Forum gives citizens a voice

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2000

The county commission wanted to hear from as many citizens as they could regarding ways to help finance a new jail and economic development. During a public forum at the Greenville YMCA Thursday they heard what many others had to say about a sales tax, property tax and other forms of raising the needed funds.

One option that several commissioners said was no longer an option at this time is a one-cent increase in sales tax. Commissioner Gary Hanks even entered the meeting with a "no-tax" sign.

"I was considering a one-cent sales tax, but I got so many phone calls from people who did not want it that I have thrown it out as an option," Commissioner Daniel Robinson said.

Commissioner Joe Hendrix echoed that sentiment following the meeting.

"I don't think the people want us to do that so we are going to put it on the back burner and look harder at other ways to raise money. I really think we should look more closely at raising court fees so that those people who will be actually using the jail can help us pay for it," Hendrix said.

William Johnson, who spoke during the public forum, said the two issues were so important that a sales tax should not be completely disregarded.

"We can't rule it out," Johnson said. "We would be crazy to give up on an industrial park. We need both of these things and we can not afford to let it go."

Sylvia Sims, one of the citizens who addressed the commission, said that a one-cent sales tax may not seem like a lot to some people, but that many elderly citizens were barely getting by as it is.

"I am here to speak on behalf of the elderly," Sims said. "Many senior citizens are trying to live on a fixed income. They have to buy medicine and groceries. Right now we can not afford a one-cent sales tax."

Sumpter McGowin said that while taxes have increased over the past few years and cost of living has risen, the people of Butler County were not seeing any results from their tax dollars.

"How can these people ask us for more money when we are not getting any money to give them.

"My point is that tax money is being collected from us. I think we have a right to expect more in return," McGowan said.

"The county throws money away," Nolan McCormick said. "The county needs to cut their spending so they can afford to get these things that they have known for a long time were needed done."

To many of those in attendance it seemed that raising court costs would be more acceptable than a tax hike.

"I think raising court costs would be much better," Thelma Blackmon said. "We should let them (criminals) pay for their own food and rent."

There were many suggestions as to what the county could do. Suggestions varied from a beer or cigarette tax to better budgeting in order to find the money from within the county.

"I believe that a five cent tax on beer or a ten cent tax on tobacco in combination with an increase in court cost would help the county pay off a bond issue. But, I am adamantly opposed to an increase of ad valorem or sales taxes," Eric Cates said.

Some citizens also questioned the commissioners regarding the city's role in helping to finance a new jail.

"Why is it we let the city, who has a three-cent sales tax, get away with paying so little for keeping their prisoners in the jail. It seems to me they are having their cake and eating it too," Randy Beeson said.

"The city should do the right thing and help the county build a jail," Jerry Myers said.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Emily Landers, a representative from Governor Don Siegleman's office, who was taking notes to be given to the governor.

State Representative Charles Newton spoke regarding the costs of building a new jail and how some counties have financed theirs in the past.

"Lowndes County built a jail for $2.4 million, Covington built one two years ago and Crenshaw is currently in the process of bidding out.

Some counties have added additional court cost and user fees which would include things like traffic tickets, but not small claims court. There have been a few who have gone up $45 per traffic ticket. If Butler County did that and earmarked it for a new jail it would make between $350,000 to $400,000 per year," Newton said.

As for economic development, Malloy Chandler, a member of the Butler County Industrial Development Board, said that in order to compete the county must have funds to acquire land and build a spec building.

"This summer there was an industry that was considering locating in one of two places: Greenville or Selma. When they realized we did not have a building or land, they never even bothered coming here. We need property, we need a spec building on that site and we must be prepared with the proper infrastructure at the site," Chandler said.

No decisions were made at the public forum. The next regularly planned commission meeting is scheduled to be held on February 14 at 10 a.m. at the County Commission office.