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During the City Commission meeting at City Hall on Tuesday morning, June 14, a special, joint session was held between the City Commission and Nolan County Commissioners on the possibilities of constructing a new law enforcement center.
No public input was allowed, but residents who were in attendance for the city meeting were invited to sit in on the talks among the local officials.
Visits to newly constructed area facilities have been made and meetings with architects and managers have taken place already by officials. A slight tax increase would be one result of the new facility, which would be in compliance with required standards and be an upgrade from the current building.
The main purpose of the meeting, however, was for the bodies of government to discuss their feelings on the project and to determine if steps to move forward should be taken if both bodies were ready to do so.
The consensus was that the new law enforcement center would hold a jail and accommodate the Nolan County Sheriff's Department and Sweetwater Police Department, as separate buildings would cost more. But due to the fact that escalating standards would prompt the need for a new facility, Nolan County Commissioner Tony Lara stated, "A jail will have to be built."
Issues citing the construction included its lack in size and outdated facilities and supplies, such as appliances that need to be upgraded.
City Commissioner Ricky Castro echoed the sentiment later in the meeting, stating, "It's not something we want to do. It has to be done."
Nolan County commissioners stressed the desire of giving the public input, yet understand that reactions will range. Yet, City Commissioner Dr. Jerod Peek raised the question, "What's the alternative?" in the expectation of negative criticism.
Larry May, yet another city commissioner, stated that should nothing happen immediately, a new jail would be required in the next two years, possibly being cited as an "inefficient operation". Currently, contracts with other counties are being made to transport jailers to other facilities as spacing allows.
The location of the new law enforcement center will need strong local access, and four sites have already been proposed. Three of the four sites also have ample room for additional construction should the facility continue to grow.
Some concerns arose of the cost of upkeep following construction, staffing concerns and working relationships between the two entities. Sweetwater Police Chief Jim Kelley noted that though the buildings are both "old and tired", the need was evident and he would follow as the joint governments lead.
One matter both factions agreed it was "crucial" to initiate public hearings in an effort to educate and inform the public on issues like taxes and expenses. However, the majority agreed that the forums should not be government driven discussions.
The meetings would take place in the meetings, as the educational campaign would start in Sweetwater and travel to cities such as Roscoe, Nolan, Maryneal and Blackwell. While subject to change, the possibility of Tuesday night meetings would be held consecutively to present rough estimates as a unified group to inform the public.
By the meeting's end, everyone was in agreement and on board to further the process in the building of the law enforcement center in an efficient manner in order to place the issue on a ballot in the future. Nolan County Judge Tim Fambrough and Sweetwater City Manager Eddie Brown will work together in finalizing a schedule for the public hearings.