COVINGTON COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - Covington County leaders staked their claim that the new mental health center next door to the Covington County jail would be a good economic development project; a $1.5 million investment by the state with the promise of 25 new jobs.
“We will withdraw support for this if you choose to do that," said Covington County Commission Chairman Greg White.
A unanimous reversal.
“Not something I want in my backyard, my city or county," said concerned citizen Patricia Strength.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health and the South Central Alabama Community Health Center partnered to build the facility. The short-term treatment facility would have focused on getting suspects charged with a crime to become competent enough to stand trial.
“We were a little disappointed and surprised," said South Central Alabama Community Health Center Executive Director Tommy Wright.
Wright felt some of the fears residents had were unfounded, but he respects their concerns.
“From a public safety point of view, I don’t think there would have been any problems,” Wright said.
County leaders even held a groundbreaking ceremony after buying the five-acre property for $60,000 in late 2018. White says the commission didn’t seek public input in the beginning, because they normally don’t in an economic development project such as this one. White admitted he’ll rethink that moving forward.
“This may have been different. I’ll take that challenge and look at it again,” said White.
White says for the now the county will hold on to the property with no plans to try to get its $60,000 back.
“In the future, there will be an opportunity to put it to good use," said White.
Back on the empty lot next to the county jail, no mental health treatment center construction, no problem for those who never wanted it in the first place.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health has been under a court order to speed up the process of trial competency for suspects and add additional beds. The South Central Alabama Community Health Center says it may present a similar proposal to Butler County, one of four counties it serves.