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Work farm project narrowly approved

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
March 20, 2001
By the narrowest of margins, Lauderdale County supervisors Monday approved Sheriff Billy Sollie's request for an experimental inmate gardening project.
Authorized by a 3-2 vote, the project will unfold this summer on one acre of land behind the Hilltop Home for Boys on Highway 39 North Sollie told supervisors last week the home's director volunteered land for the project.
District 3 Supervisor Craig Hitt, who is on a supervisors' work farm committee with District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell, made the motion.
He said local economist Steve Strong would help prepare the soil.
County Engineer Neal Carson said the county owns tractors and could borrow a cultivator system, and Boswell said other people were willing to donate seeds and fertilizer.
Sollie said any expenses would be taken out of the inmates' canteen funds money generated from selling items to inmates and project revenue would be repaid to that account.
He said officials at the contracted company providing inmate meals have agreed to purchase the produce inmates raise and put it back into their meals. Hitt said excess produce could be sold to the public.
District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey, in whose district the boys' home lies, said he couldn't support taking revenue away from tax-paying merchants and individuals who sell produce.
He said he is concerned about inmates driving equipment. He wanted to know if future expansion had to be behind the Hilltop location. He wanted to know what inmate meals cost daily and how much the program could reduce that amount.
Sollie said inmates would not be pulled from any other crews for the project, and Hitt said county employees or a volunteer could probably operate the equipment. The rest could be done by hand, Hitt said. Smith said he hasn't seen the figures he wanted.
Sollie said he'd withdraw his suggestion if three supervisors wanted him to, but Florey voted with Hitt and Boswell for the program.
Sollie said later the program is voluntary and work will be done during daylight hours after the crews' other work is done.
Hitt said he is glad the motion passed.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.