By Heidi Dahms-Foster, Special to The Daily Courier
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Supporters, opponents let council members know their feelings
A standing-room-only crowd waited through an hour of regular council business Thursday night to air their views about a proposed prison in Prescott Valley.
Before the meeting, representatives of both sides met people coming into the meeting with pro and con information about the proposal that would bring a private prison with as many as 5,000 beds to Prescott Valley.
Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tenn., approached Prescott Valley as one of the potential sites for the new prison. Brad Wiggins, senior director of site acquisition for CCA, said the prison would include a capital investment of $200 million as well as 300 to 400 construction jobs and 400 full-time jobs with benefits in the community.
The Criminal Justice Budget Reconciliation Bill authorizes the Department of Corrections to issue an RFP for 5,000 new private prison beds, according to the website for the budget committee. The RFP will allow awarding one or more contracts; permit the private sector to bid on all or a portion of the beds; allow the beds to be located at new, existing or expanded facilities; and specify a maximum contract period of 20 years.
Those who spoke in support of the prison said they mostly want to bring jobs to the community.
Jeri Ann Kooiman, who with her husband Dave owns a realty and construction company, said she saw several people as she entered the building who had lost their homes in the past year, were ready to lose their homes, and who had lost their businesses in the economic downturn.
"Their hopes and dreams of thriving in this community that they chose to call home are now gone," she said. "We come before you tonight to show you our support in bringing jobs to our community."
Kooiman also spoke to those who expressed surprise that the town would again consider a prison. Two years ago, public opposition convinced the council to turn down a proposal from Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, to build a private prison at the same site.
"We ask you to educate yourselves, inform yourselves, and investigate every and all industry and company that comes knocking at our doors. An opportunity for jobs is on our horizon right now," Kooiman said. "Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation has simply been approached to provide workforce and other information to CCA. We would be remiss if we did not follow up on every single lead for jobs in Prescott Valley."
Resident Jason Sudweeks followed up when he told the council that he had recently lost his business, and is in the process of losing his home. The father of seven children said he doesn't want to leave Prescott Valley, but he's discouraged by the quality of jobs here.
"I would welcome this prison, and I would be the first to stand in line to apply for a job," he said.
Former Prescott Valley mayor Carm Staker said she has lived in the community for more than 30 years, and has been continually concerned about the lack of jobs.
"I think it is so important to do everything we can to enable our young people, and our not-so-young people, to find jobs here in Prescott Valley," she said. "I urge you to support this correctional facility."
Speakers in opposition to the prison spoke passionately about issues including the kind of people a prison would bring to the community; the effects of the prison on infrastructure, water supplies and home values; strains on health care and law enforcement; and how many of the construction and other jobs would actually go to existing residents.
"These jobs and construction claims are fairy dust," said one audience member. "These companies have contractors and companies that supply them. If you think they are going to open a 5,000-bed prison with employees from this town, you have another thing coming. They aren't going to open up jobs like that for people with no experience in corrections," he said.
Resident Susan Orlick said she understands that people are concerned about jobs, "but that doesn't mean we have to sell our soul, and it doesn't mean those jobs are for our community.
"It doesn't seem right that we elect you again," she told the council, "and then you bring in this topic again. It almost feels like a betrayal."
A mother of a 4- and 16-year-old told the council that her family would have to move if a prison comes here.
"This is completely uncalled for. My children are prospering here. If you do this, no one is going to prosper. If you bring a prison here, we will leave, and so will many others," she said.
Tom Steele, a former Prescott Valley councilman who has launched a website to oppose the prison, raised a number of quality-of-life concerns and urged the council to "think long and hard" before approving a prison proposal.
Resident Brian Mulcahey agreed. "I think we can do better. This sounds like settling."
Brad Wiggins, senior director of site acquisition for CCA, spoke to the audience near the end of the comment period.
"A lot of what has been said tonight doesn't ring true," he said. He told the audience he would welcome an opportunity in a forum to answer each concern individually.
"This could be huge for this community," he said.
Resident and prison supporter Mary Mallory said she wants to see people continue to discuss the proposal.
"People want to work. There are pros and cons to everything, but attacking each other and badgering each other will not get the job done," she said. "We need to come together and find a solution that will put people back to work."
Residents will have several opportunities to hear more facts and express their opinions about the proposed prison in upcoming events. On Jan. 28, the economic consulting firm Elliott D. Pollack and Co. will present its study of the economic impact of the prison on the community to the Prescott Valley council in its study session at 5:30 p.m. in the Civic Center council chambers.
On Feb. 9 at 6 p.m., the CASA Senior Center at 9260 E. Manzanita Circle in Prescott Valley will play host to an informational forum on the prison.
Courier reporter Ken Hedler contributed to this story