By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer
CLINTON — The future of the Thomson, Ill., correctional facility still hangs in the balance, but legislators are looking ahead after the United States government approved the federal budget for 2014.
President Barack Obama pushed to provide more than $166 million worth of funding in the federal budget to activate the prison. With approval from Congress, the full activation of the prison is expected to take two years at a cost of $25 million in fiscal year 2014 for upgrades and renovations and $168 million in fiscal year 2015 for equipment and staffing.
Very little has been done in preparation to open the Thomson prison since being purchased by the U.S. government in October 2012, but state legislators are still keeping a positive attitude toward the future of opening the prison.
In April, the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred two staff members to the Illinois prison to begin preparations to open, but since then there have been no local employment opportunities advertised.
The federal government’s operation of Thomson’s prison is expected to create more than 1,100 jobs and have an economic impact on Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties, and the city of Clinton.
Although progress on the opening of the prison has reached a standstill, city officials in Fulton, Ill., have been working the past year to prepare the community for when the major economic development is activated. The city received an economic assessment in preparation for the prison’s opening that suggested the city offer incentives to potential businesses.
Fulton leaders took that advice and began preparing for economic growth in the river city, but so far haven’t seen any reciprocation from the federal government and the Thomson prison.
Action on the prison would mean a major economic boost to not only the village of Thomson but all of the surrounding area, but it is something residents have been told before and they remain skeptical about the future of the federal facility.
With the signing of the federal budget for 2014, funding will be available to activate the prison. Annual operation of the facility is expected to generate more than $122 million in operating expenditures including salaries, $19 million in labor income and $61 million in local business sales.
If the prison is activated, it will be the first time the facility has housed any inmates since 2010 and will be the first time it has been fully functional since its construction in 2001.