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No ATI in 2019 budget

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    Robert Janiskowski, of Tannersville, addresses the county legislature at the public hearing for the 2019 budget on Monday.
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    C-GM file photoGreene County Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis announces the members of the Alternatives to Incarceration sub-committee last April.
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    C-GM file photoGreene County Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, informing his fellow lawmakers about future alternatives to incarceration discussions at the April 6 monthly Public Safety Committee meeting.
November 20, 2018 10:02 pm Updated: November 21, 2018 05:55 am


Columbia-Greene Media

CATSKILL — Greene County’s Finance Committee approved the proposed $119 million Greene County budget for 2019 by a 7-2 vote Tuesday after an amendment to add funding for alternatives to incarceration failed to gain momentum.

Legislators Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie; Harry Lennon, D-Cairo; Larry Gardner, D-Hunter; Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill; Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville; and William Lawrence, R-Cairo; supported the tentative budget.

Legislator Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, voted against the budget because it excluded ATI funding. Legislator Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill, was absent. Absences are counted as no votes.

Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, proposed the amendment to add $330,000 to the budget following recommendations by the ATI Task Force, which the county formed for the county jail project in April 2017. The new county jail is projected to be constructed in Coxsackie over the course of three years after the existing jail on West Bridge Street in Catskill was closed April 20 after it was deemed unsafe.

“ATI would both improve the quality of human life and save taxpayer dollars,” O’Connor said Wednesday. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Torgersen echoed similar remarks.

“The most costly intervention is incarceration,” she said. “ATI yields better outcomes for a fraction of the cost. It’s about how we treat people in the criminal justice system and respect taxpayers. We can achieve better outcomes for less money.”

Gardner did not support the amendment because the addition to the budget was last-minute, he said.

“I do support the concept,” he said. “This in no way says that I would not support going forward with ATI when we can sit down and discuss it. After the first of the year, I will gladly be a part of the discussion. I think others had similar thoughts. The reactions didn’t have anything to do with the merits of the issue.”

Because the motion was not seconded, the issue will not be reviewed at Wednesday’s full legislature meeting and will not be added to the budget, O’Connor said.

“It’s a shame for the residents of Greene County,” O’Connor said. “It’s the only thing we would be adding to the budget that would also save money on the back end.”

O’Connor was also disappointed the legislature did not heed the task force’s advice from last September, he said.

“It’s extremely disheartening,” he added. “I feel that we’re sending a message to the task force that we did not take their hard work into consideration. The fact that this body of lawmakers can’t stand behind a project so beneficial to our county is mind-boggling to me.”

Squeezing last-minute items into the budget after the spending plan was discussed would be inappropriate, Gardner said.

“To say it was in the last hour is an understatement,” he said. “We were on the verge of adopting the budget instead of studying how the amendment fits into the budget. This was not the time, or place, to toss in dollars without a fleshed-out description.”

Torgersen’s description about what the $330,000 would be used for included adding coordinator and case manager positions at $50,000 each and a support navigator position at $30,000, Lawrence said. Additionally, the amendment allotted $200,000 for residential costs.

An amendment would have to go back before the full legislature to be voted on as a resolution, Lawrence said.

“It’s too late in the year to add that amount of money into the budget without an explanation of how it will be used,” he added. “There’s no doubt we’ll look at this again next year. This is not a dead issue — it’s just postponed.”

The legislature has spent extensive time discussing ATI, O’Connor said.

“Outside of bonding, it was the second-largest topic,” he said.

Residents also voiced their support for ATI to be included in the budget at a public hearing held Nov. 5.

Robert Janiszewski, of Tannersville, proposed an amendment to the budget calling for a new look at Alternatives To Incarceration.

“The National Institute of Corrections recommends having a commission that focuses on ATI,” he said. “It doesn’t have to go by that name, but we need something to be constantly looking at ways to improve the judicial system.”

Janiszewski recommended the county use accumulated funds the legislature had been setting aside each year for the jail.

Phoebe Potter, of West Kill, also voiced her support for the county to look into ATI options.

“Regardless of the jail outcome, I hope it’s taken into consideration,” Potter said.

Torgersen felt the legislature did not take the will of the people into account, she said.

“We were asked by the public to fund it, and yet it didn’t appear in the budget,” she said.

One change was made to the budget before it was approved by the finance committee — $475,000 was moved from the reserves fund to the budget to reduce the tax levy, Lawrence said.

The deduction would be small, Lawrence added, but did not know the exact amount of the deduction.



For Thanksgiving, I'm thanking the Daily Mail/Hudson 360 for excellent local journalism... now

The gross mismanagement of social and non-court justice here is only matched by the almost complete lack of new money businesses. I provoked the Alternatives To Incarceration Committee when I derailed the jail bond nearly two years ago. The ATI committee consisted of heads of Twin County Recovery, Mental Health, Probation, the DA's Office and Public Defender's Office, a retired judge (to prevent conflict of interest), and a few experts. It operated like rounds at a hospital, which is a useful analogy. You can call it a Local Criminal Justice Committee, or ATI, or whatever you want. What IS noticed is that we do a very bad job managing our social and justice systems. The administration and legislation prefer to spending huge money on new human boxes, the jail disaster. So, I can sue. But, this is the responsibility of the county administration and legislators. So, they are incompetent. Fine. See you in court. You're harming people. It's pathetic.

This is the legislation I wrote and proposed, which Lori kindly improved
Authorizing a Local Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, aka Alternatives To Incarceration
WHEREAS, Greene County recognizes the benefits of effective management of its social and criminal (non-court) systems; and
WHEREAS, the previous Alternatives To Incarceration Committee (“ATI”) brought together weekly meetings of managers of such services, and successfully; and
WHEREAS, the gathering of such professionals did produce accurate data, facilitated the sharing of methods, processes and sources of funding, and did improve overall coordination of these important services for the citizen clients and the county as a governmental body; and
WHEREAS, it’s noticed that accurate numbers concerning detainees, and accurate individualized assessments (criminal claims and non-criminal circumstances) allow effective and efficient and appropriate remedies, and as importantly properly guide the administration as to necessary detention facilities or alternatives; and
WHEREAS, the New York State Commission of Corrections recent report “Worst Offenders” rated Greene County Jail management as 2nd only to Rikers Detention Center (which, like the Greene County Jail is closing), and recognizing the establishment of a formal standing Justice Coordinating Committee likely proactively protects Greene County from liability for such practices, and
WHEREAS, the County is at this time considering a new large jail or “alternatives,” which are of great consequence to scarce resources of the county, with long-term consequences (30 years), and
WHEREAS, the proper management of such resources and policies is admittedly complex,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that County of Greene hereby creates a standing committee of similar makeup as its previous ATI Committee and that this committee has advisory authority to manage and provide oversight to the social and non-court local justice system, and shall meet at least once a month, and provide monthly reports to the county, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the funding for such be $250,000 per year to cover professional fees and costs.