In the Greene County version of the no-huddle offense, officials started construction of the new jail this week without stopping for a groundbreaking ceremony, some speeches or even a few thank-yous to everyone who made this boondoggle possible. No, it was get in and start building, public be damned and not a word to anyone. County officials couldn’t even deliver the hype they themselves created.
Under recent criminal justice reforms, the jail’s bed count was dropped to 48, with a projected cost savings of $3.5 million. County lawmakers will now have to decide whether to cut expenses from the $8.1 million county contribution or from the $39 million U.S. Department of Agriculture bond. Either way, the downward trend of inmate populations across the state should have led to one conclusion and one only: Stop this ridiculously expensive project.
By another trick of fate, one of many that seem to have gone the county’s way through this entire process, the village of Coxsackie is about to embark on a parallel project that will expand the capacity of its wastewater treatment plant in about two years, just in time to handle the extra load from the new jail.
Now, improvement to the plant, built in 1972, is long overdue and would have gone forward without the jail. The last upgrade took place more than 20 years ago. The increased capacity will eliminate the need for overflows, meaning no more raw sewage will flow into the Hudson River. By that measure, it’s a boon to Coxsackie and a coincidence.
But as jail construction begins, Greene County taxpayers should be disheartened. This could turn out to be the biggest waste of resources in county history. In two years, inmate population patterns could change so dramatically that the vaunted, much-anticipated county jail could be obsolete before the key opens the door.
A shared jail appeared to be the answer, but the county, in its haste to get the shovels into the ground, outran several assemblymen and senators who got behind a bill to clarify the legality of shared jails. We think such a bill would have passed, given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide policy calling for sharing municipal services wherever possible.
The Greene County Legislature somehow managed to pursue only an expensive, possibly needless, venture while the majority revealed little imagination or interest in pursuing attainable, less costly options.
In May, the county legislature decided to seek state assistance regarding shared jails in a 10-4 vote. When the Legislature did not receive signed letters from state leaders confirming a law would be passed, county lawmakers did not object to moving forward with the project.