I apologize for keeping you in suspense over the prison relocation process. As you may know, the Prison Relocation Commission met on July 16th to receive a status update on the ongoing site analysis of the four sites under consideration. I haven’t posted my response for several reasons.
1. I had so many thoughts to process and I needed time to think through my position before sharing my perspective.
2. I needed to have additional conversations to gain insight from people who were either neutral about the prison relocation, or in favor of the prison relocation.
3. I needed time to review our research and to compile some data on tax revenue estimates for the redeveloped site.
To recap the meeting for you, there were three documents presented to the PRC. One document covered the results of the in depth site evaluations (which can be viewed here), another covered the contemplation of rebuilding on the Draper site (which can be viewed here), and lastly, a document reviewing the transportation costs associated with operating the prison from each of the proposed sites. (which can be viewed here).
The site analysis, as presented, will lead you to the conclusion that the cost of rebuilding the prison in Eagle Mountain would be the lowest of the four proposed sites. I openly challenge the figures being used by Louis Berger. They have projected the cost of Eagle Mountain site prep to be between $62 million and $76 million. Our own analysis projected figures of $104 million which we believe to be more accurate. In comparison, the Salt Lake site is estimated to cost between $97 million and $132 million. If we chose to take Louis Berger’s cost estimates at face value, we may logically conclude that the prison will be built in Eagle Mountain purely on the merits of cost. This conclusion would be premature, however. While today’s cost of building the prison is important, tomorrow’s operational expense is even more important because the effects will be compounded over the life of the facility.
It is only after we review the transportation analysis, however, that we see the Eagle Mountain site represents a significant cost increase over the Draper prison for daily operations. The cost increase is due to the greater distance that must be traveled by existing vendors, service providers, and prisoner transports to the hospital and courts. These additional miles traveled to accomplish the same functions currently performed result not only in additional expense to State taxpayers, but additional air pollution along the Wasatch Front. If rebuilt in Eagle Mountain, the net increase in transportation costs would be on the magnitude of $144 million over the lifespan of the facility, if the report is accurate. Keep in mind, this report only considers the increased cost of transportation, but does not account for increased costs associated with inevitable employee and volunteer attrition, or other ancillary–but no less relevant–factors.
In an effort to calibrate my thoughts on this prison relocation, I have reviewed our internal cost analysis and reasoning. I also re-read many articles posted in various newspapers along with the public comments to said articles. I have also sought out specific reasons why moving the prison might make sense from a State perspective, and why some legislators believe it is the right thing to do. After pursuing a fresh perspective of all relative information, my opinion has not changed. I still believe the prison relocation process should include actual analysis of the Draper site. By now, you have undoubtedly heard every argument I would give as to why this prison move does not make financial sense.
It is at this time that I am accepting what I believe to be the obvious reality of this prison move. The prison will be moved, and it will be moved not because it makes the most financial sense for taxpayers to do so, but because this decision is driven by political factors which are at this time irreversible. I leave only the smallest possibility open that the financial math behind this prison move is not being fully disclosed and that there are factors that will later show sound financial sense. While I leave room for this possibility, I have spent a considerable amount of time on contemplating the prison move scenario and I have concluded that the taxes generated from the redeveloped Draper site and the ancillary economic development of the future prison site, against the cost of moving the prison and operating the new facility, simply doesn’t work out for the benefit of Utah State taxpayers.
Be that as it may, I must admit at this time that my latest round of consideration of all facts and figures have led me to the conclusion that the cost to taxpayers of moving the prison could be significantly reduced, though only if the prison is moved to the Salt Lake site. The most significant possibility of breaking even for this prison move will come ONLY if the following things happen:
1. The prison is moved and the Draper site is fully redeveloped not only with commercial office, but also with a significant portion of retail development;
2. The Salt Lake site is chosen and build costs come in around the low end of projected costs;
3. Significant development takes place surrounding the new prison location.
I believe it is unlikely that the types of development that will take place in either the redeveloped Draper site, or the newly chosen prison site will be of the type that will benefit the State’s general fund. Be that as it may, it is possible in theory. The transportation cost associated with the Salt Lake Site will save $56 million over the existing Draper site, and would be a full $200 million less expensive than the Eagle Mountain site.
Because I believe the prison will move even though no analysis has been done for an on-site rebuild, my job is now to work on helping legislators to understand the best financial decision that they can make. While I will not advocate for moving the prison to a specific location, I believe it is clear that the numbers show there is only one site which could come close to breaking even, though only under the absolute best of very improbable circumstances. I will begin reaching out to all legislators who will vote on the eventual recommendation in the coming weeks.