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Little shock for Swift County over Appleton prison taxes

BENSON -- The upcoming closure of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton will have financial implications for Swift County.

This week the county received notice from prison owner Corrections Corporation of America that it had filed a tax appeal, claiming the property valuations and taxes due were too high.

The appeal has become a normal practice since a 2003 out-of-court settlement between the county and Corrections Corporation of America.

"It's not a surprise. We knew it was coming," said County Auditor Byron Giese.

Every three years the county negotiates with the corporation, and they usually reach a three-year settlement, he said.

The expected closure of the prison facility next month won't change the negotiation process, but the final agreement could affect the county's tax base.

"It's going to affect us, big time," said Giese, adding that the county has retained the same attorney, Larry Harris, who negotiated the settlement for the two previous agreements.

Whether the value of the facility will decrease once the prisoners have been moved out is "something that will have to be negotiated," said Giese.

The county is slowly starting to realize other areas, like its solid waste facility, that will be affected once the prison closes.

The county facility, located in Benson, currently receives 7 tons to 8 tons of garbage a week from the prison, generating about $560 a week in revenue.

When that waste stream ends, the county could lose $29,000 in annual revenue.

Giese said the financial impact of the prison on the county's finances are far-reaching. "There's things we haven't even thought of yet," he said.

Meanwhile, the county said it fielded a request from Wal-Mart inquiring if Swift County would take food waste from Super Wal-Marts. Giese said they have very little information at this point regarding the number of stores or where they're located, but the county responded that they were interested.

Swift County is one of six plants in the state that uses composting to manage its municipal waste.

In other action this week, Commissioner Richard Hanson was elected to serve a second term as chairman of the board.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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