Salt Lake County Commissioner Mike Stewart says local cities have accepted most of his plan to solve a dispute over who pays for prisoners at the overcrowded jail.
While politicians may have reached a rare accord, the plan could bring bad news for valley taxpayers in the form of a future tax hike.The proposed agreement includes a possible land trade with Salt Lake City that would allow the county to expand the present jail to hold state prisoners. Stewart said Thursday that the county will agree to pay all prisoner expenses but will lobby state lawmakers for a special tax to cover those costs.
Stewart also wants to build a new jail, with construction funded by suburban cities, and then turn over operation to a private company.
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis congratulated Stewart for his leadership in solving the jail puzzle. While he wouldn't say the county and city have reached an agreement on a land-trade deal, he did say the door was open for future negotiations.
The county has been billing cities for the cost of housing misdemeanants in the jail since July 1, 1986. All valley cities have refused to pay. Stewart's plan calls for the cities to make a one-time-only payment to the jail based on what the county says they owe.
Stewart said he expects the suburban cities' total funding share to be $900,000. Construction on the new jail may begin as early as next spring.
He said three sites are being considered, but he wouldn't elaborate.
Salt Lake officials maintain they have a unique bargaining position from other valley cities, as they hold a 1981 agreement with the county that prohibits future jail billings.
The agreement was written because the city paid 51 percent of jail-construction costs. The city agreed to exchange its ownership in the facility for the county's promise to operate it without charging city residents.
Stewart said the county did not mean for the agreement to last forever.
Although details of the new agreement have yet to be negotiated, Stewart said, the announcement of the plan was not done hastily.
Last week, DePaulis reacted with surprise after Stewart presented the same plan to the West Jordan City Council. DePaulis said the city and county were far from making a deal.