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9:57 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

PV council balks at authorizing phone survey on private prison

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Town Council members Thursday indicated it is premature to hire a research company to poll residents on whether they would support or oppose a private prison.

Councilwoman Patty Lasker suggested waiting until the state Joint Legislative Budget Committee releases the request for proposals to recruit operators for private prisons.

In a similar vein, Vice Mayor Lora Lee Nye suggested waiting until Corrections Corporation of America, which is eying a site off Fain Road, conducts an educational meeting.

Nye, Lasker and the five other members of the council responded to a recommendation from Town Manager Larry Tarkowski to hire WestGroup Research of Phoenix for $9,000 to poll 800 residents. Tarkowski had planned to bring the matter for a council decision this coming Thursday.

Tarkowski had proposed asking respondents whether they would favor a private prison coming to Prescott Valley and whether the town should pay for infrastructure to accommodate the prison. The third question asks the age range of the person taking the phone call.

The council made the "right decision," Gary Marks, executive director of the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation, said after the discussion. "I don't think they want to do anything hasty."

The foundation backs the proposed prison from Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA on the grounds that it would create jobs.

Prison opponent Tom Steele, a former councilman, criticized the council afterward.

"I get a kick out of this 'education,'" Steele said. "What they are talking about is CCA's sales presentation."

CCA officials are gaining support from the business community by touting jobs and other benefits that would come from operating a prison with a maximum of 5,000 inmates. However, CCA officials are considering additional sites for the proposed prison, including expanding their existing prisons in Florence and Eloy in Pinal County.

Councilwoman Fran Schumacher began the discussion in the work/study meeting by asking, "Why would we have the survey before we have the RFP?"

Referring to the number of people to be polled, Schumacher said, "I believe I've got more than 800 responses on my Blackberry."

Agreeing with Schumacher, Lasker said, "We don't have anything without that (RFP). The state is just wondering if maybe they are going to issue an RFP."

She described hiring the polling company as being "very premature at this stage."

Disagreeing, Tarkowski said, "I would like to know if this community is supportive of this (prison) industry."

If the survey indicates support, Marks can proceed with recruiting CCA, Tarkowski said.

Nye said, "I don't want to rush into this survey. I want to have facts."

Agreeing, Councilman Harold Wise said, "I think it needs to be done down the road. At this point I would like to see it tabled."

Nye said constituents who have contacted her are 3 to 1 against the prison.

Tarkowski said the poll would bring "the science of survey" to the issue, adding, "I am less concerned with the RFP."

The RFP is not a concern for Councilman Rick Anderson, who commented, "My problem right now is I read a lot of misinformation from both sides of the issue."

More information could be available this coming Thursday when Elliott Pollack, an economist hired by the foundation, makes a presentation on the economic effects of prisons.