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Taking a lead from the state, Salt Lake County wants to reduce overcrowding at its jails by sending inmates south - to Utah County.

Commission Chairman Brent Overson said Tuesday the county plans to ask Utah County to house inmates at the new jail it's building in Spanish Fork.The $22 million, 475-bed jail will be completed in April and ready to take inmates in June of 1996. But Utah County doesn't have the money to staff, operate and maintain the jail.

"We do," Overson said.

Utah County Sheriff Dave Bateman said that such a deal may be just what the county needs to get its new jail open next spring. Bateman and Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard agreed Wednesday to work an agreement through their respective commissions.

"We're open to any possibilities at this point," said Utah County Commissioner David Gardner. "We don't have the funds and don't anticipate having the funds to staff the jail. As of right now the jail will remain closed until we find some creative solution."

In June, Utah County voters rejected a $2.45 million property tax increase to cover those costs. The county may put the issue before voters again next spring. In the meantime, Utah County officials face the possibility the new jail will stand empty next spring.

The thought of all those empty jail beds has caught the attention of Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake County will begin construction of a new jail next March to end overcrowding at the downtown and Oxbow jails. But the new facility won't be ready for inmates until 1998.

The county can't wait that long to find a way to deal with the number of prisoners police officers are hauling to jail daily.

"We could take a pod (at the Utah County jail)," Overson said.

Utah County officials also apparently have heard from the state Department of Corrections, which wants to place inmates at the new jail, according to Gardner. But Bateman said an interlocal agreement between the county and Spanish Fork prohibits the jail from housing felons from the state prison.

Bateman is not sure if that agreement would prevent taking inmates from another county jail; he suspects it won't be a problem.

"From a legal perspective I don't know if that could be extended to a relationship between us and Salt Lake County," Bate-man said. "Absent any interference there, it could be a very attractive proposition for Utah County based on the revenue situation we're dealing with here."

Kennard said Salt Lake County could use 100 to 200 beds at the Utah County jail. He would likely send inmates serving 90-day to one-year sentences to the Utah County facility.

"We'll pay them the going rate," Kennard said. "That would give them the money to open it up and hire the staff."

But Bateman is cautious about committing space at his new jail that the county may end up needing. He said he'd hate to count on money from Salt Lake County to open the jail and then have to take fewer "paying customers" because Utah County courts fill the beds.

The daily census at the existing Utah County Jail averages about 240 inmates, Gardner said. The jail is meant to handle 198 inmates.

Meanwhile, quiet discussion continues between Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City officials about the lack of jail space. The problem spilled into the public arena several weeks ago when a group of residents complained nothing was being done to crack down on prostitutes along State Street.

That sparked some finger-pointing between the county and city over who deserved blame and how to solve the space crunch at the jail.