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Bill could fast-track proposed Utah prison relocation

Published February 19, 2013 6:48 am

Utah Corrections • Proponents say time is right to relocate the facility.
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Relocation of Utah's main prison facility, a project with an estimated price tag of at least half a billion dollars, could be on a fast-track if a proposed bill which grants sweeping powers to a new authority gets the green light from lawmakers.

SB72, sponsored by Sen. Scott K. Jenkins, R-Plain City, would create a Prison Land Management Authority with power to: seek bids and select a proposal to recommend to the governor and Legislature; buy or lease a new prison site; develop the property where the prison is currently located; tap and spend sales tax revenue to pay for the project; and borrow money while also allowing the state to not include that debt incurred in its current cap.

The Senate Judiciary committee will discuss the bill Tuesday at its 4 p.m. meeting.

The 32-page proposed bill would abolish a committee set up in 2011 to study pros and cons of relocating the prison and allowing commercial development to take over the nearly 700 acres the facility now occupies along Interstate 15 in Draper.

That committee concluded in December, after months of reviewing various aspects of the prison's operation, that construction costs of a modern, efficient prison would be offset by reduced labor costs and income generated by redeveloping the existing prison site, in use since 1951. Jenkins has also said that real estate and loan costs make the project attractive now — a reversal of the findings of a 2005 analysis which determined there was a huge gap between construction costs and revenue potential and that the current prison is highly efficient.

Six construction management firms provided the committee with information about feasibility of the project. Possible locations suggested so far for a new prison include Tooele, Juab and Box Elder counties.

Theproposed management authority would consist of 10 members, with six representatives appointed by the governor to represent the following stakeholders: the Utah Department of Corrections; the Governor's Office of Economic Development; two commercial construction experts; and two real estate experts.

The president of the Utah Senate would appoint a representative, as would the speaker of the Utah House. Draper City, where the prison is currently located, also would appoint two members. Terms would be set by the board once it begins operating. Board members would be paid a per diem and mileage expenses.

The bill would preclude anyone who has or is closely related to someone who has an ownership interest in, is an officer or an employee of a potential project bidder or material supplier from serving on the board. It would give an edge to bidders who are located in Utah by adding 5 percent to any bids from out-of-state firms. Project bids would have to identify all sources of anticipated funding for building a new prison and tearing down the old one, including any bonds, sales tax revenue or proceeds from sale and development of the current prison site.

The authority could select a single bidder or some combination of proposals from different bidders for various aspects of the project. The governor and Legislature would have to approve the authority's recommendation before any contracts could be awarded.

The proposed bill would allow 50 percent of every dollar of sales and use tax revenue generated by developments on the old prison site to be dedicated to the Prison Land Management Authority. The land, now owned by the state, is currently tax exempt. The authority would receive the tax increment for up to 25 years.

If the current prison site remains under state ownership,the bill proposes that the authority prepare a draft project plan for development of the current prison site and hold "at least" one public meeting to discuss that plan. The bill also addresses annual budget and audit requirements.

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