CATSKILL — The new Greene County Jail project was discussed at length during the legislature’s committee meetings Monday and lawmakers focused on the idea of sharing a jail with Columbia County and where the sheriff’s office should be.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown support for legislation that could allow a shared facility between the two counties. Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said the idea had been discussed before but an obstacle facing the legislature was the thought that each county in the state was required to operate a jail.
A simple majority vote of the Greene County Legislature is required for a shared jail resolution to pass.
“We’re going to request that the shared facility be allowed to occur,” Groden said. “Conceptually, it makes sense.”
Groden said he would try to attend a meeting today with Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell and other county supervisors, organized by Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, to discuss a shared facility.
Lawmakers from both counties would have to submit a joint resolution to request a legislation change to create a shared jail and it has to be approved by the state Legislature.
“They are desirous to maintain the existing relationship,” Groden said of Columbia County lawmakers.
The legislature is also looking at the idea of a parallel path, where the $44 million bond for the project can be locked in at a low interest rate while shared services options can be explored, Groden said.
“I think the majority of the board wants both options fully vetted,” Groden said. “One of those two paths would come to fruition.”
Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, agreed with the parallel-path idea and said all options should be looked at regarding shared services, including the operational, legal and logistical viability of a shared jail and how it can be maintained on a long-term basis.
“If we didn’t look at all options, then shame on us,” Gardner said.
Gardner has been flooded with emails from residents who have inaccurately equated voting on the bond with voting on the jail’s construction.
“It’s not a commitment to build the jail,” Gardner said. “I’m not voting for building the jail, I’m voting for locking in less expensive money.”
Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, said the jail should be built in Greene County. He said Columbia Memorial Hospital, the Columbia-Greene Humane Society and other agencies are in Columbia County.
“We don’t need it to go across the river, everything else is across the river,” Martinez said. “We have so much resource on this side [of the Hudson River].”
If the jail can be built for less than $44 million, Martinez said a solution must be reached for the project because the existing jail on Bridge Street is obsolete.
“It’s dilapidated, it’s outdated, it’s a dump,” Martinez said. “This is the biggest project that I’ve ever encountered since I’ve been down there [in Catskill].”
Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, had initially been told that a shared jail is viable after receiving a call from the assistant deputy secretary from the governor’s office. The findings were announced at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting. “That seems like a real opportunity as far as I’m concerned,” Torgersen said.
Torgersen wants the legislature to continue exploring all jail options. She said the legislature owes it to inmates and jail staff.
While the shared-jail concept is new to some, Torgersen said it is popular in other states. She cited Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia as examples.
“This exists all over the place,” Torgersen said.
The legislature first has to define what a shared jail is because Torgersen said each legislator has a different opinion on it.
“Let’s look at how this can work — the path isn’t always crystal-clear,” Torgersen said. “This perceived dissension about ‘shared services’ is premature because we haven’t defined the proponents of that.”
Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, brought up County Law 216, which requires the civil office of the sheriff to be in the county seat. Other offices under the rule include the treasurer’s office and the board of elections.
“This bond resolution still includes the Sheriff Administration, which when asked was a potential $2 million expense,” Luvera said. “I am not in favor of a $44 million bond, which requires a supermajority vote of the legislators, without having discussions of reducing administrative space and leaving the sheriff’s office in Catskill, according to County Law 216.”
Groden said all parties must clearly understand County Law 216 and how it relates to civil operations of the sheriff’s office.
Martinez said he prefers the sheriff’s office to be near the new jail. He said options can be sought to keep the sheriff’s office in Catskill, including have some staff members work from the Greene County Office Building.
“If that’s what the legislature wants, I have no problem with that,” Martinez said.
Torgersen sees the merit in both keeping the sheriff’s office in Catskill and having it be near the jail and said if the office were to be moved it would require a public referendum.
“It’s something that’s pretty clear if you look at County Law 216,” Torgersen said. “The bigger conversation is, Do we need to build?”
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