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Finance Committee defers jail resolution

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    Greene County Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, left, speaks about the Greene County Jail project while legislators Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, and Harry Lennon, D-Cairo listen.
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    Greene County Legislator Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill, left, speaks at a county Finance Committee meeting as Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, right, listens.
May 15, 2018 07:29 pm Updated: May 15, 2018 08:51 pm

CATSKILL — Seven members of the county Finance Committee voted Monday to shelve the proposed jail bond resolution so lawmakers can try to cut construction costs, reduce the bed count and reach consensus on building a lockup in Coxsackie.

A resolution authorizing $51.4 million in serial bonds to cover the cost of building a new county jail behind the Greene Correctional Facility off Route 9W in Coxsackie was tabled in a 7-1 vote at the committee’s regular meeting Monday.

The 110-year-old jail on Bridge Street in Catskill was closed April 20 for safety reasons. In February, the state Commission of Correction ranked the Greene County Jail as one of the worst correctional facilities in the state.

Legislators Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie; Harry Lennon, D-Cairo; Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie; Larry Gardner, D-Hunter; Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill; Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville; and Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, voted in favor of tabling the bond resolution Monday. Legislator Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill, voted to move the measure to the full Legislature.

The bond resolution will not go before the full Legislature on Wednesday, but could resurface at future meetings of the Public Safety and Finance committees because the measure was deferred — not defeated, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said.

Martinez, who chairs the Finance Committee, offered the motion to table the resolution, saying he wants to decrease the bond amount so lawmakers can reach a consensus on building a new jail.

“We’re going to try to reduce this thing,” Martinez said.

Any change in the bond amount would require a new resolution to be drawn up, Groden said.

The Legislature passed a resolution in March to authorize an agreement for a $51,418,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Agency for the jail.

Reducing the bond shouldn’t affect the agreement, Groden said Tuesday.

Failure to pass a bond resolution before the agreement expires would result in higher interest rates for the project, Groden said.

“If we do not complete the bonding process and commence a bid and a bid award, then the USDA agreement could expire and we would have to start all over again,” he said.

Finance Committee members decided to table the bond resolution because it was not expected to pass in the full Legislature, Martinez said after Monday’s meeting.

“This was the best way out so we could just regroup and see if we could get the price down,” Martinez said. “If we could get it down to $40 million, that’ll be good for everybody.”

Tabling the resolution about the bond should stop all work on the jail, including requests for proposals, Kevin Lennon said before the vote.

More than $2 million has been spent on the project to date, he added.

“Why are we going to be paying to continue on in this method when we’re not going to come to the aspect of a bond?” Kevin Lennon said. “If we’re going to table this, then a lot of things need to happen.”

Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, who is not a member of the Finance Committee, said the full Legislature should meet to discuss ways to reduce the cost of the project to a more reasonable amount.

Herkimer County is building a 130-bed jail for $31.9 million, Luvera said, adding Greene County’s project could be lowered by $20 million to bring it into line with Herkimer’s.

“It’s time that we move on and get this project completed,” he said. “We need to seriously look at some pragmatic discussions and solutions.”

Lawmakers are afraid to vote about the jail on record, said Legislator Lee Palmateer, D-Athens.

Reducing the number of beds or cost of the project could cause the jail to be underbuilt, he added.

“We are in the midst of an emergency,” Palmateer said. “We don’t have time for this crap. You want to figure out what Herkimer County’s going to do? We can’t even figure out what we’re doing because you don’t trust your professionals that designed a reasonable jail.”

Questions about the Legislature’s option to explore a shared jail with Columbia County need to be answered, Kevin Lennon said.

The jail will be built in Greene County, Martinez said.

“We’ve talked about this jail many times,” Kevin Lennon replied. “We’ve had two- and three-hour discussions. We still have no direction of when the next meeting is going to happen. How are we going to discuss it?

“You said we’re going to lower it [the jail cost],” Lennon continued. “How are we going to lower it, Charlie [Martinez]?”

Lennon asked how much the Legislature wants to spend on the county jail project and when it would be voted on, specifically until after the November election.

Martinez and Luvera denied the vote would be delayed until then.

“Are we worried about elections, Charlie?” Kevin Lennon said. “I’m not worried about my elections.”

Lawmakers have to come together and decide want they want to do for the jail project and for jail staff and inmates, Lennon said after the meeting.

“It’s tough for all of us,” he said. “It’s making it very emotional between each of the legislators.”

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

They should be worried about elections because the people I know say that the jail is the most important issue demanding no-action by the legislature. Don't spend our $56M that we don't have and need to borrow via a bond. Don't put us in debt for 30 years. Get your hand out of our pockets. Don't blow out our tax cap by committing to a senseless bond that will cost $89M to pay off or more!

Don't play us for fools. The pro-jail boys were advised by Groden they would lose. They're trying to turn votes around with special deals on the QT and then do a 'midnight vote' and slam dunk a jail on us voters like it or not. That's what Groden's preaching behind closed doors.

They've been forced to close the jail and board out already. They are trying to avoid more people catching on that it's actually to our financial advantage to let them do nothing. The State Commission on Corrections would like nothing better than to get our Sheriff out of the Jail business. He's not very good at it. Better to have Columbia do it. We don't have any problem people going down to NYC and owning up here with their six figure + salaries and then spending money on second homes do we now? Why should we have a problem with a corrections officer driving across the Rip Van Winkle to the Columbia jail location instead of up 9W to Coxsackie? Those are equally 'local' jobs. It is lunatic logic - just plain goop to pretend otherwise!

They don't have the votes!! They never should. They should hope voters don't figure out that the only 'reason' for the Jail Bond was pressure from the Sheriff who deserves to have his budget cut way, way back, and remember, he's 'retiring.'