Boothe: Jail in ‘dire straits’

Published 3:00 am Friday, March 17, 2017

Pike County’s legislators are in the process of drafting local-private legislation that would levy additional sales taxes to fund a new jail.

The Pike County Commission voted unanimously Monday to seek local-private legislation to levy a 1.5 percent sales tax throughout the county and a .5 percent sales tax in the City of Troy to fund construction of a new jail.

The commission’s vote approved a resolution that was then sent to Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, and Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, for them to craft a bill for consideration in the Legislature. If the local-private legislation is approved by the Legislature, it will return to the commission for final authorization. The legislative action is necessary because the commission does not have authority to levy taxes on its own.

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“They sent a unanimous resolution requesting we pass a bill giving them the authority to levy a tax and vote on it in the commission,” Boothe said. “We require that unanimous resolution before we’ll act on something.”

Boothe said that he and Holley are now waiting on a draft of the local act from the county commission so they can work it into a bill.

Once the bill is drafted, it will have to be advertised for four weeks before being submitted for consideration, Boothe said. The full bodies of the House and Senate will consider the bill, and if approved by both and signed by the governor, the commission would then need to vote to enact the sales tax raise.

If approved by the Legislature, the tax is expected to generate about $2.5 million per year which will be earmarked solely for repaying the estimated $8 million to $10 million construction costs.

Boothe said he and Holley agreed with the commission that there is a need for a new jail to be constructed.

“The jail is at the point of collapse,” Boothe said. “In fact, they’ve got it propped up with poles down there if you look at it. We’re in dire straits because of the jail’s conditions.”

Boothe said the language of the resolution the commission passed means that all monies collected by the tax must go to pay off the construction costs and that the tax will expire once payment is completed.

“When the jail is paid for the tax will go off,” Boothe said. “Whenever the amount of money comes in that retires the debt for the jail, the tax will revert back.”

Boothe said it is up to the commission to determine the funding mechanism for the jail and that he does not know what that will be, but District 4 Commissioner Chad Copeland said the plan is to pay any taxes collected before the project starts immediately and bond the rest out short-term to be paid off immediately once the money comes in.

Given the estimates, it would take up to five or six years to collect enough money for the jail.

The resolution specifies that the tax “shall terminate in its entirety at the end of the first legislative session following full payment of the construction costs arising out of and relating to the new jail, including the retirement of any and all financing and indebtedness…”

The commission passed a second resolution Monday asking the Legislature for permission to raise court costs by $35 and charge $500 to those convicted of selling and trafficking drugs.

This is estimated to bring in approximately $200,000 a year, according to an estimate from the State Budget Office. Those revenues would be used to offset increased operating costs.

Boothe said the bill would proceed the same way as the authorization for a vote to levy the sales tax. The court costs are not set to terminate.

“All Sen. Holley and I do is give them the authority to vote on it and put it on,” Boothe said.