CATSKILL — The county moved forward with its plan to build a new jail Wednesday night by approving a $39 million bond issue to cover the costs of building the structure in Coxsackie.
The Greene County Legislature voted 10-4 in favor of the $39 million measure.
The vote was taken without debate in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the legislative chambers in the county building in Catskill.
Legislators Larry Gardner, D-Hunter; Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie; William Lawrence, R-Cairo; Harry Lennon, D-Cairo; Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore; Matt Luvera, R-Catskill; Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie; Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill; Lee Palmateer, D-Athens; and Chairman Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville, voted in favor of the bond.
Lawmakers Lori Torgersen, D-Windham; Aidan O’Connor, D-Durham; Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill; Michael Bulich, R-Catskill voted against it.
“It’s an outrage,” said Climax resident Claudia McNulty.
McNulty and Darlene Downing, of Durham, placed folded orange jumpsuits, similar to an inmate’s uniform, on the desks of the 10 lawmakers who voted for the jail in a quiet gesture of protest.
“We were offering the orange prison jumpsuits emblazoned with the big dollar sign to the legislators who sold us out and are the true criminals in the room,” McNulty said. A bouquet of flowers was placed on Torgersen’s desk by resident opponents of the jail for her “no” vote.
Mary Finneran, of Cairo, had similar thoughts.
“It’s a shame, a travesty,” she said. “This will destroy Greene County. We can’t afford the debt.”
Lawmakers had mixed feelings about the outcome.
“It turned out just the way I expected,” Martinez said. “We need a jail in Greene County.”
Torgersen voiced her dismay about the outcome after the vote.
“I’m profoundly disappointed for this county that I love and the people that live here,” she said. “This is the single-biggest mistake I’ve been involved with in my entire career. We had an incredible opportunity as leaders to save taxpayers from this expenditure and do better for criminal justice but we squandered that opportunity. I wish there was something that could stop this project and give us another chance to do better.”
Torgersen hopes the public will demand accountability from the legislators, she said, adding there is a public effort to explore adding a referendum to the ballot.
“I have had mixed answers from attorneys about it, but I certainly hope it’s something we can pursue,” she said.
Torgersen plans to develop a Criminal Justice Coordination Council to watch over the project and help the body to do better, she said.
“We clearly need it,” she said. “I will continue to act as a watchdog with this expenditure.”
Lawrence felt passing the bond was the correct decision.
“It’s a logical conclusion to the jail project concerns,” he said. “We’ve tried to hear everyone’s concerns and adopt our thinking to that point of view. I see no better solution, as ugly as it may seem.”
The county would have to pay for any of the solutions proposed, Lawrence said.
“There’s no free ride,” he said. “Whatever we do, we’ll have to pay for it.”
The state would have reimbursed the Twin Counties $50,000 for the $60,000 feasibility study for the shared jail, leaving $5,000 for each county to pay, Columbia County Controller Ronald Caponer said in March. The cost to repair the old jail has not been explored.
The proposal, containing an amendment capping the number of new beds in the jail at 80, will be submitted to the state Commission of Corrections for approval.
It could take about 60 days to hear back from the Commission of Corrections, Martinez said. The jail is expected to take two years to build.