A state committee’s recommendation to relocate the Utah State Prison has people again speculating about Tooele County becoming home to the state’s largest prison population.
The Prison Relocation and Development Authority voted at their meeting held Wednesday afternoon to recommend to the legislature that the state prison in Draper be moved to an undetermined location.
At last night’s public Tooele County legislative caucus meeting at the State Capitol, lawmakers discussed the possibilities of the prison coming to Tooele County.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, explained why Tooele County is a good location for the prison.
Tooele County fits the requirements of locating the prison in proximity to downtown Salt Lake for access to courts, it is close to the University of Utah Medical Center for healthcare needs, and it’s close to a population base for volunteers, according to Thatcher.
“I sat on the prison relocation committee for two years,” he said. “We looked at every single possible configuration to make moving the prison financially feasible, and the best option was moving the prison to Tooele County.”
The ideal land for the prison sits adjacent to Interstate 80 in Tooele County, he said.
“If we put the prison just over the Salt Lake – Tooele County line on land owned by the School Land Trust, you can get to downtown Salt Lake faster than you can from Draper,” said Thatcher. “And every penny of money used to buy the land would go to schools.”
Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, said that if Tooele County becomes home to the prison, there should be some economic benefit provided to the county from the state.
“The estimate is that the state will realize over $20 billion in revenue over a 20 year period as a result of the development of the former prison site,” said Sagers. “We should ask the state to use some of that money in Tooele County, perhaps to pay for the mid-valley highway.”
Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne said he is also looking for some kind of benefit to the community before he jumps on board the prison welcome wagon.
“We are interested in the prison, if it is something that is a net benefit to the community,” he said. “We don’t want to bear all the costs and not have a benefit.”
Milne pointed out that the prison doesn’t pay property tax and won’t generate sales tax.
While not providing income to the county, there is a possibility that the prison will have negative financial impact on the community. Community social programs may be burdened by families of prisoners that relocate to the county, and the county attorney’s office will bear the burden of prosecuting any prisoner on prisoner crime, according to Milne.
Sagers noted, “There has got to be a quid pro quo.”
Funding the mid-valley highway would be a good trade for the prison, he suggested, because the highway will allow for economic development and increase the county tax base. The economic development would also provide jobs to Tooele citizens, he said.
A draft report on relocating the prison, prepared for the prison relocation and development authority by MGT of America, a Tallahassee, FL.-based criminal justice and public safety consulting firm, estimated that the annual local and state revenues associated with developing the current prison site, once the prison is relocated, to be $94.6 million annually.
The total economic benefit to the state would be $1.8 billion annually, according to the report.
MGT’s report does not evaluate or suggest any potential sites, however its does list minimum criteria to be used in the site selection process.
The minimum criteria includes 400 to 500 acres of usable land, availability of water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, and access to highways. Other factors of importance are a supportive community, proximity to population concentrations, access to University of Utah medical facilities, physical site quality and acquisition costs, and response time for fire and emergency medical services.
In 2013, Utah, Weber and Davis counties expressed interest in the prison, and a possible location near Salt Lake International Airport has also been discussed as a potential new prison site.
Both the legislature and the governor will have to approve any proposal for moving the prison.