Grand County can now move forward with plans to renovate its jail, after Utah's Permanent Impact Fund Board approved its revised application for project funding. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Grand County’s jail renovation project is back on track.

Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) voted unanimously on Thursday, Oct. 1, to approve the county’s revised application for funding to upgrade the aging facility. The board’s vote gives the county a grant for $2.327 million, along with a $2.328 million loan at a 2.5 percent interest rate over a 20-year period. The county, in turn, will contribute $400,000 in matching funds for the project.

A majority of CIB members previously rejected a more generous proposal from Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, and instead offered the county a funding package that it simply couldn’t afford to pay back, according to Grand County Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs.

At the time, CIB members Ron Winterton of Duchesne County and Jae Potter of Carbon County strongly criticized Grand County for its perceived opposition to oil and gas development projects that fund the board’s grants and loans.

“I have a hard time really getting behind the project, that the next time something comes up, they’re there to stop the (mineral lease) revenues coming in,” Winterton said during the board’s Aug. 6 meeting.

But Winterton said he now believes that county officials understand CIB’s concerns.

“I’m supportive of Grand County and their efforts, and I appreciate them going back,” he said. “They’ve had the discussion. For me, I think that my concerns have been resolved, in that they’ve done everything they can, and (they have) the awareness of where the mineral lease money that supports this board comes from.”

Potter previously accused county officials of “severely handicapping” a community that has good potential to grow, and he said he believed that they’re thumbing their noses at the CIB by requesting money from the board. But he said last week that he was not speaking out against the county’s application itself.

“The last meeting was not opposing the project,” he said. “It was opposing the process, and also the fact that with this particular application, what we offered is what the rest of us as counties have been able to and asked to provide.”

This time around, Tubbs said that CIB members as a whole were more receptive to the county’s requests for financial help.

“The board was definitely more positive, and several members came out after to tell us they were very happy the meeting went the way it did,” she told the Moab Sun News.

Now that they’ve locked up funding to renovate the jail, county officials plan to sit down immediately with the project’s architect and begin the process to prepare bid documents over the next several months.

Once construction begins, the renovation work will take an estimated 10 to 12 months to complete, and Grand County Sheriff Steve White told the CIB that officials will do their best to keep the contractor on course.

“We can never say never, but if not, they won’t get out of Grand County alive,” he joked. “We’re going to hold them to the time.”

Jail renovation seen as long overdue

The upgrade will 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. It will also resolve potential fire and safety issues that currently leave the county open to possible liability, due to potential violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights.

White reiterated that the county is not planning to expand the jail at all.

“This is just a renovation to keep us up and going,” he said.

CIB member and Sanpete County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett, who made the Aug. 6 motion to offer the county less grant funding and a bigger loan over a longer-term period, said she reviewed the county’s latest request from another angle.

“For me, because it’s a remodel and not a new jail, I see that we need to look at it just a little differently,” she said.

In her eyes, she said, a local government entity’s main responsibility is to protect the safety, health and welfare of its citizens.

“Even though we don’t like to fund jails, that’s a fundamental responsibility of a local government, to provide that protection to their citizens, so I think the fact that they recognize they have a huge issue there they need to fix it,” Jarrett said. “It’s an expensive fix – that’s my concern – but it is a fix, and that is their responsibility.”

White said the remodel will put the county in a better position, pending future improvements to the jail.

“Hopefully, this will get us through the next 25 years, to where we can have the things in line and be ready to move forward as we need to,” he said.

While CIB members themselves came out in support of the county’s revised plan, the board heard one dissenting opinion from Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

Noel clashed briefly last month with Grand County Council vice chair Chris Baird over Noel’s assertions that county council members oppose oil and gas drilling near national parks. During the CIB’s meeting, Noel repeated those claims, and criticized county officials for seeking mineral development funds that belong to everyone in the state.

“I want to see this happen,” he said. “I support this sheriff. I support the sheriff’s association; I support many of the good people in Grand County, but I don’t support people who in one hand have their hand out for money, and then say, ‘Don’t develop oil and gas resources’ in their county and in other counties.”

Noel then addressed Tubbs directly and told council members to shape up.

“You guys need to get your act together down there and figure out what you want,” he said. “You either need to go completely solar power, or do you want to go oil and gas development and take these monies from the people of the state of Utah?”

Tubbs said that Noel grabbed the microphone as someone attempted to pass it on to the CIB’s bond counsel.

“It wasn’t like the board invited him to speak,” she said. “It was something that he took upon himself.”

McKee said he appreciates what Noel had to say. But he noted that every county has factions that represent different interests, and in Grand County, one key group of people is open to the idea of responsible energy development, he said.

McKee also pointed out that Grand County has put more into the fund than it has actually received in terms of award money.

Likewise, CIB member and San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams noted that in the last five years, mineral development in Grand County has added $9.2 million to the CIB’s coffers. Yet the county has only received a little more than $2 million in CIB grants – most of which went toward a recreation project, he said.

“It seems like counties generally get back in grant money about what they put in, or maybe a little more, so I don’t think the request is out of line, based on what they’ve put in to the fund,” Adams said.

CIB commits more than $4.6 million in grants, loans for remodel project

Even though we don’t like to fund jails, that’s a fundamental responsibility of a local government, to provide that protection to their citizens, so I think the fact that they recognize they have a huge issue there they need to fix it.