were defeated by voters Nov. 2.

CNJ staff

Curry County commissioners are working with two citizen panels to develop solutions to problems at the jail and security issues at the courthouse.

The panels are a direct result of voters’ overwhelming defeat of controversial bond issues proposed in 2010 to fund a $33 million jail and courthouse.

The proposed tax increases were intended to be the first installment in an estimated $90 million multiphase judicial complex.

More than 70 percent of voters struck down the proposals that would have raised taxes. In exit interviews, several voters voiced concerns that raising taxes in a struggling economy was ill-timed. They also said officials were not forthcoming about the proposals and the matter had not been studied thoroughly enough with equal consideration given to other solutions.

The county’s pre-election campaign also sparked court action by county residents Al Lewis and JW Graham, who asked for a court injunction forcing the county to remove an informational video played in the courthouse lobby.

The men argued the video was a violation of voting laws. They alleged the videos contained propaganda and was situated too close to the clerk’s office, where early and absentee voting was conducted.

The county ultimately removed the video days before the election.

The case, however, is still pending in district court. The men want a court opinion for future elections.

The project would have been the most expansive — and expensive — Curry County had embarked on in its 100-year history.

First proposed in early July, the bond questions were the county’s proposed solution to pay for the first phase of a megaplex in downtown Clovis as a means to addressing what officials say is a crowded, poorly built jail and an outdated courthouse that fails to meet the security needs of a growing court system.

The proposed new complex would have occupied three blocks, from Seventh to 10th streets between Main and Mitchell streets and included a new, two-story, 120-bed male addition to the jail, remodeling of the existing jail, a new, four-story courts building, an addition for a remodeling of the juvenile detention center and remodeling of the postal building on Gidding Street purchased by the county earlier in the year.

The plan was the result of a four-month, more than $180,000 study conducted by Albuquerque architectural firm Rohde, May, Keller, McNamara Architecture. The firm was charged with assessing the county’s need for a judicial complex and the best ways to use the county’s existing facilities while meeting needs through 2025.

Problems at the county’s 17-year-old jail came to light in an assessment following an Aug. 24, 2008, escape of eight violent inmates. They stole a key and shimmied up a plumbing shaft, cutting a hole in the roof with handmade tools.

The jail was described as having an “abysmal” structure and design.

The commissioners’ plan also sought to address security concerns raised in recent years by district court officials. They said the courthouse, built in the late 1930s, offers no way to adequately protect jurors, court staff and the public. They also said it is too small for a growing court system and as an aged historical building, provides limited options for addressing those concerns.

Two citizen panels are now charged with studying needs of the jail and courts and provide commissioners with recommendations by March.

Also in 2010, residents opposed the proposed closure of Curry Road R. The closure was offered because of security concerns raised by Cannon Air Force Base regarding the road’s proximity to the base’s perimeter fence.

The plan would shut down CR R and create an alternate route using existing nearby roads that would have to be paved to accommodate the increase in traffic.

With no decision reached on the issue, in December the commission voted to spend federal money intended for the CR R project, to instead improve an area of State Road 467 that accesses Cannon’s south gate.

The county also broke ground on a $500,000 health care clinic in Melrose, using money obtained through a community development grant.

Expected to be completed in January and managed by La Casa Buena Salud, the clinic will offer medical services to the village and surrounding area.