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Residents outraged, lawmakers mixed over jail vote

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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene MediaGreene County Legislator Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, foreground, reads a resolution with a capacity crowd of residents behind him. The legislature voted 10-4 to borrow $39 million to build a new Greene County Jail in Coxsackie on Wednesday
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene MediaFolded orange jumpsuits were left on the desks of 10 Greene County lawmakers who voted to approve borrowing $39 million to build a new jail in Coxsackie as a sign of protest Wednesday. A bouquet of flowers was placed on Legislator Lori Torgersen's desk. She voted against the resolution.
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    Lance Wheeler for Columbia-Greene Media Residents packed the board room on Wednesday night for the legislature’s vote on the jail bond.
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    Lance Wheeler for Columbia-Greene MediaLawmakers passed the jail bond 10-4 on Wednesday.
September 20, 2018 04:06 pm

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.

Based upon historic experience and precedent as well as the poor planning and lack of due diligence exercised on the part of the Greene County Legislature, I would disagree with Charlie Martinez and predict that the jail will take five years to build, will run seriously over budget due to its inherent non-compliance with state and federal guidelines and regulations for houses of detention, and the poor practices in soliciting qualified bids outside of a small circle of mysteriously aligned parties with a relationship to our County Administration.

Based on further recent historic precedence, I also expect that law suits, and embarrassing disclosures, audits and a grand jury inquiry will also slow down the final delivery of this fiasco.

Really, the best message voters in Greene County can send is to vote their legislator out of office if they voted for this boondoggle. If they are running unopposed, I urge you to submit a write in candidate of your choosing instead to send a message.

Jon Phillips, Catskill
Greene County spit its fiduciary bit by irrationally charging ahead with its poorly researched half-baked numbers. This might be the way that sausages are made, but this scale of debt is of a relatively gargantuan scale that exhausts our negligible reserves and can plunge us into bankruptcy.

The 80 beds proposed can likely be REJECTED by the state COC, which can demand MORE supervision and staffing for the design proposed, in which case, guess what: The county will have to redesign, reconfigure and add more unnecessary positions that are more than DOUBLE what our current jail population would require!

This boondoggle is an outrage and never should have advanced this far, and would not have if the Greene County Legislature had listened to outside experts like VERA Institute, instead of its own inner Sheriff yearning for an ever expanding staff in a county that has LOST POPULATION since the 2010 census. Go Google it.

Crazy. Stupid. Careless. Greene County deserves a better group of legislators leading it than the ten who voted "yes" for this poisonous proposal.

FOIL results USDA - Loan Application

FOIL results Commission of Corrections SLAMMING behavior of Greene County (problem's not architecture)

Assemblyman Tague binder (Jail file)

Greene County Legislator "FAQ" - annotated

FOIL results Ricci-Greene binder (Ricci-Greene fraudulently created the numbers driving the size of the jail
JAIL UPDATE.... Herkimer County bid results that impact Greene County pending bids.....

Herkimer County issued jail bids in early August. The return date was Sept. 19 - last week. They extended the bid deadline to this week. They came in at 2 PM yesterday. I spoke with the Budget/Purchasing Office this AM... and she was kind enough to give me the results. The Legislative body will consider adopting the bids in the near future.

According to the Purchasing Office, the total sum of the bids for their 131 bed facility is $38.9 million – or $297,000 a bed. The issue is - just where did the actual bids fall? The 38.9 million bid came in well over the Herkimer Legislative adoption of the approved project bond/cost, established at $31.9 million. As you may recall, the Greene Public Safety Committee meeting approved a $32.9 million bond, reducing the bond proposal from $47M. During the public remarks against the Greene County Jail plan, Shawn Groden said that Herkimer County would likely see a substantial increase in the cost of their facility - likely a 25% or more above their $31.9M bond package already in place. The Herkimer construction estimator, the Gilbane Construction Company, took the estimated cost up to $39M in May. The Herkimer legislators refused to increase the bond package some weeks ago and insisted that the construction managers keep the outlay at $32M. Evidently, Gilbane was accurate and the Legislature is now facing a roughly $8 million shortfall that will need to be addressed.

This result will potentially impact Greene County. Priced at $47 million in construction more than a year ago, and a recent reduction in bond debt at $39M with $8M dedicated from county cash-on-hand that could have been dedicated to fund other under-funded liabilities, if Greene’s bids result in an increase like Herkimer, we will be in trouble. Assuming that Shawn is accurate on the belief that old estimates will be considerable below current expenses for a facility project, our construction costs could go from $47M to $58M! Insofar as the authorized bond – along with a $2.2 million increase in taxes – sits at $39M, we will be $20 million short in capital funding. That will result in a $20M project shortfall from the $39M authorized bond.

So far, Greene County has not re-calculated the construction estimates from $47M to a new number based on the adoption of the Gardner amendment reducing the max beds to 80 - a 17% reduction (assuming both 96 and 80 bed counts ARE beds and not cells). A 17% reduction on the estimated $47M translates into a $8M reduction to $39M - the level of the bond issue. That saves the $8M in county resources dedicated to the project. On the other hand, with the Herkimer bids coming in higher - 25% - the Greene County available cash could be used to balance out back to $47, but not to an increased bid of $58M.

Just a reminder, a $47M facility cost come to $490,000 a bed at 96 beds and $588,000 at 80 beds. If we experience a 25% increase in the bid pricing – just as Herkimer County experienced – and the facility price goes up to $58M, the cost per 80 beds becomes $725,000 a bed compared to the Herkimer figure after bid receipts of $297,000 a bed.

Stand Up! Speak Out!
Bobby J