Abilene / Taylor County Law Enforcement Center, 450 Pecan Street.
Taylor County commissioners approved an engineering study on the Law Enforcement Center formerly shared with the Abilene Police Department to help commissioners and others assess whether it's better to stay or move to another location.
Commissioners approved up to $64,500 for Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates to give an assessment of the building at 450 Pecan St., which in the past has been damaged by a shifting foundation and water, among other issues.
Until recently, the 43,000-square foot structure, a former department store, housed both the Taylor County Sheriff's Office and the Abilene Police Department for about 30 years.
The APD recently moved to a new location in west Abilene.
There is an underground stream beneath the building, Commissioner Chuck Statler said.
To understand the building's potential future and use to the county, "we need to assess ... what type of stabilization process is necessary or if it's even workable," Statler said.
The current assessment will be a followup to a 2014 study by the same company.
"A lot of concerns were expressed by employees" concerning safety, County Judge Down
ing Bolls said. "There were places where the wall was separating from the floor."
The previous study found the building to be safe and structurally sound, Bolls said, but manifold problems remain.
"We'll look at it and see what happens once they tell us how much it will cost for them to stabilize it or fix it," Bolls said. "It would be nice if we could hang onto it, but if we can't, then we'll just have to decide in the future what to do with it."
The county has discussed moving other offices to the structure if it can be salvaged, but Taylor County Sheriff Ricky Bishop said in July that he worried that the building might turn into a "money pit" because of repair costs.
At the time, Bishop advocated tearing down the building, turning the area into a parking lot and building a new LEC for the county elsewhere.
2020 budget approved
In other business Tuesday, commissioners approved a 5.8 percent effective raise in the tax rate, also setting their final fiscal year 2020 budget.
The tax rate will be 63.40 cents per $100 of property value, made up of 56.34 cents for the county's general fund, 2 cents for road and bridge, and 5.06 cents for debt service.
The latter is made up of debt for the 2017 voter-approved bond election for repairs and upgrades at the Taylor County Expo Center, plus the cost of new voting machines for the county.
The final total budget for fiscal year 2020 is $110.43 million.
That is made up of $59.36 million for the county's general fund, $4.77 million for Road and Bridge, and $4.05 million for debt service. Cumulative budget for all remaining funds is $42.25 million.
Next year, commissioners will face tighter restrictions when crafting their budget.
Senate Bill 2, which goes into effect in January, requires taxing entities to get voter approval before they can raise property taxes above a 3.5 percent cap.
This was the last year the county could have gone up to 8 percent.
The county never has had a rollback election, and it's hoped that the it won't have to have one in the future, Bolls said.
"But If we do a budget like this next year, it's going to go to the voters," Bolls said. "And that's OK, I'm all right with that."
Bolls said the county tries to stretch dollars as much as it can.
"We've in the past been able to get a better level of service by working and networking with agencies in the local area," he said.
He said he worried that the tight restrictions would put pressure on some of those relationships.
"We're going to have to go back an see what kind of memorandums of understanding we've got and see how those are going to have to be changed," he said.
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News.
By Brian Bethel
Copyright © 2019, Abilene Reporter News/First Bank Texas. All Rights Reserved.