Assembly members team up to request vote on prison

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Should the borough build and operate Alaska's first private prison?

Voters' advice is what Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly members Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, and Milli Martin, who represents areas around Homer, are requesting.

"Due to the unique nature of this project, we believe that an advisory vote to address this issue is in order, and ask the assembly's support in placing it on the general election ballot in October," wrote Sprague and Martin in a memo accompanying a resolution scheduled for introduction at Tuesday's borough assembly meeting.

The resolution includes three public hearings, scheduled for Tuesday, July 10, and a final hearing on Aug. 7.

According to the resolution, it is estimated that construction of the prison would exceed $60 million, annual operating expenses would cost approximately $21 million, and that total construction and operation costs for 20 years would be in the neighborhood of $520 million.

If passed, voters in the October 2, 2001, regular election will be asked, "Shall the Kenai Peninsula Borough proceed with the proposed design, construction, and operation through a private contractor of an 800- to 1,000-bed medium-security prison to be located within the Kenai Peninsula Borough and funded with payments from the State?"

Although Martin's concerns focus on the philosophical question of private prisons -- someone profiting off the mistakes of another -- she said the resolution doesn't go far enough.

"I would love to see an additional question," Martin said. "I would like to know if the public supports the idea of a prison in general. ... But the thing is, the hand we're dealt is a private prison. The state's not looking at anything else."

Asked about the value of an advisory vote, Martin said, "You've got to be realistic about what you can get done. Realistically, an advisory vote has a good chance of passing the assembly."

In March, Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, attempted securing the assembly's support of an advisory vote. His resolution sought voters' advice regarding the issuance of revenue bonds to fund the prison project; however, his resolution was tabled by the assembly.

On Thursday, Fischer said the public's voice should be binding.

"If you put it out, then you better be willing to live with what the public comes back with," he said. "If you don't do that, then you're playing games with the public. If the vote means nothing, why do it."

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