Utah County officials say they are "seriously considering" an offer from Salt Lake County to have them house some of Salt Lake's prisoners, especially if it helps them open the Utah County Security Center earlier than planned.
Utah County has been unable to open the new $22 million jail facility, which is located in Spanish Fork, because of budget shortfalls. The county doesn't have the more than $2 million needed to hire new security guards and other jail staff members.But Salt Lake County leaders have again approached their Utah County counterparts, offering to pay them to house prisoners who can't be housed in Salt Lake County because of a population cap placed on their jail by a federal judge.
"Let's just say we're considering entertaining proposals," Sheriff Dave Bateman said. Bateman and members of the Utah County Commission met with Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson this week to begin talks.
Bateman said the new jail, which will be completed in July, can house 544 prisoners without double-bunking. The Utah County Jail in Provo currently holds as many as 250 prisoners, which means the security center could likely accommodate the 100-prisoner exchange proposed by Salt Lake County.
"It's not something we could lock into on a permanent basis," Bateman said. "But it's conceivable that we could easily handle 100 more prisoners for at least a couple of years."
What Bateman and the Utah
County Commission would like to get from Salt Lake County is money upfront. That might allow them to hire the new personnel and train them in time for a planned jail opening in January. They would like to get the security center open as early as possible and resolve a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the county for jail overcrowding.
"This way it would be a win-win situation for both of us. If we can't get the money upfront it remains a benefit for (Salt Lake County) and becomes less of one for us," Bate-man said.
However, the Utah County leaders don't believe Salt Lake County's money alone will allow them to open the security center. The Utah County Commission will likely have to raise property-tax rates to get all the money needed for the new employee salaries over the long haul.
Even if the two counties do come to terms, there may be another stumbling block. Spanish Fork Mayor Marie Huff said she believes an interlocal cooperation agreement struck between her city and Utah County 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.
That agreement allowed the county to build the security center in the city, so any agreement between the two counties would violate the "spirit and intent" of the city-county pact, Huff said.
Bateman said before the counties make an agreement, they will have attorneys look at the Spanish Fork-Utah County contract to see if it would be legal.