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It’s all or nothing

June 14, 2018 12:00 am

If the proponents of a Greene County Jail shared with Columbia County are feeling a bit more vindicated today, they have good reason.

After two marathon workshop sessions attended by architects, construction managers and a handful of county legislators tasked with finding items to cut from the jail project to whittle down the $51.4 million cost, the line score was this: 28 total items, five undetermined, savings $4 million

That’s right: Consultants and lawmakers put in the better part of a planned 12 hours of meetings and came up with a paltry cost reduction of $4 million. As they once said in old Hollywood, hardly enough to pay for the pool maintenance.

In response to the second session, held Tuesday, Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, announced he would not attend. “What’s the sense of going?” Martinez said Monday. “It’s not going to change anything.”

About the best thing that can be said is that Martinez was almost right. We wanted to think that enough fat was built into the project so that deep cuts could be made and bring the cost of the new jail down to a manageable and sensible level.

After all, if Herkimer County can build a new jail for around $32 million, why can’t Greene County do the same?

The two workshops were held (a third scheduled for next week was canceled) to identify what could be left out of a new jail and still make it a viable option. The best to come out of this was a new sheriff’s office and road patrol area, and a maintenance building for around $3.5 million. The rest amounted to chump change.

A $4 million cut is too little — and, we’re afraid, too late — to make the project affordable to taxpayers. Principal architect Arthur Thompson added a nail to the coffin when he said, “It’s all or nothing. Once you start taking spaces out, what can we do?”

It’s premature to declare the new Greene County Jail project dead, but it wouldn’t be going far astray to say this $51.4 million boondoggle is on life support.

by Scott Myers, Engineer
Desktoplabs, Catskill, NY June 18, 2018

Only 3 legislators attended any part of the 2 day presentation by SMRT and PIKE.

Plans for a new jail were hidden from the legislators and the public. It’s now known this monster is not a jail but a fancy full-blown prison. A county jail is NOT a prison, it’s a simple county lockup to detainee people until social services or a court determines some solution. Neither jail nor prison provides any real remedy. RicciGreene’s numbers created the size of the jail, but when pressed they had no raw data. They made up the numbers and were fired.

At $54 million, and with interest of $3.5%, this monster costs the local taxpayer $89 million over the 30-year loan. For comparison, Greene County yearly budget is $110 million. We are already at the top of the 2% limit. Every dollar of this project is on top of the 2% property tax cap limit. The interest or principle cannot be paid out of current income. More importantly, every dollar of this project simply leaves the county, forever. SMRT, PIKE, Delaware, Ricci Greene are not Greene County companies. None of the potential construction crews are from Greene County. The cost estimates do not include: operating costs (large), maintenance costs (large), salaries (large), program costs (large – but a state or federal cost if handled outside of jail), defense costs (large but largely state costs), transportation (the same as from Hudson, not that Hudson is closer to the court than Coxsackie). Sharing the Hudson jail saves $7 million a year, and is completely paid from existing county income – no 30-year loan.

The Coxsackie site is remote, includes no services. The spoil is clay. Concrete cannot be in contact with clay since clay is wet and deteriorates concrete. This means a six-foot hole has to be built, lined with fabric, then layered with gravel. Any construction must float on the gravel foundation. The clay soil eliminates geothermal as an energy source – there’s no percolation. Further, there are no services at the site. Water, electricity, natural gas, and sewage must be brought in and provided from scratch. Natural gas pipes alone costs $500,000.

Due Diligence is required for the loan to be approved, but the $30,000 shared jail study was avoided, therefore any application to USAD will fail when the first lawsuit hits. Mine is ready. Chairman Lewis’s May 3, 2018 “39 Laws” letter is proven completely false by Attorney Greg Lubow’s May 10 response, and by the NY State Attorney General’s report that shared jails are already completely legal. Commission of Corrections Chair Thomas Beilein supports a shared jail. The plan thoroughly and completely moves and incorporates the Greene County Sheriff’s office into Coxsackie. But, County Law requires a public referendum to move the Sheriff’s Office, which will fail. The specious claim that the civil office remains here is defeated by the plans. There is no legitimate legal impediment to sharing a jail – we’re already sharing a jail.

What’s designed is a prison not a simple county jail. The simple county jail is not a full-blown prison, especially in a county with only 30 current detainees. The plans were designed by Mr. Spitz. The numbers are premised on (false) reports from RicciGreene. RicciGreene was fired when it could not provide the raw data. The 96 number is beds was determined without raw data. In actual fact we do not have significant crime in Greene County, now nor is there any meaningful prediction of a larger future need.

The reveal shows almost vulgar extras designed for staff. Unneeded extras include: line up room, enormous parking areas, an evidence room, a munitions room, pressurized water and sewage systems, a $400,000 generator, and of course the complete incorporation of the Sheriff’s Office – outside of Catskill. A gym for staff is included although a YMCA is across the street, and on and on. The plans provide very little to aid the detainees, which is the point of any incarceration after all. At the sessions detainees were described as criminal inmates, but most are detainees.

I enclose the list developed during the sessions. It still costs at least $80 million (with interest). The plans incorporate the Sheriff’s Office (which is not allowed without a public vote).

Efforts to “cut costs” on this Coxsackie monster are likened to choosing a Cadillac and then arguing over accessories. Of the $54 million cost only a few million might be shaved, but in almost every case these savings add maintenance or utility costs.

The list of potential cost saving is a distraction. Notice that shared jail costs are spent out of budget and without any loan. A shared jail is the only practical and likely legal solution.

The site is largely inappropriate since it is clay and has no current utilities. Geothermal is not possible, which means utility costs are significant. No solar is planned. Maintenance of the building will incur new and large debt even before the loan is paid. A new roof is likely at the 15 or 20 year mark, $9 million even if 60 mil or 90 mil rubber is specified.

Costs to operate the facility are high, include maintenance and utilities, salaries, and on and on. These are ON TOP of the $89 million loan cost, and incurred by a county already at the top of its legal 2% property tax cap.

Further, Mr. Groden’s 2018 budget, presented in April at the Middle School, shows no growth. There are no plans to create non-seasonal, non-public, for-profit new money businesses here. This means there is no way to repay a $89 million loan.

Economics was discussed in the second afternoon by presenters. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates twice this year. The seasoned predictions are that the economy has peaked. The ramifications for Greene County are similar to the failed housing market, we are considering a facility we cannot afford.