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Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was emphatic Wednesday: He wants to be on the board that determines the future of the state prison to give county taxpayers a voice in the process.
McAdams made his case for being one of Gov. Gary Herbert's six appointees to the 11-member board during a speech to the League of Women Voters of Utah's "State of the Community" convention at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
He said county residents need a voice because their tax revenues could be siphoned off to help move the prison from its 690-acre site in Draper to a rural location or two, a process projected to cost $550 million to $1 billion. In addition, the first-term Democrat noted, they will be impacted heavily by plans to develop the parcel if the prison is gone.
"I intend to be a champion for the taxpayers of Salt Lake County and to be an advocate for a fiscally responsible, humane and open and transparent prison-relocation analysis and decision-making ethic," McAdams said to applause that became even louder when he added, "Any decision to relocate the prison, if the project goes forward, must be driven by data, not developers."
McAdams, a former state senator, has informed Herbert of his interest in being appointed to the Prison Relocation and Development Authority (PRADA) board. The Legislature revamped its membership last session in SB72, rewritten eight times before an acceptable compromise was reached.
Herbert will pick six board members, Draper city will have a seat, and leaders of the House and Senate each will select two people. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, last week picked Sens. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, and Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.
Selections must be completed before the board's first scheduled meeting June 15.
Since early versions of the bill contemplated using millions of Salt Lake County's future tax dollars from the prison site to help pay relocation costs, McAdams said "County taxpayers deserve to have an elected watchdog to evaluate the wisdom of any investment made on their behalf. … If we're investing nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money, we need an inclusive and collaborative discussion about how best to address all the issues."
Moving the prison could unleash the enormous economic-development potential of its land, projected by the Governor's Office of Economic Development to be worth $20 billion over 25 years.
If the PRADA board finds that to be the case, McAdams said he would have no problem using county tax incentives to advance the project just as the county did with Draper on a plan for a high-tech office complex around the city's FrontRunner station.
But a detailed analysis also may show that keeping the prison in its present location is the best option, he said. Reliable figures identified in an open process are needed to support the outcome, whichever way it goes. That includes a decision about whether to privatize the prison.
McAdams also said talks about the prison's future should examine ways mental health and substance-abuse programs can be enhanced to help keep troubled individuals from acting in ways that get them thrown into prison. And the new prison itself should be designed, built and staffed to help the incarcerated "get their lives back on track," he added.
Man of mountains, music
For his role in creating Save Our Canyons to protect the "beauty and wildness" of the Wasatch Mountains, Gale Dick on Wednesday received the Community Service Award from the League of Women Voters of Utah.
A retired University of Utah physics professor, Dick and two colleagues created the conservation group in 1972 with "a bumper sticker, a glossy pamphlet and a plan for a Lone Peak Wilderness." Now Save Our Canyons has more than 3,000 members, a successful track record with the establishment of three wilderness areas in the central Wasatch and, he said, intentions of continuing to protect the mountains, canyons and foothills for years to come.
Save Our Canyons has succeeded, Dick said, because the "overwhelming majority of the residents of Salt Lake Valley don't want their canyons urbanized. … Save Our Canyons represents this large constituency."
A violinist, Dick also helped found the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City.
The League also honored Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and chief aide Mark Thomas for promoting voting by developing an online registration tool.