The commission charged with selecting a new location for the Utah State Prison adopted criteria to guide the process in a meeting at the state capitol building Wednesday.
The criteria, which assigns 15 out of 100 points to community acceptance, disturbed Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall.
“They have said before that they won’t force it on us,” he said. “And now they put community acceptance near the bottom of the list of criteria.”
Marshall is concerned because state-owned land in Grantsville was rumored as a strong contender for the new prison during the 2014 state legislative session.
Marshall has been vocal in his opposition to placing a prison in his community.
“We don’t want the prison in Grantsville,” he said. “We have not had satisfactory answers on questions about how it will affect our community.”
Marshall believes the prison may be a drain on the city’s resources, requiring support from the city for investigating and prosecuting crimes that take place within the prison.
“I’m also worried about the costs to schools, the increased need for social services, and other impacts the prison might have on our community,” he said.
Other points on the adopted list of evaluation criteria includes proximity to staff, visitors, volunteers, medical treatment, and legal services for a total of 35 points.
Land and environmental concerns such as land area, topography, soil characteristics, wetland area and hazard area avoidance, were given a total of 15 points.
Infrastructure needs, including access to roadways, water supply, wastewater treatment, and utilities were also assigned 15 points.
A total of ten points was given to community services and other issues including emergency response, adjacent land use, and land ownership.
Development costs also received a total of 10 points.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, a member of the commission, inquired if the commission needed to consider potential incentives to communities to accept the prison or payment in lieu of taxes if the prison site takes private land off the tax rolls.
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who co-chairs the commission, said he does not support incentives or state PILT payment for the prison.
“I am hard pressed to see tax dollars go to incentives when there are communities that are asking us for the prison,” he said.
Jobs created by the prison, along with economic development that follows the prison, should offset any loss in property tax, according to Wilson.
The commission’s consultants will use the site criteria to evaluate potential sites and bring recommendations back to the committee, according to Bob Nardi. He is with MGT of America, the Tallahassee, Florida-based criminal justice and public safety consulting firm hired by the commission to help with site selection and prison planning.
“We have received information on 25 sites so far and expect to get more,” Nardi said. “We are actively pursuing sites and no site has been eliminated at this point.”
The commission will continue to look at financing the prison and changes in prison programming, including the use of specialty courts, probation, and parole to reduce the number of nonviolent prisoners that are incarcerated and lower the recidivism rate while protecting the public, according to commission co-chair Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.
The possibility of Tooele County becoming the new home for the state prison dates back three years when a different commission charged with studying the financial feasibility of moving the state prison included Rush Valley in a field trip to potential prison sites.
The commission concluded that the sale of the current prison land in Draper, along with operational savings at a modern facility, would cover most of the $600 million estimated price tag for moving the state prison.
However, the real incentive for moving the prison was in the use of the land that would be vacated by the old prison. The commission estimated that over the course of 25 years, the economic development of the former prison site could put $20 billion into the Utah economy and create 40,000 jobs.
In 2013 the legislature created a new committee to study moving the state prison.
A consultant’s report prepared for the new committee estimated that local and state revenues associated with developing the current prison site, once the prison is relocated, to be $94.6 million annually.
The 2014 legislature passed legislation that created the current prison relocation commission. The commission received a $5 million allocation from the state for the analysis, selection, and planning related to the development of new prison sites.
The prison relocation commission will sunset in 2017, but Stevenson anticipates that the commission will have a recommendation ready for the 2015 legislative session.