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Changes to controversial prison relocation bill causing confusion

Published: Monday, March 4 2013 5:50 p.m. MST

Utah State Prison main entrance Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to create a board to oversee relocating the Utah State Prison underwent more changes Monday, including a provision that would have lawmakers considering proposals within six months of the board's first meeting.

The Senate also changed the composition of the proposed Prison Land Management Authority and removed an option that would have allowed the state to automatically take up to half of the property and sales taxes generated from redevelopment of the current site to help finance a new facility.

Senators did not vote on the bill but plan to take it up again Tuesday.

"I think there's confusion out there (about) where we're at," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, raised several questions about financing, guidelines for would-be contractors and local government involvement.

"Frankly, it's going to to get us in trouble because we're not doing it the right way," he said.

Opponents of SB72 say the new, accelerated timeline is further evidence that the state is trying to ramrod the project through.

"The bid will be awarded to the winning contractor within six months. If that's not a fast track, I'm not sure what is," said longtime community activist Steve Erickson. "It reinforces the public perception that this is not about doing good public policy. It's about steering some decisions and possibly some profits."

Lawmakers have repeatedly denied moving the proposal along quickly.

"We've been accused of fast-tracking. We didn't fast-track it," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.

The Prison Relocation and Development Authority met for more than a year before concluding that moving the prison out of Draper and building a new one is economically feasible.

On the board's recommendation, lawmakers sought to create a new authority to continue the process of possibly relocating the 62-year-old facility and redeveloping its current 690-acre site as a high-tech business center.

Reid said the six-month time frame would cause problems for local government in terms of land-use planning and zoning.

The makeup of the proposed Prison Land Management Authority has generated much controversy and has undergone several iterations.

According to amendment passed Monday, the governor would appoint four members, Draper two, the House and Senate two each, including at least one Democrat among the four legislators, and the Utah Association of Counties one. It would begin meeting in April.

The bill previously allowed the governor eight representatives, which Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said was too many.

The cost for moving and building a new prison is estimated at $550 million to $600 million. Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said at least two-thirds of that would be covered in the savings from operating a state-of-the-art prison and the sale of the current property.

The Senate removed from the bill a provision that would allow the state to capture half of all the local property and sales taxes generated from redevelopment of the current prison to help finance a new facility. Jenkins said that was placed in the bill should that money be needed.

But Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, said if the project can't be done without those tax dollars, it shouldn't be done at all.

The bill would not preclude the state from asking local tax entities — cities, counties and school districts — to commit some of their anticipated tax revenues to construct a new prison.

But Reid questions whether those agencies would be willing to give that up for a prison.

"Help me understand what the vested interest is for the local community to even give one wit about relocation of the prison and how it's financed, other than they can have new ground to develop," he said.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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