Letters to the Editor

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Prison will generate jobs, more business in borough

On Oct. 2, we will be asked to vote on Proposition 1, regarding a Kenai prison. Proposition 1 reads, "May the Kenai Peninsula Borough contract with the State of Alaska, and one or more private, for-profit firms, for the operation of a prison or correctional institution containing a maximum of 1,000 beds in the Kenai Peninsula Borough?"

As many of you are aware, the state of Alaska currently sends approximately 800 inmates to a private prison in Arizona, at a cost to the state of Alaska of about $20 million a year. I believe the state needs to spend this $20 million in Alaska, rather than in Arizona.

I believe this project deserves community support for the following reasons:

There will be no additional cost to us as taxpayers;

If, after a five-year period of time, the state determines that the private prison operator is not performing adequately, the state can take over the prison;

New revenue totaling about $25 million will be added to the peninsula's economy;

It will create approximately 300 union construction jobs for about a two-year period;

Upon completion of the project, there will be approximately 200 permanent, year-round jobs;

There also will be another 200 or so jobs created at related businesses on the peninsula.

In addition to the above, there also are social impacts to consider. The Kenai Natives Association will be offering culturally relevant programs to the inmates. These programs have not been available in any other state-run prisons. This provides an opportunity to affect possible changes in life behaviors and also will provide a much-needed support system for the inmates.

Further, Cornell Corrections has committed to local hire in filling jobs at the private prison. The training standards will be equivalent to those required and used by the state of Alaska. The training will be made available locally, so no one would be required to travel to Anchorage or another part of the state.

Based on a recent report provided by the city of Kenai, the chief of police has made contact with at least five similarly sized communities with private prisons. He found there had not been a problem with an influx of families and friends to the communities. There also were no additional demands put on social services or local schools. Similarly, this also was not experienced with the existing Wildwood Correctional Center.

Couple that with the Kenai City Council Resolution No. 2001-71, which supports the private prison providing that:

1. Arrangements are made connecting the facility to the city's water and sewer system (as many know we need our system upgraded and this could be justification for funding from either state or federal sources);

2. A feasibility study will be completed prior to decision to build reviewing the social, economic and financial aspects;

3. The study will then be reviewed by the city council and made available to all of us within the Kenai Peninsula Borough. This resolution provides for even further protections.

In summary, the project is sound. It will generate millions of dollars to our local economy, provide local construction jobs, retain year-round jobs after the completion of the construction, and further provides an influx of business to already existing businesses within the Kenai Peninsula borough.

I, for one, will be supporting Proposition 1 and ask that you will consider doing so as well.

Ken Coleman Jr.

Teamsters Local 959, vice president and Kenai business representative

If in doubt, one should vote 'No' on private prison

The Oct. 2 election will give Kenai Peninsula Borough residents a chance to vote on a matter that is, in my opinion, the most important and most divisive local issue in the 23 years I've lived here.

The borough mayor and certain assembly members assure us that the private prison proposed to be built on KNA land would provide a

large influx of money into the local economy, with practically no financial risk to borough taxpayers.

In my opinion, it's a good deal for Cornell Corrections; it stands to make the profits, while the borough's taxpayers -- don't forget, that's all of us -- will be responsible for the financial

risks involved. There are just too many unanswered questions for me to vote "yes" on this one.

The proponents say that the money we've already paid to Cornell Corrections guarantees us that they won't sue the borough. That they feel we should have to buy Cornell off in this manner is, in itself, objectionable to me. Perhaps they are right, but what if they aren't? Will the borough face the same type of lawsuit that Delta Junction was handed, after it said "No" to Cornell?

The Clarion says, in effect, "If in doubt, vote yes," arguing that the feasibility study mandated will ensure that a bad project will not be approved. Who will select the third party that will do this study, and determine its parameters?

That's right, the same borough assembly majority that is pushing the project! Can we expect an objective study, given these facts? I don't think so! The process through which Cornell Corrections got the deal in the first place, without the kind of competitive bid process that should have been required, should be warning enough to all of us that the borough assembly, as presently constituted, can't be trusted to make such a decision.

Voter turnout in local elections is notoriously low, but you can count on the fact that the folks who are out to make big bucks on this proposal will turn out in force. The rest of us, who will bear the financial risks involved, should take the time to vote, or do so by absentee ballot if that is necessary.

We won't get another chance to vote on this one. My recommendation is, "if in doubt, vote

"No!"

Jerry Brookman

Kenai

State workers fear private prison will do better job

I have been waiting for the paper to come out with a truthful article on the prison issue. One finally appeared in the Saturday Anchorage Daily News. The article, "Kenai prison ad campaigns heat up; Opposition: State employee unions join fray as vote nears," brings to the forefront of the campaign the real crux of this prison issue. "Union leaders say their members stand to lose under a scenario in which prison jobs go to nonunion workers. They anticipate lower wages and benefits." State workers should not be unionized. They're supposed to be public servants. It's a conflict of interest for the use of state tax dollars to campaign against private enterprise. Labor unions support private enterprise, while state unions do not. This is the reason the "Vote No" side is barraging the public with their fear campaign. They aren't about security and escapees; it's about any state agency being privatized.

Our democratic way of life has always mandated free enterprise, that's why we fought against communist ideals. Private industry should never have to compete against government. The state of Alaska is finally moving toward privatization, which will bring costs under control, shrink government and save tax dollars. Privately operated businesses don't cut corners to make a buck as the state unions tout. They wouldn't risk destroying their business reputations and incomes.

The state Legislature, supported by the electorate, wants private prisons to get our state costs under control and save tax dollars. The bed costs thrown around in the state, borough and city meetings does not include the costs of transporting hundreds of prisoners to and from Alaska. What other costs are not factored into that figure? The new state facility in Anchorage will cost $134 per bed and the state employees support that, but they are against the $89 private bed.

I've been in Alaska since 1961, involved in Kenai starting with the Standard Oil Refinery. My union has taken large pay cuts to keep jobs for our members. Never have I heard of our state employees doing this to help our state out of financial hardships. Their state wages have always come first. Remember the Reagan era, when union traffic controllers priced themselves out of their jobs?

State workers are doing the exact same thing, forcing the state to privatize. The state unions always use the excuse of needing higher wages to compete with private enterprise. They should not be competing with taxpayers. The state unions are even behind the use of the permanent fund money for operation of the state government to keep their high wages. Now that shows their concern for the general public, the taxpayer!

The state union employees are hiding behind fear tactics to cover up their own fears that the private sector may do a better job than they do. One of the speakers at the Kenai City Council meeting last Wednesday, a guard at Wildwood, said she didn't want her children working out there because it's such an awful place to work. She also said she didn't have an education! That was the first issue of concern brought forth by the "Vote No" side. They did not want untrained, uneducated, cheap labor doing the job of security. So here's a state union guard describing herself as just that, except she is a state union worker who gets high wages, good benefits and a state retirement.

The prison project will provide stability for our community in the face of an eminent recession. This project will bring taxpayers into our community. Not welfare families, but those who will be employed by Cornell and the ancillary businesses that will be needed by the prison industry. This project is not only about jobs, but that is enough to offset the dwindling fishing and seasonal tourist industries.

Vote "Yes" on Proposition 1 for private enterprise, wiser use of tax dollars, jobs for citizens and the bed space needed by the state Department of Corrections.

Michael Carpenter

Kenai

Letters to the Editor can be faxed to 283-3299 or e-mailed to clarion@alaska.net. All letters should include the writer's phone number and address.



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