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Empty beds, declining hazardous waste fees lead to Tooele layoffs

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 5:21 p.m. MDT

Park said the driving force behind the cuts at the sheriff's office is the new Tooele County Jail. The old jail held 104 inmates and Park said it was constantly filled.

The new $25 million jail, which opened earlier this year, has 250 beds. The thought was that federal and state prisoners could also be housed there, generating additional revenue for the county. As of Thursday, however, the jail was sitting well below capacity at 131 inmates.

"We haven't been able to find (federal inmates)," Park said. "We're in constant touch with U.S. marshals. They just don't have any inmates right now."

Even the number of prisoners that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency typically hold in local jails has gone down.

"This is just terrible timing for the jail, to need to supplement income we don't have," Park said. "We will definitely have the biggest monetary cuts simply because I have the biggest budget in county government."

If the Tooele County Jail would house 75 federal inmates for one year, it would mean an extra $1.3 million for the county, he said.

The belt tightening within the sheriff's office will result in 20 to 24 people losing their jobs by Sept. 30, Park said. Some have already opted for early retirement to save jobs. The Salt Lake County Jail is also doing what it can to hire Tooele corrections officers. They are a valuable commodity, Park said, because it usually takes about six months of training to put a new inexperienced hire to work.

"The effect (of the layoffs) is going to be felt out of sight of the public, simply because our crunch is going to be in the jail," he said. "We're making sure we have adequate staff to protect the inmates and protect the staff."

Park did not anticipate any cuts to the patrol or investigations divisions, which already were down to the bare bones, he said. However, the two-member unit specializing in  hazardous materials was eliminated.

"We'll see where this goes. Everybody in county government is feeling the pinch, not just us," the sheriff said.

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