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Jail workshop meetings to explore cost

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    Greene County lawmakers and representatives of SMRT Architects and Engineers, P.C., and the Pike Company of Rochester discuss cost cutting measures for the new county jail at the May 30 meeting.
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    SMRT Principal & Director of Architecture Dennis Morin points to a portion of the Greene County Jail project’s design.
June 11, 2018 11:53 pm

CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers, builders and architects are scheduled to meet at least one more time to agree on design cuts to the proposed new county jail as a way of shaving its $51.4 million cost, but one Coxsackie legislator does not plan to attend.

The meetings are scheduled to take place at the Greene County Office Building on Main Street in Catskill today and Wednesday.

Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, said he will not be at today’s meeting.

“What’s the sense of going?” Martinez said. “It’s not going to change anything.”

Much of what was cut from the design was a case of nickel-and-diming and doesn’t result in any real savings, Martinez said. Bills from the architect and construction manager are putting a strain on the county, he added.

“They’ve got to do something,” Martinez said. “The more they drag their feet, the more it’s going to cost.”

The Greene County Legislature’s Finance Committee shelved a resolution May 14 authorizing $51.4 million in serial bonds to cover the cost of building a new county jail behind the Greene Correctional Facility off Route 9W in Coxsackie to explore cost savings.

The existing Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill was ranked by the state Commission of Corrections as one of the five worst in the state in February. The jail was ordered closed April 20 for safety reasons.

Today’s meeting is not expected to go late into the day, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said, but was scheduled to go from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. so lawmakers working during the day could stop by. Any lawmakers who do not attend will be sent meeting minutes and Wednesday’s workshop, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., may be canceled.

“If they come later in the day, we would just repeat the information,” Groden said. “Half of my board have full-time jobs.”

Representatives of SMRT Architects and Engineers, P.C., of Latham, the project architect, and the Pike Company of Rochester, the construction manager, will bring back estimates of what can be saved after they made cuts to the new jail design from suggestions given at the May 30 workshop, Groden said.

“That will be the majority of the meeting,” Groden said. “It’s a pretty short list.”

Some cost-cutting ideas include shrinking the jail’s front foyer and parking lot and increasing the size of the areas for male inmates, Groden said. Fifty-four men were taken into custody in Greene County last week.

“If our population is going up again, are we building too small?” he said.

The existing design has two male inmate areas with 28 cells each and 56 beds, Groden said, adding state Commission of Correction officials do not want jails to be 90 percent occupied.

“In theory, we were above our maximum threshold,” Groden said of the design. “At some point, the COC may want us to board out if we exceed our capacity.”

The jail population fluctuates, and it may be better to think long-term of how big to build, Groden said.

“Your inmate count could swing a lot in a couple days,” he said.

The biggest potential cost-saving measure was removing the Greene County Sheriff’s Administrative Office at $2.9 million, Groden said.

“Some of the things were small as well, so we have a mixed bag,” he said.

Final design decisions will not be made during the meeting because it is a workshop — not a formal Legislature session, Groden said. Each option to cut items out of the design would be included separately on the Public Safety Committee meeting agenda in July.

Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, supports a low-cost jail by shrinking the number of cells and having the fewest amenities, he said. Gardner will try to attend Tuesday’s workshop meeting.

“I made my position well-known to the leadership,” Gardner said. “They know what I want and they know what I support. What I support is the alternative that will have the least possible cost.”

June 11, 2018

Re: Overhaul our local justice methods, without borrowing for new human cages

I agree that our local justice system requires a dramatic overhaul. The solution does not include building a nice new jail in Coxsackie.
Economics prohibits any construction at all. A 30 year bond of $54 million at 3.5% is $89 million. Every penny simply leaves Greene County, one of the poorest in the state. The $89 million leaves the county entirely. It does not include any salaries, transportation, defense, program, or maintenance of a new facility. The actual costs of this mistake are truly inconsistent with any math.
Further, County Administrator Shawn Groden’s 2018 budget shows no growth, no plans for growth, and no intention or vision to create anything but non-profit, seasonal and public jobs (jail staff). None!
More importantly, Jail Superintendent Michael Spitz, who oversaw this mess, must be fired immediately. He and Sheriff Greg Seeley create the severe abuse that COC Commissioner Beilein details. I received 5 years of correspondence between Albany’s Commission of Corrections Chair Mr. Beilein and Greene County. Albany was ignored, and we abused our community – terribly.
We must immediately deal with the 28 COs who show up to work watching an empty, condemned building.
Local county jails are not at all remedial, “programs” do not work in jail. County jails are simply holding areas until a court or local social services can create a solution. Usually, this means drug or alcohol treatment, counseling, or other stabilization of employment, housing and/or family. These programs are generally funded by the state and federal government – they are not county expenses.
The solution is to formalize the Alternatives To Incarceration (“ATI”) program as a standing committee, funded at $135,000 per year. I’m suggesting that the sheriff’s office be rehabbed, it must stay in Catskill by law or be placed on a public referendum (which will fail). I suggest retaining booking and a few holding cells and otherwise formalize the sharing of Columbia County’s jail.
We are required to fund and complete the $30,000 feasibility study with Columbia or lose any bond for failure of due diligence. I’ll file the suit and prosecute the suit personally if this study isn’t completed.
I am personally injured by methods at our jail. My firsthand knowledge provides a different experience, one I’m trying to convey. It also provides “standing” in court to sue for the “habit and custom” of abuse Beilein and I articulate.
I’m grateful local residents are beginning to pay attention, but the distraction to “build” is misplaced. The real and harder problems are transforming our local social system.
This is our single best opportunity. It’s within reach to transform our county from ugly intransigent indecency to an economically sustainable community. This begins by overhauling our local justice system not building new human cages.
Thank you for your shared commitment.

Very truly yours,

Scott Myers
414 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414

C.c.: Greene County Administrators and Legislators
Members of the public and press
Members of the court

The problem is the temperament not the architecture, which is what Beilein describes in his 2018 “Worst Offenders” report.

Five years of FOILed correspondence from COC to and from Groden, Kaplan, Lewis, Spitz and Greg Seeley can be accessed here:
How come Herkimer County - a conservative Republican upstate county with a history of jail jobs and less tourist revenue than ours - managed to design and approve a jail built out of concrete with twice the life expectancy to the flimsy pod design our GCL just squandered $2M coming up with that is 1/3 the cost ($32M v. 87M) and twice the size? We can achieve that same cost savings, by the way, going with a 'shared jail,' with Columbia County, but our intrepid legislators voted down a $5,000 measure that would explore the feasibility survey that would move that proposal forward. PS., we would be reimbursed for $4,000, of that $5,000! Why do I feel like we're being asked to sit in on a crooked card game and being told to let our 'friends' make our wagers on our behalf??