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Move Utah State Prison? Details and criticism emerge at hearing

Published February 20, 2013 7:45 am

Corrections • Prison move plan also triggers debate, meets its first public criticism.
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More details — and the first public criticism — of a proposal to relocate the Utah State Prison emerged during a committee hearing Tuesday, where lawmakers were told the project could bring 40,000 jobs and $20 billion in tax revenue over 25 years.

Time ran out before lawmakers could vote on SB72, sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, who will bring it back before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice standing committee later.

But the committee heard from critics, many wearing "No New Prison!" stickers who said it was a "boondoggle" based on financial promises that were unlikely to materialize while benefiting private developers. Jesse Fruthwirth, with the Salt Lake City Prison Divestment Campaign, likened it to an "Obama stimulus plan."

Jenkins presented a revised version of the bill, which included a fiscal note that estimates the operating budget for the Prison Land Management Authority at $1.7 million over the next two fiscal years. Jenkins told the committee that the current prison is located at the state's "belly button," a prime location for commercial development.

He said a new prison would cost an estimated $550 million to $600 million — less than suggested previously — and that $17 million to $20 million of that expense would be recouped in reduced labor and other operational costs. A new prison would require 315 fewer employees, according to a handout Jenkins gave the committee.

Deferred maintenance would kick in another $3 million. But the bulk of the funding would come from developing the land. Jenkins said the 690 acres the prison currently occupies is worth $70 million to $90 million, but estimated its value at $140 million once available for development. The bill also dedicates 50 percent of sales and property taxes generated by new development to help pay for demolition of the old prison and building a new one.

Jenkins said he is being "lobbied like crazy" over the proposed composition of a 10-member board that would oversee the project. Indeed, Sen. Pat Jones, D-Hollday, said the lack of diversity on the initial committee that green-lighted the project was a concern.

Sanpete County Commissioner Jon Cox asked that Jenkins make room for representatives from rural Utah on the board. He said a new prison would impact both the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison and county jails that currently contract to house prison inmates.


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