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Sides dig in for jail fight

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    A map of the proposed new Greene County Jail site in Coxsackie.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media The existing Greene County Jail at 80 Bridge St. in Catskill.
August 30, 2018 11:30 pm

CATSKILL — Another meeting, another jail bond vote. Expect sparring.

The Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee will vote next Wednesday on a resolution to borrow $39 million in to pay for a new county jail in Coxsackie.

Some lawmakers support the measure but others want to have more facts before voting.

Ellen Schorsch, of Windham, is one of many community members who met Thursday night at Higher Grounds Coffee Co. on Route 296 to discuss how to sway legislators who are uncertain of where they stand on the jail project, she said. Thursday’s meeting in Windham is related to the activist group Smart Greene Government, which supports a shared jail with Columbia County.

“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, adding information about the project will be handed out at the Catskill Farmers Market on Friday and the Lexington Farmers Market on Saturday.

“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.”

Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, a member of the Public Safety Committee, is voting in favor of the bond because delaying the project continues to cost taxpayers money, he said.

“It’ll be interesting Wednesday night,” Martinez said. “We need a jail here in Greene County and I don’t care what the opposition says.”

Martinez predicted things will run smoother once a bond resolution is passed.

“It’s ludicrous that we’re dragging our damn feet,” Martinez said.

Legislator Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, is anticipating feedback regarding jail costs, where the county is getting money to reduce the bond and what will employment options for corrections officers be in the future, he said.

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

Every time the legislature discusses the jail, O’Connor has walked away learning something new, he said, adding he’s looking for 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.”

O’Connor is running for the 102nd Assembly District seat in a rematch against Republican Chris Tague, R-102, who won the seat in a special election in April.

Regardless of his political ambitions, O’Connor said, he remains committed to continue his involvement with the jail project and working on getting alternatives-to-incarceration programs.

“This choice that we make is one that will live for generations,” O’Connor said.

The Finance Committee on May 14 shelved a resolution to authorize a bond worth $51.4 million for a new county jail behind Greene Correctional Facility off Route 9W in Coxsackie and opted to explore cost savings. The bond amount was reduced to $39 million thanks to $4 million in cuts to the jail’s design and the county’s ability to offset project costs by using the fund balance — leftover funds amassed from budgets of previous years — to reduce the amount county has to borrow. This past year’s fund balance was $11 million.

The existing Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill was closed April 20 for safety reasons after it was ranked as one of the worst jails in the state in February by the state Commission of Corrections.

The existing jail could be bound for demolition once results from an asbestos evaluation are presented to county officials in September or October.

Passage by the Public Safety Committee means the resolution will come to a vote at the legislature’s Finance Committee meeting scheduled for Sept. 17. From there it could be voted on by the full legislature Sept. 19.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.

The fight is largely over. Greene County is unlikely to get a loan from US Department of Agriculture or any other source because they a) intentionally failed the required due diligence (did not study the shared/regional jail option b) lied to USDA about our financial status (we have zero change in sales or property tax for the last 4 years) and c) lied to create the numbers driving the monster mega prison boondoggle in Coxsackie (RIcci-Greene was chosen to provide high numbers but were unqualified, hired against contracting requirements (no competitive bid) and they didn't do the actual research (no raw data) and were fired halfway through their contract.

The good citizens of Greene County should be alarmed. All the money leaves the county. SMRT, Pike, Delaware Engineering, Ricci-Greene are not Greene County businesses. The interest to USDA (3.5% for 30 years) leaves Greene County. The $11 million in funds Mr. Groden, Mr. Warren Hart and Mr. Peter Markou are taking (to lower the principle) is part of the $42 million required for county worker retirement and health care. The county worker should be marching around 411 Main Street screaming. Mr. Markou, who's running for Treasurer in November against Tannersville Mayor Lee McGunnigle, says the unfunded mandate is more like $120 million. Ask him.

Alternatives To Incarceration ("ATI") met each week for 20 weeks. They are the professionals actually running our social and justice systems. They were ignored by the legislators and administrators. ATI MUST be made a standing committee, funded, and authorized to administrate social and justice services (non-court). With ATI, Bail Reform (passed), a new Regional Court System (in play), a requirement the Public Defender be at ANY court appearance (they received $500,000), the removal of adolescents from county jails (done), and better social services we will move from the now 30 detainees to 20 and even less.

A county jail is not a prison. This monster was designed by Jail Superintendent Michael Spitz and Sheriff Greg Seeley. My successful FOIL of 5 years of correspondence between the State Commission of Corrections (initially denied by County Attorney Ed Kaplan) shows HORRIBLE REPETITIVE ABUSES.

Yet, Mr. Spitz triple dips, ran this jail into the ground intentionally to force a new palace in Coxsackie. Get it folks?

To summarize: $39 million is $51 million since the "reserve" must be paid back with interest. Interest on $51 million at 3.5% is $82,444,600. This does NOT include operation costs, maintenance costs, staff cost, the costs to detainee someone (food health transportation), defense costs, or the social costs to the detainee. A county jail is simple a place to detain someone temporarily until a court or social services can figure out something practical. We failed in Greene County. Let's correct the error.

Rehab the Sheriff's office at 80 Bridge Street. The library and courthouse were built at the same time and with the same methods and are nicely rehabed. Keep booking and some holding cells (8 is enough). Formalize ATI as a standing committee at $135,000 a year and administrate our social and justice systems professionally. Fire Michael Spitz yesterday.
Martinez said. “We need a jail here in Greene County and I don’t care what the opposition says.” Why is that, Mr. Martinez? Is it because you stand to profit from the proximity of the new proposed jail to the property you own in Coxsackie?

I am genuinely curious as to why Mr. Martinez has been so convinced that a jail near his Auto Repair business is necessary to the financial health of Greene County when it will burden its debt to the tune of $80,000,000.00 additional dollars.

And, where is the logic in Martinez's statement that paying to board out the 40 or so detainees currently in Greene County is more expensive than spend $12,000,000 (at least) to make the "free" wetlands "given" to Greene County by Governor Andy Cuomo viable for development? It's hiding somewhere in Mr. Martinez's wallet, one imagines.

Ulster County is several times bigger than Greene and is fighting bankruptcy because of it's overbuilt jail. The Democrats are hoping we in Greene County take the bait and go bankrupt in Martinez's corrupt thinking that we need a 96 bed new jail, because when the truth of crushing taxes hit Greene County smack in the face, the furious voters will surely rise up and vote Martinez, Lawrence and all the other Republicans and DINOs out on their rears. But, the last laugh will still be on the taxpayers.

I'd rather see us work together and STOP THE NEW JAIL NOW. Why oh why are the legislators so scared of paying a few thousand bucks on a real study instead of wasting over $2,000,000 to date on a $90,000,000 obligation on top of that amount to build a jail based on information the jail guards' union and Sheriff personally benefit from in power, patronage, and salaries we pay for?