Question we need to ask about Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Where’s the beef?

 

Remember the famous Wendy’s commercial in which a feisty grandmother asks, “Where’s the beef?”

That’s the question all of us ought to be asking about the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).

JRI began in 2015 when, with plenty of fanfare, the Utah Legislature passed HB348.

The idea was to stem the growth of the prison population by using prison for serious and violent offenders.

Meanwhile, as a state website on JRI puts it, nonviolent offenders, most often people charged with possession of illegal drugs, were supposed to be “diverted to community-based treatment programs, allowing them to stay connected to jobs and support networks.”

At the time HB348 passed, there was talk of money, including funding that was going to be channeled through the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health for drug and alcohol treatment for offenders.

So what has happened?

We can say that 15 years ago when someone was arrested for drugs in Sanpete County, the person was sentenced, typically to fines and probation, and sent on his or her merry way with no mention of treatment.

Today, things are different, more because of county actions than JRI.

Sanpete County now has a deputy sheriff working as a county probation officer with certain drug and alcohol offenders. His case load is 55 people. With his support, some of his clients are racking up some significant clean time.

On its own, the county obtained a $65,000 federal grant, then added $16,000 in county funds, to create an addiction treatment program in jail. To participate, an inmate must expect to spend at least 90 days in jail, either before sentencing, in the form of a sentence, or through a combination of both.

The majority of people spending that kind of time in the Sanpete County Jail on drug-related or alcohol-related charges are participating in the program. Our county prosecutor, public defender and law enforcement leaders all say the fairly intensive program is making a difference for many participants.

But to put it all in perspective, consider that about 500 people per year are booked into the Sanpete  County Jail on drug or alcohol charges. Still others never go to jail. They receive citations and are adjudicated in municipal justice courts. At best, the county programs are reaching 25 percent of our citizens who need help with substance abuse.

One feature of HB348 was reducing sentences for drug crimes. A person now has to be arrested at least twice, in some cases three times, before a drug offense becomes a felony. Even then, the highest charge for simple possession is a third-degree felony. Very few people go to prison for third-degree felonies.

The results is that the Sanpete County Jail, and undoubtedly other county jails, are filling up with drug offenders. But the counties have no additional funds to cover the costs of local incarceration.

At the state level, under the umbrella of JRI, a lot of money has gone into writing rules; offering sentence reductions to people already in prison for completing programs that existed in the prisons before JRI was launched; writing standards for drug screening and treatment (as opposed to paying for treatment); and certifying treatment programs that existed before HB348 was passed,; not to mention paying PhDs to write annual reports on JRI.

We have to ask how many people could have been put into treatment programs, housing or jobs with the funds expended on regulatory and administrative work.

But back to the core goal of JRI: “Redirecting nonviolent offenders into community-based treatment enabling them to stay connected with their jobs and support networks.”

What lawmakers and state bureaucrats don’t fully grasp is that in Sanpete County, and surely in other rural counties, there are no community-based treatment programs that drug offenders can afford, there are no unskilled jobs that pay enough to cover basic living costs,  and often the only support networks are the drug friends the offenders had before they got caught. Too often, release back to the community means going back to “couch cruising” at those friends’ houses or apartment.

We call on the governor, Utah Legislature, Utah Department of Corrections and Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to put some beef in JRI. Or, to borrow a line often used in 12-Step group meetings, it’s time for the state to start walking the talk.

 

 

Legistlative report for week two, by Sen. Okerlund

 

Senator Ralph Okerlund 

District 24

2-9-2017

 

Week two of the 2017 Legislative Session is in the books. A total of 11 bills have passed through the entire legislature but committee agendas and reading calendars are filling up with bills in a hurry.

We had some exciting events happen on the floor this week. We witnessed the proposal of Senator Henderson’s intern (she said yes). Senator Anderegg read an emotional citation honoring the Search and Rescue Dog Handlers that participated in the effort to find his missing niece – Annie Schmidt and bring closure to his family. (https://goo.gl/5JL0ed) Senator Henderson sponsored a resolution honoring a true American hero and Utahn, Gail Halvorsen. The resolution read in part:

“during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949, Halvorsen, moved by the gratitude and resilience of the children living in that devastated city, dropped tiny handkerchief-sized parachutes filled with candy from his C-54 for the children of Berlin to chase down and collect — an act for which he was affectionately nicknamed the “candy bomber,” and, though he was nearly court-martialed for doing so, Halvorsen continued to make his candy drops for several months;”

“… almost 70 years later, Halvorsen’s service to the children of Berlin stands as one of the foremost examples of kindness and human compassion, bringing relief to a war-torn country and joy to children in need of a little bit of hope”

Overall, we have had a productive and busy week. While the media has focused on issues like the Bears Ears and Escalante Grand Staircase Resolutions, there have been many other issues and bills discussed by the legislature.

My concurrent resolution to recognize local snow removal crews is presently underway. On Jan. 13, 2017, Terry Jacobson, a UDOT snow removal crewman, suffered a collision by a semi that sent his plow truck crashing down a 300-foot embankment. Because of this, the Utah Legislature is moving quickly to highlight, as well as appreciate, the dangerous work our snow fighters undergo in order to provide safe roads and an improved quality of living. Snow removal crews have already driven over 2.7 million miles of road in the process of their work, often amidst the worst weather Utah has to offer. As the sponsor for this resolution, I am working to guarantee their labor does not go unnoticed. This resolution received enthusiastic reception in the Senate Committee recently, and will reach the Senate Floor this coming Friday.

This week, the House debated a resolution that calls on President Trump to overturn President Obama’s Bears Ears decision.  The resolution sharply criticizes President Obama for using the Antiquities Act—which was designed to help protect Native American structures and objects—to set aside 1.5 million acres of Utah land for environmental protection. Among other things, the resolution chides Obama for ignoring the wishes of the residents of San Juan County-many of whom are Native American. This resolution passed the House and will now be heard by the Senate.

We are beginning the process of pushing new bills in order to encourage rural economic development. I am in the early stages of creating an Outdoor Grant, which will ensure available funding for regional service centers for education providers throughout my district. Education has been a top concern to Utah according to recent local surveys, therefore I desire, by the end of this legislative session, that this appropriation request will bring more resources to our students and schools.

 

Further bill information is publicly available on our website le.utah.gov, where we provide live online streaming for each of our committees, Senate Floor discussions, and House Floor activities as well. Connect specifically with the Utah Senate for updates wherever you live on social media by visiting www.senatecloud.com. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and all sorts of other sites. Feel free to visit our new website for updates, articles, and information: www.senatesite.com.

You can connect to me personally online through my email at rokerlund@le.utah.gov, or by phone at (435) 979-7077.  If you would like to meet with me, you can reach out to my intern, Saren Winter, at (335) 441-0600 or via email at swinter@le.utah.gov.

You are welcome to join me at the Capitol any time this session – you would be a welcome guest.

As we dive further into the 2017 Legislative Session, I am mindful of the incredible sacrifices by so many which allow us to debate society’s ideas in a civilized, free fashion. It is an honor to represent you – my colleagues, friends, and neighbors – in such an arena.
 

Report from the Legislature
Strengthening education will be main goal for legislature

 

Ralph Okerlund

Senator District 24

2-2-2017

 

Amongst the many concerns and pressures felt by the legislators this General Session, our priority is this: By 2025, it is estimated that the entire civilian population in Utah will double, and the state government must prepare for that increase. One of the important ways to do so is through strengthening our state’s public education. Despite Utah being fifth in the nation for percentage of our state budget spent on education, we must improve funding for our teachers, our school programs, and our children. These kids are the future of Utah, and we must treat them as such. Among other preparations we will need to focus on, our eyes are on Utah’s water supplies, transportation, fuel and power, and pollution reduction.

 

There is also reasonable concern for the slow economic development of our rural communities. This legislative session, I am working to provide coordination opportunities between private and public entities to create job opportunities and overall economic stimulation. I desire that the people of rural Utah will have success in supporting their families and overall well-being through work opportunities and business growth.

 

We will be watching closely what happens with the new Trump administration this year. With his inauguration so fresh, we have yet to comprehend what relation this administration will have with Utah and its policies. Until then, your state legislatures will do all they can to respond to the needs of our communities, and pass laws to assist with our expanding state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kudos to Gunnison and Centerfield for unification of police departments

 

 

Gunnison City and Centerfield City have set a good example for the rest of the county with the finalization of their interlocal policing agreement, which effectively unifies their two police forces to create the Gunnison Valley Police Department (GVPD).

The Gunnison Valley is no stranger to cooperation. As Brett McCall, interim police chief for the new department, puts it, “We share everything under the Gunnison Valley umbrella. Schools, doctors, a fire department, veterinarians—you name it, we share it.”

The unified Gunnison Valley Fire Department and its accompanying $1.4 million fire station is model of valleywide cooperation, with every community, including unincorporated Axtell, helping pay off Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) bonds used to build the fire station.

As the Messenger covered development of the policing agreement, we witnessed the challenges elected officials faced and overcame. We saw the looks of frustration on the officials’ faces when things didn’t go smoothly.

Some of the officials, such former Gunnison  City police chief Blane Jensen, have been pushing for a unified force for nearly two decades. What matters now, though, is that the first round of unification has been achieved.

Jensen and McCall were directly involved in the drafting of the agreement, along with Gunnison City Attorney Mandy Larsen and Centerfield City Attorney Steve Styler.

The city council and mayors from both municipalities weighed in throughout the process, offering their opinions, advice and majority votes to move the agreement forward. Public hearings were held to gather feedback from residents of each community.

The officials did not falter when Mayfield residents voted not to participate (much to the chagrin of  Mayor John Christensen) because they preferred to save a few bucks in the short-term.

Just when everything looked like it was a done deal, a new variable surfaced when Gunnison City’ Police Chief Trent Halliday was diagnosed with cancer. (Another example of the Gunnison Valley spirit of cooperation can be found in our front page story about the Refuse-to- Lose, Trent-Halliday benefit.) In the face of uncertainty, the authors of the agreement kept moving forward.

Although the unification agreement has been approved by both the Gunnison and Centerfield city councils, there is a lot of work ahead.

That includes forming the GVPD governing board, adopting policies, selecting a chief, hiring new officers and, most importantly, maintaining the support of residents.

Looking out to the horizon, we hope that in time, the other communities in the valley will join in the operation. A single police force with an adequate number of officers policing the whole valley makes imminently more sense than a two-city force supplemented by sheriff’s deputies driving from Manti, or wherever they happen to be in the county when a call comes in.

Meanwhile, kudos to Blane Jensen, Brett McCall, the city attorneys and the two city councils for taking the vital first step. And best of luck to them in the work now in front of them.

Enough! Ephraim blight should not be tolerated

 

Ephraim City Council members, the city staff, and hopefully, a few people in other towns in Sanpete County, are starting to utter the “B” word.

That’s “B” for blight.

Until you admit you have it, you can’t do anything about it. Ephraim and Sanpete County are 100 miles from the densely populated Wasatch Front. But we have blight just like bigger cities do. And we’re often more inclined than those big cities to try to hide our eyes and ignore it.

So we commend the Ephraim City Council and city staff for acknowledging the blight that has been festering in the city for decades. We commend them for their strong stand that terrible looking properties that pose health and safety risks must be cleaned up.

The council and staff are right to prioritize the trailer park at 200 North and 200 West, and the abandoned motel at 330 N. Main St. Those properties stand out as examples of the level of blight we cannot tolerate.

Based on discussion in the last few council meetings, the trailer park is not fit for human occupancy. We understand the owner has drawn up the beginnings of a remediation plan. But we doubt the mess that currently exists can ever be transformed into a property that will be a credit to the city.

Rather, we urge the city to close the trailer court and to relocate the residents. We believe such an action is in the best interests of the owner, the residents and the city.

We acknowledge the need for the low-cost housing mobile homes provide. So we believe the optimum scenario would be for someone, ideally a private developer, but as a last resort the city itself, to buy the land and trailers, and clear the site.

That accomplished, a private developer could develop a model mobile home park, the kind of park rarely found in rural Utah, with proper utilities, a road system and appropriately spaced units.

Yes, it would be complicated. Yes, legal barriers would have to be surmounted. But it could be done.

Ditto the old motel. Based on the report from Sunrise Engineering, the firm consulting with Ephraim City on code enforcement, the building has no marketable value. It cannot be transformed at any reasonable cost into a structure meeting current building codes. It needs to come down.

The city has been “trying to get in contact” with and “negotiating” with at least two owners for at least 10 years. Enough. If the current owner does not clear the property fairly immediately, the city should move to condemn it. Common sense tells us the city would have no trouble getting a court to do that.

Once the motel is condemned, the city would have to bear the cost of demolishing it. Under an excellent policy approved by the Sanpete Landfill Cooperative Association, because removal of the motel is a beautification project, the city would be able to dump the refuse at no charge.

The city could then put a lien on the land for the cost of demolition. The motel site has a lot of potential. It would take time, but we believe the city would come out okay financially. And the city would come way out ahead aesthetically.

Once the trailer park and motel are taken care of, the Ephraim City Council has to set other priorities. Two other trailer parks need to be inspected. A couple of weeks ago, one of those parks was the site of a destructive fire. Because units in the park are too close together, a fire that started in one trailer quickly spread to the next home, destroyng both.

After that, city officials say, they plan to turn their attention to Main Street. As the city manager has pointed out, Main Street is the “gateway” to Ephraim. Yet an informal Sanpete Messenger survey found that 10 percent of the properties on the street have problems, ranging from having stood vacant for 20 years to curb strips that have gone to weed.

Tourists, potential Snow College faculty and business people considering investments get their first impressions of Ephraim, and often of Sanpete County as a whole, when they drive along Main Street for the first time. Those impressions could influence whether they do or don’t want to have a stake here.

Thank heaven Ephraim officials are no longer hiding from the “B” word. We commend them. We support them. At the same time, we urge them to get some visible things done quickly. People have heard enough talk. They need to see change.

Proposition 7 on Mt. Pleasant ballot has merit

 

A swimming pool is a great community resource, but it doesn’t pay for itself.

Leaders and citizens in Mt. Pleasant’s leadership have been working for 20 years to bring a swimming pool to their community. It’s finally going to happen. But now the community has come to a fork in the road in terms of aquatic center operations.

Proposition 7, a proposal on the election ballot, would add a 2.25 percent “local charge” to Mt. Pleasant electric bills and Questar natural gas bills charged within the city. If it passes, it would enable the center to operate year-round basis. Defeat of the proposition means the pool will be open in the summer only.

There’s another important consideration. If the pool stays open year-round so Wasatch Academy students can use it, the school has agreed to give the city $30,000 per year. The city wants to use money to make payments on a $1 million loan from Utah Community Impact Board for aquatic center construction.

If Proposition 7 fails, the pool won’t be able to stay open through the school year, and the Wasatch contribution will be lost.

The city council put Proposition 7 on the ballot so residents can decide for themselves if it’s worth shelling out cash to be able to enjoy a swimming pool year round.

In this case, the cash only adds up to an extra $1.67 per month on the average Mt. Pleasant electric bill and $1.80 per month on the average Questar natural gas bill, according to Monte Bona of the Aquatic Center Committee.

Is having an indoor swimming pool open and heated year round worth approximately $41.64 in extra fees on the utility bills? We sure think so.

Municipal swimming pools do not make profits. Look at Gunnison Valley’s pool. Because of the draw the pool was making on other city resources, the city had to close the doors, appoint a committee to study the operation in depth and bring in new management.

With a serious volunteer effort, and resourceful ideas from manager Kevin Havey, the city reopened the pool and is now working on adding a splash pad next to it.

If Mt. Pleasant wants an aquatic center that their citizens will value and patronize the  way Gunnison Valley does its pool, Mt. Pleasant is going to have to subsidize the operation.

Sure, the new aquatic center could operate during the warmer months only. But then a beautiful building with a heated pool would lay dormant and useless the remainder of the year. Think of all the months when senior citizens could engage in water therapy, high school swim teams could practice, and children could swim and dive to their hearts’ content.

Think of what your $41.64 per year could mean.

We think it’s a contribution worth making, because in making it, you’re making your city a better place.

 

 

Power of persistence will win  in the end on Narrows Project   

“Nothing is more powerful than persistence.”

And no group of people is a better example of that statement by Calvin Coolidge than citizens of Sanpete County, as represented by the Sanpete Water Conservancy District (SWDC).

In order to get the Narrows dam and reservoir constructed, Sanpete leaders have been meeting with officials, writing letters, conducting studies, signing agreements, defending a lawsuit, and paying taxes to pay for all those things, since 1933.

So when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, in response to a 520-page application for the final, final permit required to build the critical project, told us we need, in essence, to rewind and replay the Narrows tape, maybe we should have asked, “So what else is new?”

In civil society, when a business or government organization approves a project, or law or proposition, or says it will approve it, that means it’s a approved or will be approved. There might be a wrinkle or two between approval and implementation, but the approval still stands.

In 1966, the Army Corp released a report, with comments from other federal agencies, favoring the Narrows.

In 1995, after completing an environmental impact statement (EIS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the lead federal agency for water projects, issued a “record of decision” approving the project.

That’s when Carbon County interests went to court to stop the project. They claimed the EIS was deficient.

So in 1998 the BOR kicked out a new EIS. That same year, the Army Corp asked the SWDC some questions that the Corp apparently felt were had not be answered in the two EISs. The Sanpete people send a response, and the Army Corp replied with a letter saying the information provided “appears to be adequate.”

That’s where the train stopped.

Mind you, the BOR had approved the project. A rational person would assume that the approval still stood, or if approval was contingent on correcting the alleged deficiencies in the EIS, and the BOR had done that, the BOR would issue another record of decision.

Furthermore, one would assume that if the Army Corp had, in essence, given a high-five to the Narrows, as soon as the revised EIS was out, or, if needed, as soon as the BOR issued another record of decision, the Corp would have signed off on the project.

None of that happened, and in 2005, the ever-persistent leaders of the county and the SWCD stood on the shore of the potential 600-acre Narrows Reservoir and asked, “What is going on?”

Since then, the BOR has produced a third EIS (more than 200 pages) and issued a second record of decision.

Now the Army Corp is claiming Sanpete County has never made the case that the project is needed. Well, we’ve been making that case that water storage is needed for agriculture, industry and culinary use since 1933. Time and again, federal and state agencies have agreed that the need exists. But yes, we’ll explain it all again for the Corp.

The Army Corp claims Sanpete County hasn’t presented sufficient alternatives to building the Narrows. Again, about nine years ago, Sanpete and Carbon County interests cooperated in funding an independent, unbiased study of alternatives to the Narrows.

CH2MHill, a nationally known engineering firm, looked at 15 alternatives. It issued a 70-page study, which concluded that the Narrows project, as proposed, was the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to deliver 5,400 acre feet of water per year to Sanpete County. (Our rights to that water have been acknowledged again and again in signed agreements and by the courts.) Yes, we will get the ideas and information from the CH2MHill study to the Corp.

Finally, the Army Corp says the SWDC needs to do a supplemental EIS. That’ll be the fourth EIS on the project, not counting the 520-pages recently submitted to the Corp. But we’ll do it.

The branch director for the Army Corp of Engineers and a lead scientist in the Denver regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told Sanpete leaders in late July they are not trying to kill the Narrows and that they aren’t, per se, against new dams being built. We’ll take them at their word.

In the face of difficulty, Coolidge said,  “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” In that vein, Sanpete County will persist until the Narrows is finally, finally, approved and built.

This clock gives you a glimpse at how much time the governing bodies in Sanpete County’s municipalities spend in closed session. Click to expand image.