Even if Salt Lake County and Utah County officials are able to make a deal allowing Salt Lake County to send its prisoners to Utah County, which might then be able to open its new jail, there's still a major stumbling block - Spanish Fork city leaders.
An interlocal cooperation agreement struck between Spanish Fork and Utah County originally allowed the county to build its $22 million facility in the city and actually operate within city limits. That agreement specifically prohibits the county from taking any state or federal felons and may prohibit the county from housing any out-of-county prisoners in its security center as well, so any agreement between the two counties would violate the "spirit and intent" of the city-county pact, Spanish Fork Mayor Marie Huff said."That's not allowed in our agreement," Huff said, interpreting wording in the deal to mean that the county cannot accept transfers or contract inmates or prisoners from state, federal or other local prisons or penal institutions in the new security center, which should be completed next spring. "It's not out of reason to interpret that to mean they're not allowed to have any out-of-county prisoners here."
Huff and other city officials also said they were surprised to hear that the county was mulling over such a deal in the first place and only learned about it from media reports last week.
"Well, when such decisions would have such a big effect on our city, I think we should be called and told first," she said.
Utah County Commissioners David Gardner and Gary Herbert said any talk of a deal is premature at this point and that if it is prohibited by the prior agreement, it probably won't happen.
"We're not going to sandbag our agreement (with Spanish Fork) just because we may be getting an offer from Salt Lake County," said Gardner, noting he hasn't actually even spoken to his Salt Lake counterparts yet.
In fact, the first time Gardner and Herbert heard about the proposal was after being questioned by reporters.
"I think there was a passing conversation (between Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard and Utah County Sheriff Dave Bateman)," Herbert said. "But we haven't even seen an offer yet."
Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson said Spanish Fork officials are "shortsighted."
"This is a good opportunity for the county to get some funds down there, get their jail open, and we can have our prisoners out of there when they need to have the whole jail to themselves," Overson said. "We don't want to upset any agreement the county has with the city, but we hope they'll still be receptive to any plan we have."
Besides Spanish Fork's objections, the counties would have to overcome other problems, Herbert said.
"If we wound up renting 100 beds in our facility to Salt Lake County, where would we house all of our prisoners?" he asked. "We're building the jail because ours is overcrowded."
Threats of civil-rights lawsuits because of crowding prompted Utah County to build the new jail in the first place. But the soon-to-be-completed facility probably will not open next summer as planned because the county doesn't have the funding to hire at least 50 new employees to staff it. A $2.45 million property-tax increase measure for the additional jail staffing failed this July.
Herbert said the county is considering any proposals to help pay for the new jail employees and hasn't ruled out holding a new property-tax increase election next summer.