GROESBECK, TX — Limestone County has sold the prison it built several years ago.
For years, the prison made money, until business conditions changed. Now the county and the contractor have worked out what they call a win-win for taxpayers.
When Limestone County put out the for-sale sign on the prison it built, taxpayers like Willie Johnson practically jumped for joy.
”What do you think about the county finally selling the prison?" asked reported Dennis Turner.
"Well I'm kinda glad to see that happen. It's been a sore thumb for years,” replied the cafe owner.
About 30 years ago, Limestone County commissioners moved ahead with the construction of a new prison. At the time, privately-run prisons had emerged as a way all governments could lower costs by putting the efficiency of private enterprise to work.
"Back in the day, let me tell you something, they made millions upon millions upon millions of dollars," said Limestone County Judge Richard Duncan.
It seemed like a great deal, but here's the catch, the prison operator didn't own the building. Limestone County did.
Overtime, the huge complex needed a little work.
”We were gonna have to put a new roof on it, locking mechanisms, always air conditioning mechanisms going out, tons of other equipment that we were going to have to replace,” said Hon. Duncan.
Not to mention, a slowing of immigration arrests brought in fewer inmates. So putting out the for-sale sign seemed like the right idea.
But in 30 years, the business model changed, and prison companies came under a microscope. So with a modern prison to sell and fewer potential buyers, Limestone Conty turned to its contractor, La Salle Corrections, to make a deal.
The prison was appraised at just under $5 million dollars. La Salle eventually offered just under $4 million. What sealed the deal? A so-called economic development clause.
”We said, "Okay, we'll do the 3.75 [million dollars], less than what it appraised for, if you will put a half-million dollars in economic development by keeping 100 jobs there for the next five years,"” said Judge Duncan.
Here's another bonus, the prison will now go on the county tax rolls.
"Whether it be the Limestone Medical Center, the hospital, they get a tax. The school district will get tax revenue. City of Groesbeck will get tax revenue. Limestone County will get tax revenue, and the City will get water revenue," said the county judge.
With the deal, business owners like Willie Johnson get to keep customers.
"We own a cafe, and LaSalle, they spend a lot of money with us, their employees, and I'm glad they get to stay here in town," he said.
In the meantime, contracts with the United States Marshals Service and others will keep the Limestone County prison open and profitable, with an operator more able to pay the cost of a new roof.