Newly reopened Oxbow jail could close again

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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Raise taxes or cut services? That dilemma, in a down economy, is playing out in the form of tough choices in Salt Lake County. County leaders are debating whether to close the newly reopened Oxbow jail.

Just last weekend, KSL reported how Oxbow had opened its doors to inmates for the first time in seven years. That reopening, however, could be short-lived.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said, "We'd either need to close Oxbow, or we'd need to potentially close three to five units in the adult detention center."

The sheriff says if the mayor and county council cut the department's budget by 5 percent or more, closures and layoffs are on the way.

"When you start getting those kinds of levels of cuts, it's clearly into personnel lines, there's no operational buffer there," Winder said. "You get into shutting down facilities. You get into laying people off. Really, in the 5 percent to 7.5 percent, we're in trouble."

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon is not happy about the prospect of closing Oxbow so soon.

"I'm not supporting closing the Oxbow jail. The sheriff obviously will have to make some cuts, but hopefully the sheriff can find a way to keep Oxbow open," he said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon

Sales tax revenues in Salt Lake County are down 10 to 15 percent, and county investment earnings are off nearly $10 million.

The county already chopped more than $20 million from this year's budget, dropped contributions to employees' 401(k) accounts and eliminated some positions.

The sheriff calls the budget situation the worst the county has seen in decades, and it could mean an early release for hundreds of inmates.

"This is real. This is a real budget crisis," Winder said.

The mayor does not favor a tax increase and says another $15 million in cuts may be needed. He also says despite the troubles, the sky is not falling.

"I think there still is a little bit more room to give and now is not a good time to raise taxes. We have seen other entities raising taxes, and we just don't want to pile on," said Corroon.

The mayor says he expects the situation to be similar next year. He says that though the economic slump has likely bottomed out, the budget won't be much better in 2010.


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