February 12, 2016

Standish prison ordered to be closed, city shaken

John Fischer
The SMF sign
By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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STANDISH — Today the city of Standish lost its largest employer and source of utilities revenue when word was handed down from the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) that the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility (SMF), which opened in 1990, will be closed before the end of fiscal year 2009.

The announcement is bleak for the Standish area, as 350 employees at the prison will be out of a job in the area per MDOC reorganization, which calls for the elimination of 1,000 corrections positions and 6,400 prison beds.

“Standish looked to that facility to stabilize a shaky economy in the late '80s after losing a significant employer, Riverside Products, that employed 4-500 people,” said Arenac County Clerk Ricky Rockwell.

For the government of Standish, the challenges presented are humongous.

According to city manager Mike Moran, the prison accounted for 45 percent of the city’s annual sewer and water revenue, paying $420,000 in water and sewer payments per year out of an approximate total of $914,000 collected every 12 months. In city sewer/water debt, Moran says the city will lose $1,400,000 in payments after the loss of SMF.

“There’s a lot of things we’ll have to research here,” he said. “We’re still feeling stunned. … We’re feeling pretty down right now.”

"How do you close a prison that is probably one of the newest in the state?" said Standish Mayor Kevin King. "I'm kind of in shock right now."

King added that he received no previous information regarding the closing, and only found out as media outlets approached him for interviews.

"When you take people's jobs away, they're leaving the state," he said.

Arenac County Clerk Rick Rockwell says not all employees of SMF will lose corrections positions altogether, since he says the corrections union is strong and senior employees will have the chance to be transferred to other facilities, but the chance that they’ll continue to live in the area isn’t promising.

“They’re going to follow their jobs, they’ve got to,” Rockwell said. “These are career people.”

The county, Rockwell added, will suffer from the closure financially, since a contract set up with the prison to provide meals to Arenac County Jail inmates was established a few years ago, but now the responsibility to provide meals for county inmates falls back into the lap of the county. He says the agreement cost about $50,000 per year, but prior to the agreement, the cost was about double to feed inmates.

“We’re going to have to figure out a system that meets state requirements to feed our prisoners (county jail inmates),” he said. “I do not believe that we’ll be able to contract with the private sector to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week for $4 per person per day.

“The city is having the bomb dropped on them and the county is going to get the ripple effect.”

“Our local economy will really suffer,” Moran said, adding gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses will take a hit. “All these things will feel the impact.”

Lincoln Township was also receiving state revenue payments from the state for housing a prison, but will no longer receive the approximately $13,000 that was paid to the municipality annually in six payments, Rockwell says.

According to a MDOC press release forwarded to the Independent from SMF, the closing of SMF is part of a reorganization that expects to reduce prison spending by $120 million in the state's 2010 fiscal year budget, which begins in October of this year.

Five MDOC Camps and two other prisons will also close up shop for good as part of the reorganization.

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