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Jail bond resolution defeated

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    Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, discussing the new Greene County Jail project during the legislature’s regular monthly meeting.
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    Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, discussing his concerns about keeping the existing Greene County Sheriff’s Administration office in Catskill.
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    Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden discusses the new Greene County Jail project during the legislature’s regular monthly meeting.
November 16, 2017 11:30 pm

CATSKILL — A resolution to issue $44 million in serial bonds to finance construction of a new Greene County Jail was defeated in a 10-4 vote of the Greene County Legislature on Wednesday.

Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, brought up keeping the Greene County Sheriff’s administration office in Catskill to save money and asked Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden if the office was part of the original jail design. Groden said it was.

If the administration office is removed from the jail design, there is an estimated savings of $1.9 million, but the sheriff’s office on Bridge Street would have to be renovated. Groden said he did not have a cost estimate for such a project. Officers would then have to travel between Catskill and the proposed jail site in Coxsackie on runs.

“It’s not handicapped-accessible, there’s no air conditioning, it’s old and it’s tired,” Groden said of the office. “Can you stay there? Absolutely.”

Luvera used the Catskill School District’s superintendent and business offices as examples of old buildings that were renovated and turned into functioning office spaces. Luvera said residents need to be shown savings will result.

“My gut feeling tells me it will be cost-effective just because I’ve seen it done in school,” Luvera said.

Cutting 6,200 square feet out of the jail proposal can’t be done without a redesign. Groden said Luvera raised the issue of keeping the sheriff’s administration in Catskill several times over the course of eight months.

“If there is going to be a majority vote to remove the full administration from the footprint, I’ve got to stop this project now and redesign because that is going to be a major, major deviation from the footprint and the efforts that have gone into the place,” Groden said. “If you want to cut the administration, tell me to cut the administration.”

Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, is opposed to keeping the Sheriff’s administration office in Catskill because it will be more expensive and delay the project further.

“It’s going to be a two-town operation, which is going to be expensive,” Lawrence said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Lawrence said other legislators were pressured to vote against the bond. He predicted a bond issue will not be discussed for six months.

“They all got cold feet and backed out — it was a reactionary sort of thing,” Lawrence said. “I’m going to back away from it and let others take over.”

Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, wants to see a comparison of how much it would cost of keeping the existing sheriff’s administration in Catskill and rehabbing it instead of including it in the jail project. Gardner hopes moves quickly because the state Commission of Corrections wants to see progress.

“The whole point is to find there’s a significant savings,” Gardner said. “We’re going to do a pricing analysis.”

Groden told legislators that a vote on the bond is not the final step for the project and said the dollar amount can be amended.

“This cap could be set tonight and then you could make the decision to amend the plan as it is today,” Groden said. “You could borrow $40 [million], you could borrow $32 [million] in six months without having to amend this resolution.”

Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, questioned why lawmakers were having this conversation and said this issue should have been discussed a year ago, knowing Luvera’s opinion on the sheriff’s administration office.

“We’re now basically in the 12th hour talking about this,” Bulich said. “None of you voiced your opinion that would be amicable to it changing.”

In the 18 months since the proposed jail was designed, the sheriff’s administration office was included in the plan, Groden said. In the legislature’s committee meetings, all details from square-footage to plumbing have been discussed.

“What’s always been changing are where the beds are kept,” Groden said. “That’s where all this germinates to a final master plan.”

The bond resolution’s presence on the agenda was to complete the conceptual project design but Groden said he can’t go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a final application without a complete design.

A redesign and an updated cost analysis would not be ready before the next regular legislature meeting in December because the electrical wiring and plumbing have to be changed.

“A passage of the bond resolution without a final schematic is half a loaf,” Groden said. “You’re not going to have a design in 30 days.”

Luvera said he remains confident that the legislature can find additional savings associated with jail construction. The outcome of the meeting will be to omit the sheriff’s administration from the jail design to show a cost savings, he said.

“The people know that we need a new jail and they have asked for additional cost savings,” Luvera said. “This wasn’t my voice that spoke tonight. I brought the people’s voice to the meeting.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM

It's likely, in the end, that the Greene County Sheriff's office will be rehabbed and the jail will be "regional," i.e. we'll use the one in Hudson. This regional "shared" approach is deeply supported by the lack of money in Greene County and the fact there's not a lot of actual crime here. The 2017 budget showed no growth, but more interestingly, no clue or motivation to attract and retain new industry or tech. Any loan will eat up social service and business development money, which is a much higher priority than boxes to put detainees (these people are largely innocent and need social services that an expensive new set of boxes precludes). The legal obligation is a jail, but there's no actual legal requirement that it be in Greene County. In terms of logistics, and transport costs, Hudson's closer to our court than Coxsackie.
"The People" don't need $100,000,000 of debt. They don't need a $44,000,000 general obligation bond. They don't need capital expenditures that do not generate any revenue stream. They certainly don't need an unelected bureaucrat in the person of Groden telling them they can "choose the jail behind curtain #1, or curtain #2," but failing to mention that "curtain #3" acting in cooperation with Columbia County could save millions instead of obligating future generations.

Lawrence and Martinez can call themselves "conservatives" but, they come across as bureaucrats intent on our being taxed to pay the interest on their spending on an unnecessary jail that will move in the wrong direction.

Change the jail v. bail policies. Create real drug counseling and treatment programs. Find alternatives to jail for people who can't pay their bills, like jobs and education. Use guys like Scot Meyers who try to make a difference for people caught in the system instead of persecuting them. Stop thinking that being a Republican, 'tough on crime' helps things by creating a jail culture. It doesn't. It attracts more guns and drugs. They can sell them to the jails, or the gang friends and families who will congregate around them.

Groden never ordered a full architectural use assessment of the under utilized County Office Building. Groden never had a "plan B" for his grandiose bigger not better Coxsackie Sheriff employment project, I mean 'jail.' Groden is the Johnny Appleseed of unnecessary "Built them and they shall come" jails whoever people have unintelligent legislators who think Groden is there to 'help them.'

"The People have no use for the Grodens of this world.

Matt Luvera has more of a head on his shoulders than his colleagues. Lori Torgesson is trying to get this legislature to "look before they leap," and obligate us all to do something we don't want and can't pay for.
I get the impression like "HAL" in "2001" - Groden has his programing and until we shut him down, he will keep trying to build this thing he's programmed in that we don't want, can't afford, and don't have to build in Greene County. (Groden, "I'm sorry you feel that way, Dave. It will require a whole new program for me to adjust to what you are saying. You do realize that don't you. So how many beds in Coxsackie do you want me to build? 302? OK until you instruct me otherwise in a properly written computer language I shall continue."
The discussions surrounding the new jail have been ongoing for months (years, really, at least in concept). We have asked the sheriff's department to work in conditions that the Legislature certainly wouldn't accept for their own offices, and the jail is in such poor repair that the Department of Corrections has demanded a replacement. The situation requires a timely resolution, so the Legislature's response vote down the borrowing needed to pay for any of it.

Mr. Luvera, regarding your reference to the "people's voice:" there are a lot of armchair quarterbacks in our county and the world at large. As a community leader, you are expected to bring information, reason, and decisiveness to the governmental process, all in the hope of moving your community forward. How can you realistically suggest that omitting the sheriff's office from the jail will bring a cost savings? Have you calculated the hourly rates, fleet wear and tear, and even manpower shortages that will result from scattering law enforcement facilities throughout the county? The sheriff's office is hardly overstaffed, a fact that I'm sure you are aware of. Add in the unforeseen costs of renovating a century-old building (costs that will surely exceed even the most pessimistic estimate), and you are creating a recipe for unplanned tax hikes and management headaches that will well exceed your tenure in office.

In reading this article, it appears to the layman that Mr. Bulich alone is emerging from this melee as the bearer of common sense. Instead of kicking the can down the road again, it's time for our Legislature to make a decision based on safety, sensibility, and proper planning. Leave the jail plan as is, issue the bond, and construct a facility that resembles an actual modern jail. Sell the buildings in Catskill, allowing the Village to attract a buyer that will add another crown jewel to their renaissance, and move on to the other pressing issues that our county faces in the years to come.