HUNTER — Tensions flew at the Town Board’s special informational meeting Thursday where residents were invited to ask questions about the county jail project Thursday evening and it was announced that the planned jail may not be big enough.
The proposed county jail’s bed size was reduced to 80 when the jail bond was passed Sept. 19.
“The 80 beds are divided by gender,” Groden said. “There are two male pods with 32 beds each and one female pod with 16 each.”
The state Commission of Corrections has expressed concern that the jail will not have enough female cells and the plans may need to be adjusted, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said.
“We will get CoC’s recommendations back on the (November) 20th,” he added.
Groden gave a presentation during the meeting at the Mountaintop Library, followed by public question-and-answer session on the project. The session began with a curt encounter regarding the planned county jail between Groden and County Treasurer candidate Tannersville Mayor Dr. Lee McGunnigle.
“Let’s gamble low,” McGunnigle said. “Don’t burden Greene County taxpayers.”
“That was a nice political ad,” Groden replied.
The audience demanded that Groden apologize to McGunnigle.
Groden obliged and the officials shook hands.
Tension continued to build when Groden refused to take questions from resident Scott Myers.
“I’m not taking any questions from you,” he said. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
Town Supervisor Daryl Legg gave Myers an opportunity to address his concerns despite Groden refusing to speak with him.
Myers felt the real issue at hand with the old jail was the management, he said.
“We haven’t changed our fundamental approach to our local justice system,” he said.
Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, recommended the county look into sharing a jail with Albany County.
“Sheriff Craig Apple has made it clear to me he would be interested in having a regional jail,” she said.
Both Torgersen and former Public Defender Greg Lubow criticized Groden for defending the a study of jail size.
Myers took the floor during the session after Groden would not take questions from him.
“The study wasn’t just outdated,” he said. “It was fraudulent. They were fired halfway through their contract.”
Lubow wanted to know why the bed count had come down for the proposed Greene County Jail, he said.
“If it weren’t for the people in this room, we would have a 134-bed jail and a $51 million bond.”
“The 80 beds was a compromise to get a project,” Groden replied.
Jay Lesenge, of Catskill, wanted to know the total construction cost for the jail.
Groden estimated it would be $70 million, not including operating costs, he said.
The cost to board the inmates, he said, was $1.5 million.
“So, we have $70 million versus $45 million — that’s almost twice as much,” Lesenger said.
“We can’t board them forever,” Groden said. “The CoC says it’s not a permanent option to send inmates to another county.”
Legislator Larry Gardner D-Hunter agreed.
“There is no future in boarding out,” he said. “The state is not going to let us board for 30 years.”
Phoebe Potter, of West Kill, voiced her support for the shared jail with Columbia County.
“The cost would be driven by inmate population, not operating this massive infrastructure.”
Torgersen felt the meeting fell short of its goals, she said.
“I think the goal was to clear up misconceptions,” she said. “I don’t think you [Groden] did that...You clearly have a bias.”
Groden’s presentation looked at a variety of concerns that have been raised throughout the jail debate, including the Columbia County shared-jail option, other potential sites, the legality of a county jail, bed count, increased taxes, upgrade costs for the new jai, alternatives-to-incarceration options, the jail study and inmate inventory.
“If Columbia County wanted to build a new regional, co-owned jail, I’d be all for it,” Groden said.
The cost to build the necessary addition on to the Columbia County Jail to house another 40-60 cells would be $15 million, of which Greene County would have to pay $7.5 million, Groden said.
“I wouldn’t want to put an addition on a 37-year-old building,” he said.
The county would also have to pay 42-48 percent of the operational costs, or whatever the ratio of Greene County to Columbia County inmates is, he said.
“Their current budget is $6.5 million so that would be $3 million a year.”
The estimated operating costs is $5 million, Groden said.
Groden also expressed concern over increased costs in transportation to get detainees to the jail and to court dates at the Columbia County location.
“As far as the legal issue goes, I think it’s a matter of opinion,” Groden said. “I think it [the jail] has to stay in the county.”
Groden affirmed that property taxes would not increase significantly.
“Taxes will not be going up 25 percent,” he said. “The 2019 budget is within the state Tax Cap and the budgets for 2020 and 2021 are also projected to be within the tax cap.”
The tax cap limits property taxe hikes to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. In 2019, the limit is set at 2 percent.
After the meeting, Torgersen spoke about her views on the jail situation.
“I’m disappointed with the county and Legislature,” she said. “If we really value educating the engaging the public, we would have taken the opportunity to be fact- and evidence-based.”
PLANNED JAIL MAY NEED MORE SPACE FOR WOMEN