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Panel comes up with ideas for future of Wyatt

April 26, 2012

PROVIDENCE — Putting Central Falls’ Wyatt Detention Facility up for sale to a private owner is one of the recommendations in the final report of a Joint Legislative Commission headed by Sen. Elizabeth Crowley.
The commission was formed last year to address the federal jail’s financial woes, which because it stopped making scheduled payments of more than $500,000 annually to the host community, aggravated Central Falls’ already rickety financial condition and contributed to its slide into bankruptcy. It finished its work Wednesday when members endorsed the final report.
Other recommendations in the report include:
n That the Wyatt Board of Directors conduct a forensic audit, focusing on the years preceding 2010, a time during which the panel believes there is “evidence of prior mismanagement.” The potential benefits of such an audit, and the possibility of recovering some of the misspent money would “far outweigh” the cost, the report states.
n That the board also investigate the “subpar work” on the 2005 expansion of the facility and see if proceeds from the performance bond taken out on the project could cover the estimated $2 million in necessary repairs.
n The board should work with the state Department of Revenue to investigate the possibility of refinancing the 2005 bond issue that paid for the expansion. Payments to the current bondholders is using up money that could be used to operate the facility and make payments to the city. Commissioners believe state involvement could achieve a more attractive interest rate.
n If none of those recommendations are seriously considered or pursued by the board, then “consideration should be given to developing a formal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city.”
The board says its recommendations “are intended to help provide a sustainable revenue stream for the city, while fulfilling bondholder obligations and adequately supporting the operations and infrastructure at the facility.
Asked about what the commission has accomplished, Crowley, whose district covers Central Falls and part of Pawtucket, said one tangible achievement is that they established that property across the street from the jail, which is leased from a private owner is not tax-exempt as it has been treated by the city. “The city will get at least $40,000 annually and $40,000 will pay for an employee, that’s the way I look at it.
“I think the board will follow some of the recommendations,” Crowley told The Times. “I think that they will look at the possibility of a forensic audit and if they find there has been misfeasance or malfeasance they will pursue that, because they know it is in the best interest of the city. That’s what the board should be doing; they should be doing what is in the best interest of the city.”
The Wyatt bondholders last month rejected a request by the board that it be allowed to resume making impact fee payments to Central Falls. They insisted on receiving $8.8 million in debt service payments and that the facility’s reserve fund be replenished before impact fees could resume.
While it is too late to change the rules for Central Falls and Wyatt, commission members said that any such future private-public development project specify a PILOT for the host community.
West Warwick Rep. Patricia Morgan said while the original Wyatt jail was a workable facility, the 2005 expansion than nearly tripled its size was too much and can not now be sustained.
The facility took a hit when the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency stopped sending detainees there after the 2008 death of Jason Ng amid reports of neglect and mistreatment. After he made many complaints to prison officials, Ng was found to have cancer and a fractured spine. The matter is still in litigation.

 

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