Open mind, communication will get new jail built

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Members of the Butler County Commission opened the door at Thursday's public forum for discussing how the county should tackle financing a new county jail. And there was plenty of discussion. Enough discussion, in fact, that I'm sure there will be plenty more discussion before any means of financing is pursued.

The two taxes discussed most often Thursday are a one-percent sales tax and an increase in ad valorem taxes on property. And while "no new taxes" is not a sound position on the issue, no new sales tax or ad valorem tax might be pretty arguable stance.

Speaking on behalf of the entire Commission Thursday, Daniel Robinson clearly convinced me that this is not a group of guys that are exploring this as a way to get themselves another term in office.

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"You may end up with five new commissioners," said Robinson at the close of the forum.

The discussion also convinced me that public input is going to be absolutely critical to dealing with the matter. Public input beyond a handful of poorly attended forums is needed. Those in attendance at the Thursday event will most certainly be there the next time there is a chance to talk about this. And they'll probably bring a neighbor, co-worker or friend.

But for every concerned business person that will rise and tell about how raising the sales tax another percent will drive more retail trade to places like Montgomery, there are a dozen that believe that will happen. If the Commission is truly dedicated to financing a new jail in a way that is not going to affect Butler County negatively

and I believe they are

they need to do their homework and look beyond the two methods of finance that were most popular at Thursday's discussion.

After considering a hundred options, those might play out to be the best two, but until a hundred alternatives are considered, there's not much way to tell.

The Advocate is committed to helping folks keep up with what is happening as the issue develops.

We're also committed to providing a place for people to express their opinions on the matter. And we're likely to offer some heavy-handed advice along the way.

As fresh as the topic of financing the jail is, hopefully no one has made up their mind as to what they believe is the best way for the county to pay for a new jail.

The impact of any new tax or financing decision needs to be closely considered before any decisions are reached.

Local business owners who spoke to the Commission during Thursday's session said they believe a one-percent sales tax hike would be bad for Butler County's economy.

That's one strike against one of the ideas being discussed. The fact that voters would have to approve an increase in ad valorem taxes is an early dagger in that plan.

While I've not had a chance to tour the jail, I'm convinced it needs to be replaced.

I'm not convinced there are only two ways to pay for it.

There is federal and state aid to consider.

There are existing structures that might be suitable for a jail.

The county, which has virtually no debt, could finance the project over the long term, and benefit from the ability to pay for it with money generated from added jobs, industry and retail.

It could be paid for after the Greenville High School debt is paid.

The possibilities are endless, and the more creative the better.

There are lots of options, and the commissioners need your support and input as they consider them.

Eric Bishop is publisher of the Greenville Advocate. His column appears on Saturday.