Committee passes bill to study moving Utah State Prison

Published: Monday, Feb. 28 2011 9:46 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill creating a development authority to study moving the state prison from Point of the Mountain advanced from a House committee on Monday.

House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the authority is needed because of the unique circumstances surrounding moving the aging 600-plus acre prison from what is now an urban area.

He said with the new talk of relocating the prison, he wanted to make sure Draper officials are part of the discussions about how the land would be used once it's vacated by the state.

"The benefit is great, but the tax base is none," Hughes told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee about the prison's current location. "Draper is looking for help with its tax base."

He said the value of the land for development will be a key consideration in making the move, along with how much could be saved by building a more efficient new prison.

A study ordered several years ago by former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. found a move was too expensive. But the idea resurfaced recently when U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he'd look for ways the federal government could help fund a new prison.

Hughes suggested a move is not likely, at least not now.

"I don't know that you can move the prison right now," Hughes said, without costing taxpayers money. "The land is not valuable enough to pay for the move."

Still, he said the authority is "our shot at bringing this to an open and transparent process," and avoid any attempt to limit involvement in the discussion.

Draper Councilman Troy Walker told the committee the city would like to see the prison moved.

"We want to make sure our interests are protected, our ability to tax the property and get sales tax revenue out of it," Walker said. "We think it's important from our citizens' standpoint we have that capability."

Several lawmakers asked why the authority had no representatives from the communities where the prison could be moved, including Tooele County.

"I don't know how you bring every potential jurisdiction in," Hughes said.

Tom Patterson, the executive director of the Department of Corrections, told the committee it's not a question of if the prison moves, but when.

"It's a foregone conclusion for me that it will happen," Patterson said. He said he appreciated an amendment made in committee to include a representative of the department on the authority.

Hughes said the authority would start the process by requesting information from interested parties about relocating the prison and developing the property, rather than leaving it up to the state.

"This is not a normal procurement process," he said. "Six hundred acres is a whole new ball game."

In the end, though, the decision would be made as it always is, by the governor and lawmakers.

"We're not trying to say the state does not have ultimately the authority on this. They certainly do," Hughes said.

House Minority Leader Dave Litvack, D-Salt Lake, voted against the bill after questioning whether the authority was necessary.

But the bill passed the committee and now goes to the House.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she hadn't read the bill yet, but the idea makes sense given the growth in the area.

"It's probably a healthy thing to have a discussion," Lockhart said.

Gov. Gary Herbert has not taken a position on the bill, his spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said.

"Relocating the prison is not a new consideration," Isom said. "The governor's consistent position is that the current use for the land on which the prison sits may not be optimal."

But she said before Herbert could support relocating the prison, "any proposal must be open, clearly feasible, aligned with established process and beneficial to Utah's taxpayers. The governor said that if this is the time to relocate the prison, we are going to do it right, and no matter what proposals come forth, the ultimate litmus test is whether it is in taxpayers' best interest."

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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