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Appeal likely on valuation of Appleton prison

BENSON -- A $20 million difference of opinion in the market value of a privately owned prison in Appleton could end up in court.

The Swift County assessor set the 2009 value of the property at $42.9 million.

A representative of the Corrections Corporation of America told the Swift County Board of Appeal and Equalization on Tuesday the property should be valued at $23.7 million.

The board, which is comprised of the members of the regular Board of Commissioners, denied a request to lower the property values.

That will likely result in the prison filing a court appeal, said Auditor Byron Giese.

Once that happens, then the county and prison officials can begin a negotiation process that will hopefully result in a value that all parties can agree to.

If the two entities can't agree on a number, "then we spend a whole bunch on money of attorneys and appraisers," said Giese, and the case will be decided by a judge.

Unlike residential property values that are set each year, Swift County and the prison have agreed to go through the complicated process every three years to establish a three-year schedule for the valuations.

During the last round in 2006, the prison filed an appeal in court and then the two sides negotiated an agreement, said Giese. The county spent about $5,000 in legal fees.

The commissioners are hoping a similar smooth scenario takes place this time.

In 2003, a different approach was used. At that time, each entity hired appraisers and attorneys and negotiated an agreement without court intervention.

Ironically, that method cost the county about $125,000 in legal fees.

Giese said it's actually easier to negotiate an agreement once an appeal has been filed in court, than doing it outside the boundaries of the court. Also, he said, when an agreement is negotiated during a court appeal, the settlement is binding.

In 2006 the property value of the prison was set at $24 million. In 2007 it was $28 million and in 2008 it was set at $32 million.

Although prison populations are decreasing and the prison is currently at 55 percent capacity, during the last three years it's been at about 98 percent capacity, said Giese. That historical data was used to determine the 2009 rate.

In other action from the regular meeting, Swift County is working with a dozen area county sheriff's departments and police departments to seek a "Justice Assistance Grant" that would allow sharing of police records between counties.

The records consolidation would give law enforcement additional information about a person's criminal history in other counties when they stop that person for an infraction in their county.

"It's going to make it very helpful for the guys in the field, knowing who they're actually dealing with," said Swift County Chief Deputy Sheriff John Holtz.

Besides Swift County, other counties that would tie in with the system include Chippewa, Stevens, Yellow Medicine, Lac qui Parle, Kandiyohi, Pope, Traverse, Wilkin, Big Stone and Renville counties, and the Upper Sioux Community.

The grant would help cover the cost of new computer equipment in squad cars, said Holtz.

If they aren't awarded the grant this year, an application will be made again next year.