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2 years to open prison?

Obama budget includes $165 million for prison

THOMSON – Federal officials have been reluctant to say when Thomson prison would open.

On Wednesday, however, two Illinois lawmakers said the activation process for the new federal prison would take 2 years.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, announced in a news release that President Barack Obama included money in his proposed budget to open Thomson.

The full activation of the prison is expected to take 2 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, the lawmakers said.

The president’s budget still must undergo a contentious process, so northwestern Illinois has no assurance that Congress will approve the money. Residents in Thomson, a Carroll County village along the Mississippi River, have been hearing promises for years.

Durbin’s spokeswoman, Christina Mulka, noted that the senator sits on the Appropriations Committee.

“He will be right in the mix and fighting for as much funding as possible,” she said.

In the release, Bustos said the Thomson prison not only would alleviate overcrowding in the federal prison system, “but it would also be an economic shot in the arm to a region that continues to struggle with high unemployment.”

More than a decade ago, the state built the prison, then decided it couldn’t afford to run it. A buyer had been sought for years.

Last October, Obama bypassed Congress and designated money to buy the prison for $165 milion.

Officials say it will employ 1,100 people and have $200 million in annual economic impact.

Thomson is the biggest beneficiary of the prison, but because the village, population 590, is so small, an overwhelming majority of employees will live elsewhere.

Fulton, 8 miles south of Thomson, hopes about 100 to 150 employees settle there. The town has hired a consulting firm to prepare for the Thomson effect.

Morrison is 17 miles away, and officials there have said their community could benefit as well.

Morrison Mayor-elect Everett Pannier said the chamber of commerce and city are working to get ready for new residents.

“I think all of the surrounding communities will benefit,” Pannier said. “We’re only 17 miles away. We have to market ourselves – our parks, schools, churches, homes.”

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