State cuts could help Grayson prison

-A A +A
By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — A plan released last month by Gov. Tim Kaine to close a $1.35 billion shortfall in the state budget may benefit the new prison under construction in Grayson County.

Earlier this year, state officials said Virginia's General Assembly did not include operating funds for the county's new prison in the fiscal year 2010 budget.

Virginia Department of Corrections Spokesman Larry Traylor told The Gazette that without further funding action, the opening date could be delayed — meaning nearly 350 jobs expected to come next year may have to wait.

Del. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) agreed, and noted that there was still a possibility of the funds being put in when the General Assembly reconvenes next January.

Now, Carrico believes that the most recent cuts by Kaine — which includes closing three correctional facilities in Virginia — could actually help Grayson's chances of receiving operating funds for next year.

"The cuts that were made are basically closing more of the older inefficient facilities to be able to fund some of the more economical newer facilities," Carrico told The Gazette.

He noted that when Virginia elects a new governor next month, there could be a "dramatic change" in the budget, depending on the outcome.

Carrico expects a briefing to be held when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year, in which legislators will be given an exact date that the Grayson prison is scheduled to be operable and ready for inmates to begin moving in — giving legislators a more certain time frame in which to appropriate the operating funds.

Like Carrico said before: "we don't just put money in a pot to leave it sitting... When we have a budget crisis, as we do now, we have to appropriate money accordingly."

More information will be known when the General Assembly reconvenes, but Carrico pledged to work hard on obtaining the money for the prison.

"I'll be working to make sure that the money gets focused upon [the Grayson facility] and hopefully get it appropriated for the operational costs as soon as the prison is scheduled to be up and running."

When the General Assembly reconvenes, legislators could amend the fiscal year 2010 budget (July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010), as well as make decisions about the next two-year budget cycle — fiscal year 2011-2012.

Earlier this year, Traylor also addressed rumors that recent state prison closures would result in more transfers of personnel and less locals hired for the Grayson prison.

"DOC seeks to hire locally," he told The Gazette. " It it to our benefit and that of the community for employees to be local."

The 252,088-square foot, $104.5 million state prison is being built just outside of Independence. The facility was expected to be a level 3, medium-security men's prison, with 1,038 general population beds and 20 segregated units. However, the DOC is considering upgrading the facility to a level 4 facility — which is still considered medium security.

Construction of the prison is expected to be complete early next summer.

The project was funded with $99 million in Virginia Public Building Authority funds, plus $1.5 million in general state funds. An additional $4 million in VPBA funds were appropriated for road construction.