Washington County Sheriff Otto Hanak is displeased with the lack of resolution in getting a permanent generator for the Washington County Sheriff’s facility and jail.
The county has taken several steps since March 2021 to attempt to replace the jail’s old generator, which was described by county officials as a money sink to keep running, and at one point was deemed unfit to pass inspection after a check by the fire marshal. However, a long-term solution has not come to fruition, and the jail has been using a temporary generator since December 2021.
Hanak said the process has been “a long, drawn-out nothing”, and feels the county has been “throwing good money after bad”.
In March 2021, county commissioners approved an order to purchase a natural gas generator outside of the normal bidding process because, according to Hanak, the old generator was “a detriment to the facility itself”. The court approved the purchase of a generator from Zenith Power Systems for $335,286, but in June 2021 would vote to rescind the item from the agenda and approve a contract with MEP Engineering for generator engineering services.
In September 2021, commissioners agreed to allow MEP to advertise for sealed bids on behalf of the county for a generator. They then voted in November 2021 to purchase a diesel generator from Flying V Rentals for $757,394 using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
However, in January the county approved an agreement with Project Control of Texas, Inc., stating the county’s previous procurement policy during the bid process did not qualify for ARPA funds. Through the agreement, Project Control would review the county’s procurement policies and procedures to ensure the county’s bid process fit the guidelines for ARPA funding. Commissioners then officially rescinded the generator purchase in March, the most recent court action on the matter.
Hanak says the longer it takes to secure a generator, the more it will cost.
According to Hanak, the sheriff’s office has paid $200 a day since it began renting the temporary generator in December. The emergency generator runs critical needs at the facility, and is not meant to provide heat or cooling in the event power gets knocked out by a winter freeze or hurricane.
County Judge John Durrenberger noted that the rental is being paid for with Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, and that taxpayers are not footing the bill. He added that the county “spent a lot of money trying to keep that old generator running, probably as much as we’re spending on this backup generator.”
Per Durrenberger, the engineering services from MEP are being used to develop a system of staggered switches to prevent the generator from being overloaded by demand all at one time. He said the firm is writing specifications for the switches and the county will go out for bids once they are complete, but he could not provide a timeline for when that might be.
Durrenberger said once the county decided to apply ARPA money toward replacing the generator, the process “really got bogged down” because of the rules and regulations needed in order to qualify for funding. That being the case, he does not want the taxpayers to be responsible for paying for the generator, and said while it will end up taking longer by opting for federal funds, the result will be “well worth the wait”.