County seeks funding for new jail

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 28, 2001

Staff Writer

Jan. 27, 2001 10 PM

There is no doubt Pike County needs a new jail, but finding the money to build it is another matter.

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Last week Pike County Commissioners met with State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, and State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, to discuss the need for building a new county jail.

According to Willie Thomas, chairman of the commission, finding the funds for a jail is the "hot item" on the commission’s agenda.

Feasibility studies have indicated it will cost an estimated $1.2 million to build and operate a new county jail over the next 25 years and the county’s current jail budget is $300,000.

"We have stretched our budget…but our needs continue to go on," Thomas told the senator.

When the jail was built in the 1950s it was constructed with a capacity of 45 and on many occasions the number has far exceeded that.

"From what I understand in talking with the sheriff, there are some needs," Boothe said, adding he realizes there is a problem with state prisoners taking up space in county jails.

Mitchell said other counties in his legislative district have been working to build jail facilities. He suggested the commissioners talk with officials in Crenshaw and Autauga counties about how they will be financing the jail facilities they are constructing.

Already, county officials have met with state personnel, trying to find possible sources of money.

County Administrator Steve Hicks told Mitchell he recently met with officials from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs about jail funding and was told the state gets $3 million per year from the federal government for the purpose of jail construction.

Considering the county could get between $300,000 and $500,000, that would only cover the cost of design, Hicks said.

"Building (a jail) is one issue," Hicks said. "Operating (a jail) is another."

Boothe recommended talking to those with the Troy Police Department those in Brundidge about building one jail facility for countywide use.

Thomas said the commission talked with city officials in the past but, when the city started building its new municipal complex, the county was not in a position to build a jail.

It was mentioned that the city’s facility could be possibly be used to house juveniles since the county is "wasting an ungodly amount" on transporting juveniles back and fourth to the detention facility.

One way the county could generate some funds is by increasing taxes.

"We’re operating on the same basic dollars we did 10 years ago," Thomas said, adding costs are increasing and the funding is not.

He said the county needs additional revenue and the only way he knows how to get it is by raising taxes.

"I hate to do it, but for us to survive, we’ve just got to," Thomas said of taxation.

It was pointed out that from the 7-cent sales tax here, the state gets 4 cents, the city of Troy gets 2 cents and a penny goes to education.

"We’ve tried our best, as long as I’ve been on the commission, to pass a 1-cent sales tax (for the county’s benefit)," Commissioner Charlie Harris said.

According to figures, a 1-cent sales tax increase would have generated $1.4 million last year.

Mitchell said he would not oppose passing legislation to allow the citizens of Pike County to vote on the issue.

"I would want the people to vote on it," Mitchell said.

Boothe’s sentiments were the same and he said he would only support having the people of Pike County vote on a tax increase.

"If the commission comes forward, I would support it if it goes to a vote by the people," Boothe said.

He also said he would not support an increase in court fees to finance a jail, adding he did not support the last statewide judicial increase and will not support anything of the sort.

Harris is concerned a vote will be turned down like the last one was with 76 percent of the citizens voting against the increase three years ago.

"If the people of this county turn us down again, where to we go from there?" Harris asked Mitchell.

Again, Boothe and Mitchell said they would only support a referendum.