Creativity, imagination needed in finding county jail solution

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 8, 2000

At a public meeting held on Thursday night, the Butler County Commission sat quietly and listened to public response on the possibility of passing a one-cent sales tax in the county to provide funding for a new jail and to assist in economic development.

While the discussion was a major step in communication with their constituents, the commissioners received mixed responses from those in attendance and at first glance it appears they have little support for the idea.

At this point, the sales tax is just an idea and should not be considered the definitive answer to the problems in Butler County. While we

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applaud the commission for recognizing certain problems and trying to take action to correct these problems, we wonder whether all the options have been weighed and if the needed funds could not come from some other source.

The fact is Butler County needs a new jail. The current facility is inadequate and has become a maintenance nightmare. If a new one is not built soon under the county's own initiative, then the commission may find itself under a court order to build one later. If that occurs, the

cost could well exceed twice what would be necessary.

Another fact is that Butler County must begin taking action to attract industry to the area, and part of the funds generated from this sales tax idea would be earmarked for securing property and constructing a spec building that would

help attract industry.

However, the question that rises out of this discussion is: would a sales tax do more harm than good to our already strained economy? How would this affect retail sales in the area? How would this tax affect fixed income and unemployed families who are already struggling to make ends meet?

Would new businesses be interested in locating to an area with such a high sales tax rate? Nine percent in the City of Greenville is unheard of in an area with such a small population. Would the small amount of improvements this measure would generate be worth the sacrifice each and every individual in the county would have to make? We think there are other answers.

Most in attendance at the meeting said they might support a property tax if a proper plan was presented that not only addressed a jail and economic development investments, but also funds to improve education and road conditions in the county.

Economic development includes a lot of issues. A business interested in locating in Butler County is not only interested in location and facilities available, but also the condition of area schools, local transportation, and the amount of taxes their employees will have to pay. All of these factors are intertwined and should be addressed.

A number of federal and state grants are available to secure properties and make improvements for economic development. And, while matching funds will be necessary to secure these funds, better use of current resources might help us find the money we need.

Butler County is currently debt free, and taking out a loan to build a new jail is still an option. An increase in court costs will help put the repayment of the loan in the hands of those who should repay it, those who are convicted in court and those who wind up living in the jail.

Taxes are always a hard sell, and although some source of funding is desperately needed to address these issues, we question whether a sales tax is the right idea.

Citizens of the county must be aware that a one percent sales tax can be passed without the consent of the people. A property tax cannot.

We encourage everyone in Butler County to call their county commissioner and let them know how you feel. Something must be done, yes, but without a definite plan that addresses a variety of needs, support for any type of tax will be hard to find.