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Butler County Commission stalls jail project

The Butler County Commission, during their regular monthly meeting Monday morning voted to table action on the new jail project, by virtue of a "deadlock" vote.

Citing concerns over current interest rates, and a slumping economy, coupled with recent retaliation actions by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Commissioner Jesse McWilliams said he just was not comfortable with moving forward at this time with regard to the proposed new jail.

"We are in a critical time in this country right now, with the recent attack at the World Trade Center, and retaliation strikes this week, and that has caused things in this country to slow down," McWilliams said. "Much of the county's revenue comes from travelers on the Interstate highway stopping and spending here n people have stopped traveling, so revenue is down.

"Not only are we looking at the expense of building a jail, but having to spend money operating it n I think by the end of the year, we might be in a better position to make a decision on what course of action to take with the jail," McWilliams said.

Commissioner Gary Hanks spoke in opposition to any action which would stall the jail project.

"I think that we have been wrestling with this jail project for a long time. We started out with a 110-bed facility, and since then we have met with the architects again, and reduced the size of the facility so it would only house 85 prisoners n at our workshop last week both the architect and our bond and security company were here, and they both felt like we could handle it; I think we should go ahead and proceed with the project," Hanks said.

Commission Chairman Daniel Robinson said he didn't think in light of the progress the county had already made on the jail project that the court would say nothing was being done.

Commissioner William Phillips said he, too, felt like the county should proceed with the project.

"I am afraid that the interest rate may go up before we start any commitment on funding," Phillips said. "Are you talking like tabling this issue for a month, or what?"

"I am saying let's wait and see how this war-effort and the economy will progress," McWilliams said. "Sheriff, I'm not talking about not building you a jail, but I think we should wait."

Sheriff Diane Harris then responded.

"We are currently under a federal court order to build a new jail," she said. "At any time the federal government could come down and order us to build the jail their way, and that could cost us several more million dollars."

"I agree with the sheriff," Hanks said. "We signed a court order, promising we would do something to build a jail, and although, like Daniel said, the court may not say we are not doing anything, we have the property to build the jail on, and we have plans drawn to build it. I think we should go ahead and build it."

McWilliams then made a motion to table any action on proceeding with the jail construction project. This motion died for lack of a second.

Phillips then made a motion to proceed with the construction of a new jail for Butler County n this action was seconded by Hanks.

In a role-call vote, McWilliams voted no, Hanks voted yes, Phillips voted yes and Robinson voted no, and so the action was deadlocked, and will come up again at the next meeting.

In other news, Lane Powell, representing South Central Alabama Development and David Parley with Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) appeared before the commission with a presentation regarding federal grant funding projects to stimulate economic development in poverty-stricken areas of the state.

Many areas of Butler County would fall into the poverty lines defined by federal programs, and so if the commission did like neighboring counties have done and adopted the program, businesses would receive substantial incentives to move industry into Butler County.

"Not only can a company get direct credit against tax burdens for moving into an affected area, but they can also get extended depreciation limitations on equipment and machinery used in their business," said Parley.

A motion was made by McWilliams and seconded by Phillips to adopt the plan, and the measure carried unanimously.

Commission Chairman Daniel Robinson presented a resolution to Mrs. Cathy Hendrix, widow of recently deceased Commissioner Joe Hendrix.

"We at the Butler County Commission want you to know that you are in our thoughts and prayers, and that we too feel the loss of your husband," Robinson said.

He also said a similar resolution had been drawn up for the family of Rev. Dr. James E. Cook, a long-time community leader and minister for the AME Zion Church since 1944, but that Rev. Cook's widow asked to have the presentation at an upcoming convention in town.

The commission also approved retaining the law firm of Poole and Poole as the county's attorneys for the upcoming fiscal year, approved a holiday schedule for county employees, heard from residents concerned with the Hugley Bridge Road dispute saying that the gate across the road was open, and would be removed as soon as they could get a tractor down there to pull it out of the ground.

The commissioners then discussed the Wilson Road, located in Brushey Creek, owned by a Mr. Sherill Wilson.

"This is in my district, and in 1996 the county was maintaining the road," Hanks said. "They have since stopped, and the road is in such bad shape that the mail carrier won't even travel down the road."

Hanks made a motion to resume working the road, which was seconded by Phillips. The motion carried.

Engineer Dennis McCall said the county was now prepared to let the second bids on bridge projects.

The commission also approved the payment of bills, and then adjourned.

Outside the Commissioners' Court, Sheriff Harris said the county was indeed in danger of further lawsuits.

"The county has spent very little on the building of a jail, but in comparison, has spent more than $40,000 in settlements in lawsuits filed by prisoners," Harris said. "And again, we are risking having the federal government come down to say we have to build a jail to their specifications, in upward numbers of $5 million cost to the county."

McWilliams said the situation is basically a no-win situation, when asked if the county is basically gambling against another injured prisoner suing the county.

"We have concerns on both sides of the coin," McWilliams said. "We must look at the issues of upkeep and staffing at the jail n the old facility does not have air conditioning, but the new one will, so there will be an increase in electricity consumption, just as one example nit is basically a no-win' situation for us, like a catch-22."