CATSKILL — Greene County sheriff candidate Diana Benoit addressed the Legislature Wednesday night regarding the future of the former county jail and the size and location of the new facility. Benoit was asked to speak by the Greene County Taxpayers Association on the association's behalf.
Benoit recently joined forces with Catskill resident Cassidy Bua. Bua, along with a group of investors, expressed interest in purchasing the old jail at 80 Bridge St., Catskill, and repurposing the building. Sale of the property has to be approved by the county Legislature, Deputy Administrator Warren Hart said.
The county has reserved $500,000 to demolish the old jail and the former sheriff’s office, which moved to Coxsackie. A historic carriage house nearby will remain intact.
“Our positions align,” Benoit said Thursday, referring to the Greene County Taxpayers Association. “We do need a jail in Greene County but it needs to be scaled back from what it is now and it should be in Catskill.”
Given the state criminal justice reforms that will go into effect in January, including the elimination of cash bail, the size of the jail is too large, Benoit said.
The county reduced the size to 48 beds after the reforms, which is expected to drop the price tag by $3.5 million.
Benoit, a former state police investigator, is challenging Peter Kusminsky, another retired state police investigator, in Tuesday’s primary for the Republican nomination to run for sheriff.
Kusminsky said Thursday the size of the jail is appropriate.
“Forty-eight beds actually translates to one male pod with 32 cells,” he said. “Commission of Corrections requires 10% be open. You need one or two medical and one or two for one-on-one observation, which would put us in the 26 range.”
Moving the jail from Catskill to Coxsackie does not make sense, Benoit said.
“A majority of the people we will be housing there will need to go to county court,” she said. “It makes sense to keep it in Catskill. We are going to incur greater transportation costs.”
Benoit asked lawmakers to reconsider siting of the jail and look for a suitable site in Catskill.
The board did not respond to the request.
County Administrator Shaun Groden said Wednesday groundbreaking in Coxsackie is likely late next week.
Kusminsky said he agreed that a more central location such as Catskill or Cairo would have been preferred, but he understands the county’s decision.
“The county was given the property next to the two state facilities where there would be no issues of a correctional facility being located in a residential or commercial area,” Kusminsky said.
Only about 30% of the transports go to county court, Kusminsky said.
The county had considered several alternative sites for a new jail. One possibility was an unfinished subdivision behind Save A Lot in Coxsackie.
“It was determined that it was the last developable piece of property that could come onto the village tax roll,” Groden said. “We did not want to take away that final frontier from the community.”
The county also considered building the jail near the 911 center or the mental health building in Cairo, Groden said, but the configuration of the land was not right.
To save the old facility, Benoit said it would be beneficial.
“If we sell the building, we save $500,000, we have the potential to make money from the sale and we preserve history,” she said.
The jail opened in 1905.
Kusminsky said he would not object to saving the building as long as it does not become a burden for taxpayers.
Meg Nowack, with Historic Catskill, emphasized the historical significance of the property to the Legislature.
“The East side of the village is a nationally registered historic area,” Nowack said Thursday. “That is nothing to sneeze that.”
In addition to getting permission from the state Historic Preservation Office, demolition plans must be reviewed by the village planning board, she said.
When the buildings were constructed, people were relying on horse power, Nowack said.
“To ignore that legacy is irresponsible in a sense and it’s really sad,” she said. “They worked really hard to build those buildings and we’re just going to ignore that. It’s disrespectful.”
The village’s historical assets have decreased over time, Nowack said.
“To take another one down seems backwards to me,” Nowack said.
The county does not have firm plans for the property at this time.
Bua’s group wants to turn the building into a criminal justice museum for research opportunities and vocational training.
“We want people to get vocational training and get help so they don’t end up in the jail system,” Bua said.
Greene County Taxpayers Association President Wayne Sheridan hopes to bring in the Catholic Worker Movement to provide a safe space for recovering addicts, the homeless and people in need of transitional housing, he said.
Sheridan said he supports the idea of a museum.
“It would be dedicated to law enforcement and could date back to the 17th century,” he said. “It would be a great tourist attraction.”
This type of museum is not unheard of, Sheridan said.Hudson has a museum dedicated to firefighting.
Catskill Village Trustee Joseph Kozloski supports the idea of the county selling the property, he said.
“I would like to see it sold to a person who is going to bring the property back on the tax rolls,” he said. “It would be a win for the village, a win for the town and a win for the county.”
The village has more than 100 tax-exempt properties, Kozloski said.
“Taxpayers are footing the bill,” he said.
The proposal may resurface at a Public Safety Committee meeting, Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said Thursday.
“We have not discussed as a group to do anything but demolish it yet,” he said.
Public Safety Committee Chairman William Lawrence, R-Cairo, or Linger have the authority to add the topic to the agenda. The next Public Safety Committee meeting is July 8.