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Commissioners roll the dice on CCA property

by Larry Patrick
HUERFANO — The Huerfano County Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a proposal from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) on their property valuation for the Walsenburg facility that has been closed for nearly two years. CCA asked that the facility be assessed at 19 million dollars for 2011 and drop down to 15 million for 2012, 2013 and 2014 versus the current county assessment of just over 30 million dollars. Under the agreement, CCA would also continue to provide $40,000 per year to the prison community fund. Monies from that fund are used to pay the utilities for the Fox Theater, and assist other community groups with donations.
CCA is currently appealing to the State Board of Equalization to lower their assessment to 12 million dollars. By agreeing to the CCA offer, the county is assured of receiving the higher offer plus keeping the community fund money coming in.
County Attorney Garrett Sheldon advised the commissioners not to accept the four year agreement because he doesn’t consider it legal. However, Crowley County accepted a similar agreement two years ago on their facility and there have been no challenges. The Huerfano County Assessor could challenge it along with incoming county commissioners.
Commissioner Scott King said lowering the valuation may help CCA to lower their prices to attract states to send prisoners here to get the facility reopened. King said, “If we don’t take their deal, we could lose more.”
Commissioner Art Bobian said with this economy, it doesn’t appear the CCA facility will get reopened within the next two to three years. CCA has two other prisons that are currently closed, one in Minnesota, the other in Oklahoma. Bobian said a private prison sold recently in Texas for only six million dollars, so he felt accepting the CCA offer was in the best interest of the county.
In other business, Orlando Martinez and Simon Sierra were recognized for their 17 years of service to Huerfano County. Both are retiring.
The Black Hills Energy Wind Farm has been given approval by the Colorado Department of Transportation to put in a turn lane on Hwy. 10 near the wind turbines site.