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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.
September 1, 2018 11:30 pm

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

The Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee is expected to vote this week 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 last 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. The 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.