Monday, July 23, 2001

Seven Mile left out in the cold

        In the quiet Butler County village of Seven Mile, work comes before play. When flash floods gushed into 15 percent of the community's 317 homes last week, village officials stopped filling out papers for a grant to equip a new park.

        They put down their pencils, hit the streets lined with tidy 19th-century frame houses and helped bail out their neighbors' basements.

        “Serious business comes first,” Mayor Mike Day told me after putting in a day of picking up soggy debris.

        “You got to have your priorities straight.”

        The village's 678 citizens are lucky. Elected officials in the 127-year-old village look out for their constituents.

        Someone has to.

        Butler County officials have other priorities. That's why prisoners at the new county jail will have better-equipped recreational facilities than the villagers of Seven Mile.

Feel the burn

        Scheduled to open in April, the $30 million-plus jail will ultimately have a capacity of 756 prisoners, more people than live in Seven Mile.

        The new jail's inmates will be housed in nine cellblocks or — as the plans call them — pods.

        The pods will have a total of 10 recreation areas. Eight will be about the size of half a basketball court. Two will be smaller.

        Each recreation area will have a basketball hoop, plus cardiovascular and aerobic exercise equipment.

        When the jail opens, Butler County's guests will be able to get into shape with newer and better equipment than what is available to the law-abiding citizens of Seven Mile.

        The villagers' taxes are helping to pay for the jail. But they can't get some of their money back from the county to outfit their park.

Money matters

        The blame can be placed on projected operating costs for the new jail.

        In 2002, the corrections facility is expected to add at least $1.2 million to the county's expenses. To cover that amount, county commissioners decided to do away next year with the community services fund.

        Money from the fund usually goes to cash-strapped townships and villages. Projects included zapping mosquitos and expanding a firehouse.

        Seven Mile hoped to furnish its park by tapping into the fund for $60,000. That's a lot of money for a small village whose annual budget is $278,000.

        The village needed the $60,000 to transform a well-used baseball field into Seven Mile Community Park.

        “The money would have paid for a shelter for family reunions, a barbecue pit, picnic tables and kids' playground equipment,” said Mayor Day.

        Now, the village must apply for corporate grants to outfit the park. Or hope that some wealthy individual takes pity on Seven Mile and makes a $60,000 donation.

        Without the money, the park will remain 3.5 grassy acres with two equally modest ball diamonds and scoreboards.

        Amenities are few. Two concrete-block dugouts. One batting cage. A drinking fountain by a flagpole and a portable privy. Metal bleachers. One lone picnic table.

        No exercise equipment. No basketball hoops.

        “That's down the road,” the mayor said.

        He meant that figuratively. He could also have been speaking literally.

        The new Butler County jail is just down the road in Hamilton.

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