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Petitions surrounding jail project swirl around county

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    The Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill.
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    A map of the proposed new Greene County Jail site in Coxsackie.
March 12, 2018 11:45 pm

CATSKILL — Petitions in opposition to building a new jail in Greene County and supporting a shared jail concept with Columbia County have been circulated with support from residents.

Greene County Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, and her fellow legislators know of two petitions circulating around the county, which hundreds of people have signed, she said.

One petition urges legislators to reconsider the shared jail concept, according to the petition. The resolution was later withdrawn.

Torgersen has received emails from residents who oppose building at the proposed jail site in Coxsackie.

Jon Phillips, of Catskill, started a petition last week asking people to urge legislators on the Public Safety Committee to approve a resolution authorizing $30,000 to pay for a feasibility study of the Columbia County Jail site in Hudson. The total cost of the feasibility study would be $60,000 and would determine what modifications are needed to be made to the Columbia County Jail to make room for Greene County inmates.

“Ultimately, the people in Greene County are determined not to be walked over on this one,” Phillips said. “Greene County needs to approve its share.”

Residents can spread the petition online by forwarding it via email.

This can help bring the shared jail concept to fruition, according to Phillips. “The opposition to it spurs a bunch of spurious hooey,” he said.

If decisions on the jail were left to a public referendum, things would be different, he said.

“If it was put to a referendum it would be put to rest by an outraged public,” Phillips added.

State law requires every county to operate a jail, but doesn’t require the jail to be located in the county, he said.

“It’s a reasonable cost-saving proposal,” Phillips said. “I had no premeditation or idea that I would have to spend all this time raising objections.”

If a shared jail concept is approved by Greene and Columbia county lawmakers, a final design has to be approved by the state Commission of Corrections. The state Legislature has to allow the two counties to share a jail, Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, said in January.

Phillips was not surprised by county residents’ reactions to the petition, he said, adding many residents are interested in the matter — especially those who are wealthy and don’t want to see the county become a jail culture.

“I get the sense that the whole nation is at a point of sea change,” Phillips said. “They [residents] enjoy Greene County as a place that is not yet spoiled by money.”

Mountaintop Progressives member Jonathan Gross has written letters supporting the shared jail concept and said the jail project has been a contentious issue. Gross signed the petition supporting the feasibility study.

Not doing a feasibility study at the Columbia County Jail site when there’s so much at stake does not make sense, Gross said.

“We are concerned and perplexed at why we wouldn’t take this next step to do a feasibility study,” Gross said. “What is there to hide?”

Members of the Mountaintop Progressives are asking lawmakers to show leadership and cooperate with one another, Gross said.

“Let the citizens have an understanding of all the sides,” he said.