Commission to hold public forum

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2000

Growing concerns over the condition of the Butler County Jail and high unemployment has prompted the Butler County Commission to schedule a public meeting in order to hear citizen's feedback on what should be done to address these two problems.

The commissioners are beginning to look at ways to raise funds to build a jail to replace the current 71-year-old facility. Recently the commission was required to bring in a contracting company to make necessary repairs ordered by the Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office. Hagan Construction Company completed the work and the county now awaits another inspection from the fire marshal.

County Commissioner Daniel Robinson said the work done to the jail was only a temporary resolution to the problem.

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"The jail has been a constant problem. We know that the work we approved recently was not a permanent fix and that this problem will not be resolved overnight. But, we need to stop spending tax-payers' money on the jail when we know that we are going to have to build a new one," Robinson said.

Some commissioners feel it is important that the county take care of the jail situation now rather than wait and risk the possibility of a state judge mandating a new facility.

"If a judge comes in and requires us to build a new jail it would probably be more expensive to the county because we would have to build the type facility they tell us to," Commissioner Joe Hendrix said. "It would be much better for Butler County to take care of this problem as soon as possible."

All five county commissioners plan to be in attendance during the public meeting as well as the district's state representative Charles Newton.

One possibility the commission is looking at to raise funds for a new jail could be an increase in sales tax. Hendrix said that the county could acquire the needed funds within a few years at which time the increase would be dropped.

"If the county increased the sales tax by one cent then in three years we would earn $4 million dollars. It would probably take approximately $2.5 to build a new jail. But, the one cent tax would be short term and done away with after the needed funds have been acquired. This is one of the things we are looking at," Hendrix said.

The other issue that will be discussed during the meeting surrounds the fact that Butler County's unemployment rate ranks highest in the state. They are looking for input from citizens on things they may be able to do to bring in more industry and business.

"We want to ask the people we represent which way they would like to see us proceed on this issue," Robinson said. "Then we would take what they said under advisement as we begin to make our decisions."

The commission is hoping that the establishing of the Butler County Industrial Development Board was an important step in the direction of new jobs for the people of the county. But, Robinson said that the county must have more to offer prospective businesses.

"We need to secure the property and to build a spec building," he said. "When a community is trying to lure jobs it is important to have something to offer them. Most companies who are relocating are looking to move in quickly and do not have the time to wait until a building is constructed."

Hendrix said that several companies has passed Butler County by because there was no where for them to move in.

"We would like to build a spec building. We had the opportunity to bring in two businesses. But, they were looking to move in quickly so we lost them because we had no facility readily available to them," Hendrix said.

The commissioners said the event was not so much a time for them to sell ideas to the public as much as an opportunity for them to hear from those they serve to better understand how they felt towards both of these issues.

"This is strictly a meeting to discuss with people the growing need for a county jail and ways to bring in new jobs. We want to get the general public's input on these two issues which are the most important facing the county at this time.

"The jail is a priority and we know that it has to be done. But, we also know that we need to put people to work. I believe the people of Butler County has much to offer and I feel very good about this meeting," Hendrix said.

The meeting is scheduled to begin

at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6

in the courtroom of the Butler County Courthouse Annex building.