Construction of a new public safety building that would include a regional detention center is being studied by Sevier County commissioners, who have set a public hearing on the proposal for Monday, Nov. 19, at 2:30 p.m.
Another hearing at 2 p.m. the same day has been scheduled to authorize economic development through establishing a special service to develop and maintain such a facility. The second hearing will allow public input on proposal. Both meetings will be in the commission chambers at the courthouse in Richfield.The commission will adopt resolutions at the conclusion of the special service district hearings that will either establish or abandon further proceedings to establish the districts. Oral comments or protests may be presented at the hearing or may be submitted in writing to the commission prior to the hearings.
If districts are established, officials would be empowered to finance the programs through special property tax levies.
In expanding on the possibility of constructing a public safety facility, the commission chairman said the American Civil Liberties Union has complained to county officials at the lack of an exercise yard, sunlight and other facilities at the county jail. "If we don't do something about it, we could be involved in a lawsuit that would force us to upgrade the county jail," the chairman said.
The commission is mulling spending part of the money the county receives in federal mineral lease money as "seed" money for a regional detention facility and public safety building.
"We would then go to the Community Impact Board with a proposal, seeking a grant and loan money. Interest from the mineral lease money could pay for a loan."
Sevier County will get about $800,000 from mineral leases on federal lands this fiscal year, and the amount grows each year. The state gets 25 percent of the lease money, which is then prorated to counties, Sevier getting between 11 and 12 percent annually.
Ashman said the proposal is pretty much preliminary at this point. "It's mostly in the talk stage. We haven't had plans drawn, but know we will be faced with a problem (in housing prisoners), so it goes well for us if we start to make moves to improve conditions."
The county acquired property several years ago on Third North at the east entrance to Richfield that could be used for a regional facility. If it is built, the present jail might be used to house women prisoners or for other purposes. The county spends a substantial amount to house women prisoners in Millard County facilities, Ashman said.
Asked about the costs of such a project, he answered, "We are looking at San Juan County's plan."
A public safety building was constructed in that county that could be used by the courts and for other purposes, with an 80-bed detention facility. "It cost about $3.5 million, and we feel our needs would be similar."
The commissioner said many of the inmates at the Sevier County Jail are state prisoners. "We are supposed to get reimbursed for housing them, but we are short on getting the money.
The state appropriates $500,000 but usually runs out of money the first quarter, so there is a clause in the contract contingent on available state funds."
Ashman said there would be no direct cost to local taxpayers if the commission decides to go ahead with the facility. "Our county attorney and the Utah Attorney General agree it would be permissible to use some of the mineral lease money for needs that are more pressing than some road projects that could take a long time to complete, he added.
The Central Utah Public Health Department, now housed in the Social Services Building in Richfield, will also be looking for other headquarters. Counties in south-central Utah are required to help with that department's rent expenses.
The department's rent money could help pay for needed space, and Sevier County is also in need of more office space.