Grand County’s last meeting with members of Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) didn’t go as smoothly as county officials anticipated, but they’re hoping that they’ll have better luck when the board reconvenes next month.
The Grand County Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to send a letter that asks the board to reconsider its application for funding to upgrade the county’s aging jail. Elizabeth Tubbs was absent from the meeting.
A majority of CIB members rejected the county’s previous request in August for a combination of grant and loan funding, and instead offered the county a longer-term loan and a smaller grant. At the time, CIB members Ron Winterton of Duchesne County and Jae Potter of Carbon County criticized Grand County for its perceived opposition to energy development, and mocked it for seeking mineral lease funds.
When all was said and done, Grand County Emergency Management Director Rick Bailey said that county officials never had the chance to talk about the project in any real depth.
What hurt the most, he said, was that the board’s final action came immediately after CIB members Mike McKee and Bruce Adams proposed an even better offer than the one that Grand County officials were seeking.
Before officials could blink their eyes, Bailey said, CIB member and Sanpete County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett made a substitute motion to loan the county $4.38 million at a 2.5 percent interest rate over three decades.
“It was gut-wrenching, to be honest with you, to see that,” Bailey said.
While the CIB approved Jarrett’s motion, Tubbs told the Moab Sun News that the county doesn’t have the means at this point to pay the loan over the longer term, and the council noted that fact in its letter to the board.
“The County appreciated the offer that was provided by the Board but (does) not feel that the County can meet the obligations of the offer,” the letter says.
This time around, the county is seeking more than $2.32 million in CIB grant funding, along with a 20-year loan for just over that amount, to cover the costs of the $5 million project. The county, in turn, would contribute $400,000 in matching funds.
Bailey said the county is returning to CIB with the full support of McKee and Adams, although they will still need to mobilize other CIB members in order to secure the county’s latest funding request.
“I’m here to tell you, we need six votes,” he said. “I only count three or four, maybe, right now, so Mike and Bruce are going to have to do some arm-twisting … But it’s worth the effort.”
He acknowledged that competition for CIB money is tight, even as mineral lease revenues have dropped following a plunge in global oil prices.
“It’s probably not the greatest time to be there with this thing,” he said.
During the CIB’s August meeting, Adams pointed out that mineral development in Grand County has actually increased, and Grand County Council vice chair Chris Baird suggested that Adams could make a persuasive case in support of those statistics.
“I guess that maybe it wouldn’t be so appropriate for us to toot our own horn in terms of production numbers,” Baird said. “But if somebody like Bruce said, “Hey, you know, Grand County is basically having their best production ever right now (and) their highest,’ then maybe it would come out better.”
Baird said he also planned to lobby in support of the project when state lawmakers visited Moab on Wednesday, Sept. 16.
“I was definitely thinking that we should see if they would help us,” he said.
After listening to Bailey’s presentation, Grand County Council member Mary Mullen McGann said she also plans to contact Utah legislators and ask them to speak out on the county’s behalf.
“I would say that Grand County has put more money into the CIB lately, and that we have been a huge contributor,” she told the Moab Sun News.
If Bailey thinks it would help, McGann said she may also write a “polite letter” to any CIB members that lays out the county’s case for financial help.
County officials say the upgrades would address problems with the jail’s electrical and plumbing systems, as well as major security issues and maintenance nightmares, including a roof that has leaked water down into the emergency dispatchers’ room.
Grand County Sheriff Steve White said the improvements are needed in part because Utah officials have raised concerns about the health and safety of inmates at the jail. For instance, White has said the jail’s isolation cells pull “bad air” in, instead of pushing it out.
Utah Department of Corrections inspector-auditor James Chipp told CIB members in August that the facility is compliant with all but one of 253 measured standards, and said that local officials have been responsive to the concerns that his office identified. Even so, Chipp said, potential fire and life safety issues remain.
Bailey said that if nothing is done to upgrade the jail, state inspectors would likely find potential violations of inmates’ constitutional rights, which could lead to a loss of state inmates.
“We’re not there, and if we don’t do something, we’re going to lose our state inmates for sure, and that’s about $200,000 to $250,000 a year that would be gone, and they won’t be back,” he said. “I believe if we don’t do anything in that jail, we will fail miserably for the next set of inspections.”
In all likelihood, allegations of constitutional violations would result in federal court cases, which the county would end up funding with money intended for the jail, he said.
Bailey said he doesn’t know what would happen if the county somehow lost its jail.
“That just becomes a nightmare of costs,” he said.
But he is sure that one local resident’s suggestion to close down the jail’s kitchen and hire a contractor to prepare its meals is not feasible: Bailey noted that the facility did that last year, spending $900 per day on meals – an amount that far exceeds the jail’s own meal costs, he said.
The same person suggested that the jail could further cut its costs by reducing the number of beds at the facility. However, Bailey said that is not an option.
Male and female inmates must remain separated; inmates who haven’t been sentenced cannot be placed with inmates who are serving sentences; and state inmates cannot be housed with county inmates, he said.
“You’ve got your special cases,” he said. “He had no idea of those issues, but still was convinced we needed to reduce the size of the jail and operations.”
Finally, he ruled out one unorthodox – if unconstitutional – solution to the jail’s problems.
“I had one guy stop me – (he) offered to give me his logging chain, and we could just take everybody out, and shackle them to that chain and let them work on the right-of-way on the roads and never bring them back,” he said.
County is seeking combination of grant, loan funding from CIB
I believe if we don’t do anything in that jail, we will fail miserably for the next set of inspections.