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Legislature committee offers resolution to stop shared jail concept

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    Greene County legislators Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, and Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, discuss the Greene County Jail project.
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    Greene County Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, speaks about the potential savings with a shared jail concept, as Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden and legislators William Lawrence, R-Cairo, Aidan O’Connor, D-Durham, and Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie, listen.
February 13, 2018 05:37 pm Updated: February 14, 2018 05:45 am

CATSKILL — The Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee approved a resolution Monday to stop work on a shared jail facility with Columbia County. The resolution will be put on next week’s regular legislature meeting agenda.

The resolution passed in committee 5-1, with one abstention.

A resolution authorizing $44 million in serial bonds to finance construction of the jail was brought up for reconsideration in December and lawmakers will discuss it March 21.

Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, who chairs the committee, provided information on the options lawmakers have for the jail project including sharing a jail with Columbia County or continue to work on the proposed site in Coxsackie.

Lawrence opposes a shared jail concept, but said he wanted to see how it would work.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels with this idea since early last year and really getting nowhere,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “I just do not want to send any more money to Columbia County than I have to.”

A feasibility study has to be done on the Columbia County Jail site at a total cost of $60,000 to be split between the two counties. Lawrence estimates it will take three years to get a shared jail off the ground, which requires state legislative approval.

“They’re not going to want to go out and spend their own money on something we need,” Lawrence said of Columbia County lawmakers. “We still have to do design and architectural renderings and other improvements to the actual facility itself in the long run.”

The annual budget for the existing jail on Bridge Street in Catskill is $5.16 million and includes $875,000 for boarding out inmates to other jails, Lawrence said. At this time, the jail’s average daily population is 42 inmates. Columbia County Jail can house 92 inmates at a 70 percent capacity rate.

If inmates from Greene County are added to the Columbia County inmate population, Columbia’s jail could end up overcrowded.

“We may never get a facility built at least in my lifetime; however, I do think that we have to consider the fact that we have to do something here in Greene County,” Lawrence said.

Legislators Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, and Lee Palmateer, D-Athens, both said their constituents oppose a shared jail concept. In Windham, residents do not want to see their taxes increase to pay for a jail, Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, said.

Whether a jail is shared with Columbia County or built in Coxsackie, there will be an impact on taxes, Lawrence said.

“There’s no way we avoid paying those taxes. It’s a mandate that we have to take care of our inmates,” he said. “There’s a natural bias on Greene County residents spending money in Columbia County to improve their facility.”

“We don’t have to spend any of that money. We just have to have it in place at a cheap rate,” Lawrence said. “We’re going to lose this construction year anyway, so if we’re going to lose it, we must spend it on finalizing our own design.”

Torgersen said she is disappointed with the outcome because the resolution was not brought up in advance and there was no prior indication of abandoning the shared jail idea.

“I certainly felt blindsided,” Torgersen said Tuesday. “It was moving forward positively as a viable option.”

Business owners won’t invest in the county if their tax money is spent frivolously on a new jail, Torgersen said. Windham’s second home owners and Catskill residents will foot the majority of the costs for the jail because both pay the lion’s share of the county’s bills.

“It’s a reckless expenditure of taxpayers’ money,” Torgersen said. “Regular people in this county, your taxes will go up and they don’t have to.”

Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, handed out information estimating that a new jail would cost $7.2 million a year, while sharing would cost $2.4 million. There is a potential $4.7 million savings and the plan includes demolishing the old jail and rehabbing the existing sheriff’s office, Bulich said.

“On top of that you have the potential to have someone there from Greene County at the Columbia County facility that would oversee Greene County inmates,” Bulich said. “We would be part owners of that facility.”

Many of Bulich’s constituents are in favor of a shared jail because it shrinks government, he said.

“Many of these people who want the jail here are public employees,” Bulich said. “Their perspective is always defend the government, defend the expense of government.”

Legislator Aidan O’Connor, D-Durham, abstained from voting because information about the resolution was thin and rushed to lawmakers, he said.

“When I vote on a topic on behalf of my community it is always after having had the time to study the topic, seek out answers if needed and weigh the best possible option,” O’Connor said. “Typically, resolutions are drafted days ahead of time and agendas reflect any anticipated discussion.”

The committee made the right decision in drafting the resolution to stop a shared jail, a concept which makes no sense, Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said.

“I haven’t had one person say to me that it’s a good idea,” Seeley said.

Legislators have an obligation to look out for taxpayers when they spend, not just for the jail, but in all county departments, Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, said.

“It was because of alternative to incarceration programs instituted by our wonderful probation department that brought the numbers down in a county jail,” Luvera said. “A county jail is temporary and not a permanent solution — that’s why there are state prisons.”

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

In other words - the public interest be damned. This committee is letting itself get pulled around by its nose ring pulled by the bull rush put on by Lawrence. Once again Luvera and these other simpletons to government are confusing prisons and their function with jails.

Torgeson - welcome to the good old boys. This is their style. They want to get their hands in our pockets. Just like Trump they're rolling up our debt 100X's more than any Democrat ever did. Throw these bums out!!!

Hope the public gives the the what for and shows these losers the door at the polls.
Wake up Greene County!!! The likelihood of kickbacks to Mr. Groden is extremely high. He built jails in his last two jobs. A million, $1,000,000, has already been spent on this abuse without a single blade of soil turned!!! Delaware Engineering failed their due deluge cue designing a sheriff’s office into the plans, but as Mr. Lubera noticed the sheriff’s office can’t be moved from the county seat without a public referendum - which would fail.

Further, the Alternatives To Incarceration committee that formed after I managed to table this abuse saw dsrastically declining numbers of detainees. A county jail is only a holding area for people waiting some social service or a legal solution. The actual numbers show definitively that we have very little serious crime here, and if someone is truly a criminal they go to prison, not county jail.

The insane and needless cost is not one Greene County can afford. Tabling consideration of a regional shared jail is completely irresponsible. Albany’s all in, Commission on Corrections Chair Bielien is all in, and two Republican state legislatures have a bill maturing to secure a regional jail solution. It isn’t needed anyway, County Law says a county must have a jail,to use but it doesn’t say it has to be in the county. Hudson is closer to court than Coxsackie. Detainees are held in jail for court. Get it?

Administrator Shawn Groden “neglected” to put the jail discussion on last night’s agenda. It was a secret vote. 18 of my email addresses are blocked by Mr. Groden. Attorney Ed Kaplan refuses to unblock my email, and refuses to grant my FOIA requests between communication records from Bielien to the county.

As for the Sheriff’s office, REALize that of the 37 deputies only one is female, and it seems Tracy Quinn is Greg Seeley’s daughter. The beatings at the jail, the needless repeated suicides, the sexual molestation of female detainees by COs Dunn and Schmerhorn should,be plenty to remove Jail Superintendent Michael Spitz. Spitz is paid time scale, using waivers granted every two years. It’s morally and legally irresponsible that he hasn’t been removed.

As for costs, Greene County’s 2018 budget is flat, already at the top of the 2% property tax cap, and shows NO signs of growth. The business office is incompetent, fails to attract and secure tech or non-seasonal industry. They fail to secure affordable broadband, deferring to the cable monopoly passively.

It’s tired to restate that there’s no hospital, no college, and no plan to change this. There are no infrastructure projects other than a human warehouse, at $586,000 per cage ($44 million for 30 years bond @ 3.15% = $67 million / 116 cages). That insane number includes NO money for program, counseling, health care, transportation, defense costs, OR THE SALARIES OF THE STAFF!

When I forced the bond off the table last February and created the Alternatives To Incarceration committee, which I attended weekly, we learned that Ricci Greene lied about the numbers of detainees and the arrests. When asked for the raw data THEY HAD NONE. The numbers show a) no major crime here b) that counseling, a private bail fund, and competent defense likely reduces daily detainee count to below 30, even below 20 if aggressively managed. So why even consider spending, borrowing, $67 million? Graft, simply, dishonest, dirty, ugly, graft.

It is entirely irresponsible, both to the detainee (a new spjail will only be filled), it’s an abortion of tax payer funds. There is NO plan to increase new money making businesses here. Worse, this same ignorant legislature VOTED TO OPPOSE Albany’s new labor rules, called scheduling rules, which simply pay people if their time is obligated.

It is not possible to state how deeply incompetent this county administration is. It is not possible to overstate how this vote was secret, not put on the agenda, and why it is so horrible the emergency alarms on every tower should be set off and remain on until this is cured. Really. The only project they can come up with is human cages, no improveent of a horrible county sheriff’s office, or that this will ruin the county budget FOR THIRTY YEARS!,!

Wake up Greene County, soon, and with complete clarity. PLEASE!!!