The Brown County Law Enforcement Center will soon be acquiring two water heating systems after commissioners unanimously voted in a special called meeting Thursday to approve the $52,360 purchase.
It will take at least 21 working days for the new 250-gallon tanks to be readied for installation, and, in the meantime, said Sheriff's Capt. Tony Aaron, borrowing a phrase from Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Gist, the county's water heating system is "operating on borrowed time at half capacity."
The systems in place now are more than 11 years old. One tank has a leak and cannot be used at all. The other system's heat exchange has gone out, and it is operating on the first unit's heat exchange. If the second system also fails, county officials will have 48 hours to have the system replaced, repaired or find alternate facilities for the inmates. After 48 hours without correction the jail will be found in violation of jail standards, which could require it to be closed.
Aaron said if the 150 or so inmates have to be transferred to another county's facilities, the cost to the county would be $7,500 a day - minimum.
Before Brown County Judge Ray West called for the motion, commissioners discussed whether or not such a purchase could be approved without going out for bid, since the expenditure is more than $50,000. West had copies of pages from the Texas Local Government Code distributed to the commissioners.
Several statutes could apply, but, because the burners of the two systems do not have to be replaced and those burners are only compatible with the PVI Systems, it is more cost effective to go with the original supplier. Specific needs in purchases are allowed for and bids are not required in this case.
The bid process would add an additional three weeks to the wait time for the replacements.
Explaining it was critical for the problem to be addressed as quickly as possible, Aaron said, "I don't want to paint a 'the sky is falling' picture, but I do want everyone to be aware of what we're facing.
"We're day-to-day on how long the remaining system is going to last," Aaron said.
In the meantime, because there are two 750-gallon holding units at the Law Enforcement Center, inmates have not had to go without hot water. Jail Administrator Capt. Becky Caffey said no special shower schedules were needed.
"We are required to have the hot water available," Caffey said.
Aaron said state standards require the hot water be 105 degrees when released at the source.
While the court approved the purchase of the systems, how they will be installed is a decision for another meeting. West instructed Aaron to be looking for options. A company out of Abilene installed the present systems, but commissioners agreed it would be nice if there were a Brown County company that could do the installation.
Aaron explained the tanks of the two new systems will have a stainless steel lining and they will be under complete warranty for 10 years, and a prorated warranty for an additional 10 years. The tanks now in place had a five-year warranty and a 10-year use expectation.
"After 11 years, these systems have met or exceeded their design and longevity," Aaron said.
Also at Thursday's special meeting, commissioners approved payment of up to $1,000 for a company to "extract 9-1-1" information from "CodeRed" and transfer it to the DeltAlert System the county has contracted with for emergency warnings in the county.
Brent Bush, emergency coordinator for Brown County, told the court it had been his understanding that the Council of Governments had a contract for record extraction, but that was not the case.
Still he said, with the savings the county would see be going with DeltAlert over CodeRed, the one-time extraction payment would be more than covered. According to the motion made by Precinct 4 Commissioner Larry Traweek, the money will be taken out of surplus funds that have accumulated over the last several years. That money is specifically intended to cover such incidentals as the extraction fee.