SALT LAKE CITY — During debate about whether to sign a resolution on jail reimbursement with Weber, Davis and Utah counties, Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi boiled the issue down to a single question.
"Are we willing to raise taxes on our residents to take care of state problems?" Horiuchi asked.
With that, the council voted unanimously to have a resolution prepared to approve next week. The resolution would join Salt Lake County with three neighbors in a management strategy for dealing with condition of probation prisoners, convicted prisoners who are court ordered to attend a probationary facility rather than prison.
The problem is one of funding. The state doesn't view condition of probation prisoners as state prisoners and doesn't budget for them. Counties don't claim them, either, leaving no one to pick up the tab for the inmates.
The four-county effort would create two separate management plans — one governing county prisoners in county facilities and the other covering state prisoners in county facilities.
Salt Lake County Council Chairman Joe Hatch said the county has always eliminated beds when faced with budget deficits during his eight years on the council. Now, he said, it's time to try something new.
"We have to have a slight shift in how we approach it to see if that has an effect on the state policy of correction," Hatch said. "I don't agree with Utah County on anything, and I'm willing to agree with them on this."
According to Hatch, this year the state delivered only half of what it promised to help cover costs of housing condition of probation prisoners. That would leave a $900,000 funding gap on July 1 and an even bigger one next year, because the Legislature currently has budgeted no money for jail reimbursement.
"We're simply housing state prisoners," Hatch said, "and we're being expected to go to our residents to collect the money. I think it's really unfair for us to carry that burden as we have."
The resolution would unite the four counties with 80 percent of the prisoners in question in lobbying the Legislature, as well as dealing with the budget shortfall uniformly.
If the state provides no funding for its share of the prisoners and still sends more than its quota of inmates, it could mean some prisoners go free to make room for others. Several council members, including Jenny Wilson and Steve DeBry, expressed concern about that idea.
"I wish we could talk about this as a global correction punishment issue," Hatch said, "but it isn't. It's unique funding issue."