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Proposed jail vote is deja vu all over again

September 1, 2018 12:10 am

A Public Safety Committee vote on a resolution to borrow $39 million to build a new Greene County Jail near the state Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie would be a great step forward, except for one thing. It has been rejected or shelved a half-dozen times in the last year.

This could well be another mistake the Greene County Legislature can ill afford as a final decision draws near about the demolition of the closed jail on Bridge Street in Catskill, and as valuable construction time slips away until 2019. If a vote is taken Sept. 5 (assuming the resolution isn’t tabled again), the committee members better make it count.

This vote could be different from the others because battle lines are being drawn.

Republican Legislator Charles Martinez, who has made no bones about his pro-jail position, promised to vote for the bond because delaying the project continues to cost taxpayers money.

“We need a jail here in Greene County and I don’t care what the opposition says,” Martinez said Thursday. The Coxsackie lawmaker predicted things will run smoother once a bond resolution is passed. “It’s ludicrous that we’re dragging our damn feet,” he said.

Legislator Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, anticipates information on jail costs, the county’s source of funds to reduce the bond and employment options for corrections officers in the future.

“None of us ever want to see a single job loss for our corrections officers,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said he has walked away from each jail meeting learning something new, but he wants concrete facts before making a decision.

“We need to have an ink-to-paper plan,” he said. “I’m certainly hoping in the September session there will be a conversation, not one of emotion, but one of fact...This choice that we make is one that will live for generations.”

O’Connor has good intentions, but his failure to mention the shared jail concept is problematic because taxpayer watchdog groups such as Smart Greene Government supports a jail shared with Columbia County.

Greene County simply can’t afford the debt that borrowing $39 million will bring down on taxpayers today and over the next 30 years, Smart Greene’s Ellen Schorsch said Thursday.

“If you’re a poor person, you don’t buy a Porsche. If you’re a poor county, you don’t quadruple your debt,” Schorsch said. “That’s what we’re focusing on. We’re trying to influence legislators who we believe there’s hope for.”

The group wants to educate the public about the project because many residents aren’t fully aware of it, Schorsch said. “They really don’t know, that’s the amazing thing for me. This has been going on for years,” she said. “It’s their money. They’re entitled to know.”

Greene County lawmakers need to listen to the people whose money they want to spend, who say that adding a 30-year debt to already high property taxes is unacceptable. Like O’Connor, we don’t want to see the county lose jobs, but taxpayers like those in Smart Greene Government are losing confidence in the people they elected to lead them. Instead of voting for borrowing $39 million, lawmakers should vote on a $60,000 feasibility study that will give them the facts they crave.

Actually the total cost and debt burden of tha proposed new jail is unknown - with confidence it can be stated that the total debt burden including interest, will exceed $80 million dollars, probably more with rising interest rates, unknown bond interest rates and costs, increased construction costs due to trade war with China, unforeseen cost overruns, and incomplete operation cost estimates done by the County Administrator. All this, mind you, added to the current unfunded liabilities in the county's financial portfolio amounting to about $150 million for "non-pension personnel expenses" meaning health insurance benefit costs for county employees and their dependents, a ballooning figure that will further increase due to the "need" to employ about 20 additional COs at the new jail! Bottom line all of this means higher taxes WHILE ABSOLUTELY REFUSING TO DO A STUDY COMPARING ALL OPTIONS, HAVING ALREADY DECIDED YEARS AGO THAT A GREAT BIG NEW JAIL WAS WHAT YOU WERE GOING TO DO REGARDLESS. Thanks Legislators, for nothing: for utterly failing in your duty to do due diligence and examine the cost-benefits of ALL options available to the County to meet its statutory obligations to detainees in Greene County.