WALSENBURG — With the closure of the town's second-largest employer approaching, town officials are preparing to deal with the loss of almost 200 jobs in an already struggling economy.
Corrections Corporation of America, which owns and operates the Huerfano County Correctional Center, announced in January that it will close the prison in April. Officials at the private prison company said this week that the prison officially will close April 2.
The upcoming closure has cast a pall over the town. Citizens in this community of more than 4,000 already are feeling the pain. The impending prison closure and a prior budget shortfall have forced the town to lay off 10 people with another four layoffs possibly to come.
"The prison closing and the (loss of) revenue derived from it has added to the burden of an already stressed budget," said Mayor Bruce Quintana.
"All departments have been affected. I believe that this (town) council is acting to right the ship. It's a difficult job, laying off people in a small community, because many of these people are our friends," Quintana said.
City Administrator Alan Hein said the town could lose between $250,000 and $300,000 from lost utility sales to the prison, concessions and sales taxes.
Hein said the budget already was short $300,000 before the closure was announced.
"We have to restructure our operations to try and accommodate this loss. It's pretty serious when you drop that much on your revenue side in a budget the size that we have," Hein said.
Hein said he hopes the layoffs will help take care of the original shortfall.
"I am just not sure. There are a lot of variables here.
"The worst-case scenario is that we would have to lay off four more people," Hein said.
Hein said there will be minimal cuts to the police department.
"We are actually restructuring the whole department and trying to make it more efficient. We are reevaluating the way the department does business and trying to save money," Hein said.
The town had been in discussions to merge the police department with the Huerfano County Sheriff's Department, but the issue was tabled by the town council last month, Hein said.
"The council has decided not to discard the proposal, but to put it on the back burner and see if we can do some adjustments within our organization," Hein said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other state officials are phasing out all out-of-state beds, including the use of the Huerfano County prison, where 700 Arizona inmates are housed. The contract with CCA is set to expire Tuesday.
Allan Cramer, a spokesman for the Huerfano County prison, said inmates will begin leaving Colorado next week by bus and plane.
"The last ones will be gone by March 22," Cramer said.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Monday, March 08, 2010