Utah Senate committee debates prison relocation

177

Source: CVDaily Feed
$inline_image}

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers are considering a plan to relocate the state prison in southwest Salt Lake County.

Sen. Scott Jenkins introduced legislation that creates an authority to manage the relocation of the Utah State Prison and evaluate proposals from companies seeking to build a new prison or develop the old site.

A Senate committee heard debate on the proposal Tuesday afternoon, but did not vote on it because it ran short on time.

The Utah State Prison occupies about 700 acres in Draper where tech companies such as eBay and Microsoft have opened offices.

Gov. Gary Herbert has called on lawmakers to fund the relocation so the corridor can develop as a technology hub. State officials have been weighing relocation for several years.

Jenkins, a Plain City Republican, served on a committee that studied whether the relocation would be feasible. The committee recommended last December that the state pursue the relocation.

Jenkins said the cost of moving the prison and building a new facility is estimated to cost as much as $600 million.

Overall, selling the property and constructing a more efficient prison to cut down on labor expenses will cover about two-thirds of the relocation costs, Jenkins said during a news conference Tuesday.

“Maybe more, but that’s a bare minimum,” he said.

He said the state could also save money in the future since it would not have to pay for maintenance required at the current site.

The state could save up to $20 million in operating costs with a new prison and the current prison site could sell for up to $140 million, he said.

Jenkins’ bill would also allow the prison relocation authority to collect 50 percent of the tax revenue generated by any development on the old site. By developing the land, the state could bring in $20 billion in the next few decades in additional tax revenue, he said.

The Utah State Prison was built in 1951 and houses about 4,500 inmates. Before that, Utah’s state prison was at what is now Sugar House Park.

The state also operates a prison in Gunnison, the Central Utah Correctional Facility.

Jenkins said this is the time to strike because interest rates and construction costs are fairly low.

“It pencils out actually quite nicely to make this move possible at this time,” he said.

The goal is to get the legislation passed quickly so the authority can get up and running by April 15, as required by the bill, Jenkins said.

The authority would then seek proposals from companies and come back to the Legislature and governor with a viable option.

It’s unlikely any proposal would be ready to come before the Legislature by the time next year’s session concludes, but the governor could convene lawmakers in a special session to approve the plan.

Some of the possible sites that have been considered for the new prison are in northwest Utah _ specifically Box Elder County, Juab County and Tooele County.

Jenkins said there are lots of feasible options, and he’s not worried that the authority would have a hard time choosing a location.

On Tuesday afternoon, the governor told reporters that it makes the most sense for the land currently occupied by the prison to be used for tech companies.

Herbert said he wanted to be sure that no one sitting on the proposed authority would have a conflict of interest, such as a connection to contractors or construction companies.

During the Senate committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, Jenkins introduced the proposal and several members of the public spoke in opposition to the bill.

Lee Anne Walker from Cottonwood told lawmakers that redevelopment of the prison site will increase traffic in the Salt Lake Valley, adding to the pollution in the area. The current occupants of that area, the prisoners, are not driving cars, she said.

Walker and others in opposition said the cost of the relocation will not be worth the promises of future savings.

“This is bad any way you want to look at it,” she said.

___

Associated Press writer Annie Knox contributed to this report.