A local legislator predicts there is a 95 percent possibility that the Utah State Prison will be moved to Tooele County.
“While no site has been mentioned by PRADA, Tooele County fits the criteria they have outlined for a new prison,” said Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, during a Monday morning breakfast at the state capitol with area municipal and county leaders.
“From what I have heard, there is about a 95 percent chance that Tooele County will be put on the top of the list for the new prison,” he added. PRADA is the state’s Prison Relocation and Development Authority.
Moving the state prison dominated the hour-long discussion Monday morning in the Republican caucus room at the state capitol.
There are state school trust lands in Tooele County that meet the prison’s required infrastructure needs, and are within 30 minutes of downtown Salt Lake for easy access to courts, advanced medical care, and prison volunteers. The county’s proximity to the Wasatch Front would also mean easy visitation access for prisoner’s family members, Sagers said.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, was little more cautious about naming Tooele County as the preferred site for the new prison.
“Most of the discussion so far has been centered around the costs and benefits of moving the prison from its current location, with little talk about the impact on the community where the new prison will be located,” he said. “It’s like they want to get the decision about moving the prison out of the way first before they talk about where to move the prison.”
Last week the House Republican caucus heard a report from PRADA in a closed door meeting, according to Sagers.
“PRADA said their recommendation was to move the prison,” he said. “The caucus asked for time to review the report before voting on whether or not to proceed with supporting legislation this session.”
A vote by the Republican caucus on the prison relocation is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Sagers added.
“I think moving the prison is almost a forgone conclusion,” said Nelson. “Approving the decision to move the prison is almost a formality. Where to move it is a separate issue.”
Nelson conducted a straw poll at Monday morning’s meeting to gauge the group’s support for moving the prison to Tooele County.
“I’m still lukewarm,” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne. “I still need to see some hard data on benefits and costs. The benefits must outweigh the costs.”
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall cast the only observable no vote in response to Nelson’s poll.
“It’s not that I am against it,” Marshall said. “It’s too early. There is not enough information available to make a decision. What are the costs of acquiring the prison on courts, social services, and other community support?”
The state stands to make $1.8 billion annually from moving the prison according to the PRADA report, said Randy Sant, Tooele City’s economic development consultant.
“We need to ask for an ongoing piece of the pie to cover the impact on the county and the community,” he said. “If we send a letter of support, it should have caveats.”
In other news from the legislature, Sagers reported that his bill that allows counties and municipalities to tax sand and gravel extracted from their boundaries is in trouble.
Although the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah League of Cities and Towns support the bill, the Utah Tax Commission has problems with its implementation, he said.
The Utah Taxpayers Association, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, and the Utah Association of General Contractors also oppose taxing sand and gravel, said Sagers.
A bill creating matching grants for buses that use compressed natural gas and installing CNG fueling stations in district bus yards has caught the attention of Scott Rogers, Tooele County School District superintendent.
“We are interested in CNG buses and if we install a fueling station, we would look at ways to make it available for public use as well,” he said, “so there would be a CNG fueling station available in the county.”
The bill Rogers was referring to is House Bill 41, Clean Fuel School Buses and Infrastructure, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton.
As of Monday the legislature had 31 days of its 45 day general session remaining.
A public meeting with Tooele County legislators is scheduled for Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in the majority caucus room in the state capitol. The room is located on the third floor in the northwest corner of the building.