CATSKILL — A resolution to rescind the bond for the proposed new Greene County Jail and the bids for its construction was added to the agenda for Wednesday’s full board meeting, after a proposal by a Catskill lawmaker.
Legislator Michael Bulich requested a pause on jail construction, a $70 million investment over the next 30 years, so that the county could seek legislative support in amending a county law that states “Each county shall continue to maintain a county jail as prescribed by law.”
Bulich wants the law to provide more clarity on regional jails.
Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, who is also the parliamentarian, said the Finance Committee was not the proper venue to propose the resolution.
“Resolutions were adopted by the full Legislature for the bond and for the construction contracts,” Gardner said. “This would be inconsistent with that and would be in nature of rescinding them.”
But the resolution has to be considered by the full Legislature, Gardner said, and it would require a super-majority vote, or approval from two-thirds of the lawmakers.
County attorney Edward Kaplan agreed.
“I agree because it’s already out of committee,” Kaplan told lawmakers.
There is no time limit on rescinding a resolution and legislators are free to change how they voted in the past, Gardner added.
The $39 million U.S. Department of Agriculture bond was approved in September and bids for construction were awarded in March in seven packages: off-site utility work by Bellamy Construction Co. of Scotia in the amount of $1,338,970; facility site work by James H. Maloy of Loudonville in the amount of $4,317,000; general construction work by Jersen Construction Group of Waterford in the amount of $21,089,000; food service equipment installation by David J. Hummel Enterprise of Gansevoort in the amount of $351,000; plumbing and fire protection by Ashley Mechanical Inc. of Kingston in the amount of $3,576,240; heating, ventilation and air conditioning by John W. Danforth Company of Halfmoon in the amount of $4,161,000; and electrical and security electronics by Nfrastructure Technologies of Clifton Park in the amount of $4,333,184.
Legal repercussions are possible if the motion carries and the bids are rescinded, Kaplan said Tuesday.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden asked if there would be an issue adding the resolution to Wednesday’s agenda.
“Everything has to come through the committee system to get on the agenda for Wednesday,” he said. Gardner did not see a problem.
“It came up tonight and we are held to the reasonable notice requirement,” Gardner said.
Throughout the meeting, Bulich asked several department heads including Economic Development and Tourism Director Warren Hart and Highway Superintendent Robert Van Valkenburg if services they provide cause money to leave the county.
The department heads confirmed their services require some funds to leave the county.
“I was asking questions raised by people within the county,” Bulich said. “My colleagues are being told by their constituents that they want to see our money staying in the county and being used for the construction of a jail to fund employees in Greene County. My whole point was Greene County money is leaving every day in different departments.”
Interest in halting the project was spurred by recent state reforms.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a series of bills into law with the 2020 state budget April 1, which will go into effect in January. Included is a law eliminating bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Police must issue appearance tickets to individuals charged with misdemeanors and class E felonies rather than make custodial arrests. The reforms are expected to keep about 90% of people out of jail prior to their court date. On average, two-thirds of the incarcerated population are being detained as they await their day in court, according to governor.ny.gov.
As of April 19, the county boarded out 31 inmates to jails in Albany and Columbia counties, according to a jail intake report.
Of the 31 inmates, 17 are charged with felonies and 14 face misdemeanors.
The report is on par with the Vera Institute of Justice’s prediction that inmate populations will decrease by 50% with the new reforms, former legislator Lori Torgersen said.
The county is responding to the reforms by reducing the 80-bed jail to 48 beds, Groden said Tuesday.
“It will be split between genders with 32 male and 16 female,” he said.
The state Commission of Corrections has received notice of the change and, once approved, the Legislature will vote on it as a change order, Groden said.
The change will not delay construction because the bids have already been awarded, he said.
Torgersen said she believes regional jails are inevitable as lockups across the state are left half-empty but remain staffed to maximum capacity, in accordance with state law.
A 1991 interpretation by the state Attorney General’s Office indicates regional jails are permissible through municipal cooperation agreements.
Bulich, Torgersen and former legislators Aidan O’Connor Jr. of Durham and Kevin Lennon of Catskill sought a similar interpretation from the governor in December.
State Commission of Corrections Chairman Allen Riley replied to Bulich in a letter dated March 6.
“The Commission has emphasized that whether to construct a new facility or whether to seek legislative authority to share services with another county was a local decision to be made by Greene County,” Riley wrote.
The county explored this option, Groden said.
“The law has to be changed at the state level and we were told it would never go through,” he said.
Bulich agreed that the majority of the Legislature shared this viewpoint but the recent reforms have changed everything.
“We were thinking maybe they would [change the law] if they were willing to do bail reform,” Bulich said.
Bulich said he believes his colleagues are aware of the substantial financial investment the jail will be for a small number of inmates.
“But they are not convinced the state will change the law,” Bulich said.
Jail critics have been working unsuccessfully to get confirmation from the state that the matter has legislative support, Bulich said.
Legislator Jack Keller, R-Catskill, said he will support Bulich’s resolution Wednesday night.
“It’s a changing universe,” Keller said. “Incarceration rates are dropping and will continue to drop. We should invest in looking at this one more time before making this enormous economic expenditure.”
In addition to the state reforms, Keller’s perspective is influenced by his constituents, he said.
“I think they deserve we look into it one more time,” Keller said.