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.