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Feb 03 2011

Welcome Jodi Lougheed – new blogger for theXpress

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Lumby Prison Proposal: The Truth about Rural Prisons and the Real Issues

I have been following the editorials and the blogs in regards to the prison proposal. As well, I have done a lot of research and still feel there is a lack of information. Like many residents in the area, I have the same fears (warranted or not) about my children’s safety and how the feel of the town would change, especially with it being a small community. We have just settled into this wonderful community and I am concerned that a prison and the ensuing halfway houses will consume this town. I feel there is and will continue to be great opportunities for families and small business in this town. There has been many brilliant ideas presented recently and in the past, that if acted upon, would serve to enhance the existing culture here and foster sustainable economic growth. But, in my opinion, the prison proposal is not one of these ideas.

I have a great deal of business and professional experience in a wide variety of areas, but in truth that does not make my opinion more valid or less subjective than the next person’s. Realistically, it takes analysis based on empirical evidence to really get some people off the fence on issues like this. Lots of studies have been done on the effects of prisons in large urban communities. Data on the effects in small rural towns has just recently been available as most prisons in rural areas were built since 1985 with the promise of great returns for the rural host community.

Recent studies have shown that prisons typically do not help small communities. These studies by scholars and researchers such as Ryan S. King, Marc Mauer, Tracy Huling, Terry Besser, Dexter Whitfield and many more, have repeatedly come to the same conclusions:

– Few prison staff reside locally, they do not reside in the prison town or county thus reducing any positive impact on the local economy. Local Residents are often ineligible for employment due to union requirements or lack of necessary skills.

– The effect of prisons on rural communities in National studies and research projects reveal that the effect on local economies was significantly less than that claimed, and in most cases had negative impacts.

– The location of prisons in rural areas has also led to environmental issues caused by pressure on water and wastewater infrastructure, thus resulting in no tax relief for the local residents and a myriad of other issues for our children to deal with.

– Stigmatism, reduced attractiveness to future business and the failure of prisons to generate linkages into the local economy further minimizes the possibility for positive impacts .

– In addition, small, rural “prison towns” experience less growth than non-prison towns and have a greater increase in unemployment, poverty, and percent minorities. This also results in a general decrease in property values in the area as there is not the expected increase in housing demand experienced by major urban centres that house prisons.

Terry Besser, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, has studied the economic impact of prisons on rural towns.

“Unfortunately my research showed that there not benefits,” she said, “and there were negative consequences.”

As quoted from Dexter Whitfield (Economic Impact of Prisons in Rural Areas – A Review of the Issues):

“It was widely believed that prisons had positive effects on local economies with no negative effects on property values, public safety or the quality of life. One study concluded that there was a gap between the perception of the economic benefits and reality … Washington State University undertook a national analysis to examine the impact of new prisons on the pace of growth. For nonmetropolitan counties—the counties in which the majority of prisons have been built and counties that have competed to attract in order to boost local growth – there is no evidence that prisons have provided a boost. Neither established nor newly built prisons made a significant contribution to employment growth in rural counties (Hooks et al, 2004). Among slow-growing counties, the effect of established prisons failed to attain statistical significance in any panel. Among these slow-growing counties, it appears that new prisons do more harm than good.”

Well there are some scary facts. Also worthy of noting:

In comparing this prison to facilities in other areas, one must keep in mind key differences. Drumheller (pop. 7932 with trading area pop. over 40000) is not only 4 times the size of Lumby, but home to the renowned “world’s largest dinosaur museum” which will attract visitors regardless of what goes on in the town.

Grand Cache (pop. 4200) is more than double the size of Lumby. Although it is in a beautiful area of the northern Alberta Rockies (and it is very northern), it does not have the appealing climate that entices families and retirees to live there, nor the vast numbers of year round tourists that flood the North Okanagan, all which leads to local services and products being needed, therefore a prison for their community was a reasonable choice for them. Also, note, Grande Cache is 146 km from Grande Prarie and 149 km from Hinton. There is literally nowhere else for prison staff to live and contribute economically unless they choose to commute 2.5 hrs one way to either town. In this scenario, common sense would follow that a prison proposal would be good in a situation like this, as isolated location dictates and increase in local housing demand and consumption of local goods and services. Readers should be aware that the population in Grand Cache dropped from 4624 to 3646 between the time the prison was announced and the time it opened and the population has not completely recovered.

Lumby, from my understanding, has been doing well economically (growing at about 3% per year ) and revenue increased 30% between 2006 and 2009. This is actually quite impressive during a nationwide recessionary period for a town of this size. The real problem is not a lack of revenue, but excessive municipal spending and no accountability. In the BC Municipal Spending Watch by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Lumby’s Operating Expenditure Growth (Munc. Spending) has increased by 141.5% between 2000 and 2008, in comparison to Enderby at 3.45% and Armstrong at 56.20%. Population and Inflation growth has been about 19.5% in both Lumby and Armstrong, and 14.75% in Enderby. What this means is that there is huge fiscal sustainability problem in Lumby. Lumby’s municipal spending has increased approx. 7.5 times faster than the revenue base even though Lumby has experienced growth. In comparison to other municipalities with populations of 5000 or less in BC Lumby ranks up there in the top 10 with sustainability issues. There may be extenuating circumstances that warrant higher spending increases or the like in communities with declining populations, but, in general, operating spending increases should be in line with population and inflation and should adequately accommodate growth pressures.

Failure to control operating expenditures, which is the real issue, will mean tax and user fee hikes for small business and other taxpayers for many years to come. This is a wake-up call to taxpayers. It’s time for more accountability from our municipal government regardless of whether a prison going in or not! The key point is that people in favour of the prison believe it will put the town economy back on the right track, but even it was a positive economic move for our community, a prison will not correct the underlying municipal expenditure issues. The budget has to be resolved first.

I owned and operated an 80 site, year-round mobile home park (approx. 250 residents) for almost 20 years including accounting, rent and tax collection, operation and maintenance of wells, monitoring, drinking water and waste water treatment systems, roads, lighting, common areas and community issues. This community is much smaller than most towns, but the operating principles are the same. Every decision must be weighed using a “value to cost” approach to keep the community (which is a business) functioning in successful manner. This does entail occasional capital expenditures that are in excess of current cash available which must be amortized over a period of time and accounted for, but this must be balanced out in the short term and long term budgeting.

It is a good thing most of us home and business owners don’t handle our financial affairs like governments tend to – we would all be bankrupt. But then again, it easily happens in all levels and types of organizations. It is something that seems to be inherent in using money that is not your own or that you don’t personally owe to the bank.

I really hope people read this and get a chance to do more research of their own. I have seen so many different opinions and worries voiced by concerned citizens and each comment sheds a new light on this subject. As a Real Estate Broker in real estate 14 years, a business owner, an Environmental Engineering Technologist and last, but not least, a mother, I hope my experience, in addition to some of this research, is of value in helping clarify some of the issues surrounding this prison proposal.

I truly do not think this prison would benefit Lumby in the long term and I believe people have a right to make decisions based on full disclosure of all the relevant facts. Just as large business decisions or real estate transactions can affect a person’s life, this decision will affect the life of an entire community.

I encourage everyone to voice their opinions. It really does count.

Make the Most of It!

Jodi Lougheed

1 comment

  1. dan

    Great letter. Keep putting out this kind of stuff citing hard economic and demographic data, and people will be convinced and Lumby will not become a prison town. Decide that as a people, Lumby controls what happens in Lumby not any external body.

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