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Demolish the old jail? Why now?

August 17, 2018 05:34 pm

Just four months ago, the Greene County Jail was, for all intents and purposes, evacuated. Inmates were taken to jails in Columbia and Ulster counties. The jail’s outside doors were locked and secured, probably for all time.

Among the events since that day, April 20: The Greene County Legislature defeated a resolution to commission a feasibility study of a shared jail and shelved resolutions to borrow millions to build a new county jail in Coxsackie.

Much has changed during a summer of running in place. We learned Tuesday the Legislature is considering a plan to demolish the old jail and move the suspect-processing room to an undisclosed location in Coxsackie.

So, our questions boil down to these: Why? and Why now?

Tearing down the jail eliminates one of three options — the others are building a new jail or sharing a jail with Columbia County — that lawmakers vowed were still on the table. Demolition risks unleashing dangerous friable asbestos into the air of a busy Main Street shopping district, no matter how carefully the building is taken down. Whether spending $500,000 to demolish the century-old jail — a cost blamed on the building’s size and tight location on a hill — is a better alternative than spending $30,000 on a shared jail feasibility study is still worth instructive debate.

It certainly appears some officials are manipulating the old bait-and-switch to reduce the number of jail options to one — bonding for millions of dollars to build a new jail and saddle the next generation with 30 years of debt.

The Greene County Legislature has to do the right thing and ask: When will thoughtful debate on this issue reappear? Does the county have to spend millions to create a new jail or can it be achieved with a strategy of shared services? Will the projected number of future inmates justify new construction? The Legislature could have answered that question months ago by authorizing the feasibility study.

Some lawmakers, including Lori Torgersen, of Windham, have been asking this question: Are there smarter, and less expensive, ways to solve Greene County’s incarceration problem? We, like Torgersen, are waiting for an answer.

Comments
Jail proponents WIlliam Lawrence, Felix Martinez and other allies of Sheriff Seeley have been putting out a lot of false facts and misinformation out there, on the official government website, and that's wrong.

They have been misleading us about the need for a new jail in Coxsackie, what the law requires, and reasonable alternatives. In doing so, they've also distorted the public debate regarding the cost of a feasibility study, which the state would largely reimburse. It would in the end only cost $5,000 for funding Greene County's portion of this study. Yet they have had seemingly no problem in spending over $2,000,000 on architects designing an oversized jail in Coxsackie before any vetted survey and study could be performed. They did this among themselves using Mr. Groden their employee, and then tried to force the Frankenstein of a plan down the taxpayers' throats to the tune of a bond that would wind up costing us nearly $100,000,000. They backed down at the outcry, and now are manipulating their figures to represent "they only need a $39,000,000 bond to pay for a jail they are now saying will "only" cost $47,000,000 to build . . . not counting interest, which will bring it to $89,000,000 over 30 years, by which time it will already be 'obsolete.'

There were only 40 inmates in all Greene County including inmates being boarded out when the Greene County jail was shut down this summer. No one can explain where the facts were provided that lead the pro jail forces to insist that we need 96 beds in a new jail, or how that number can be justified except by rationalizing it by how many jail guards Seeley insists upon in his budget.

A few years back, Ulster County made the same mistake and after over $36,000,000 in overruns wound up nearly bankrupting their county burdening it with a 432 bed jail finally costing over $100,000,000 - that's why they're happy to give us a lower bid for boarding out our prisoners than Columbia at its Hudson jail facility. They need to pay for their empty beds.

The law allows us all to find a regional solution. The NY State Attorney General made this crystal clear in a 1991 memorandum addressing the subject of shared services that certain Greene County Legislators have intentionally ignored and lied about.

Taxpayers in Greene County are upset when they learn of all this, and they have every right to be. They're getting the bum's rush and being treated like a rich uncle when they're poor cousins. This proposed new jail is a boondoggle and will hurt the schools, quality of life and economy of Greene County for decades to come.

Members of the public need to make their voices heard now. The Legislators have already spent over $2,000,000 on a design of a super jail in Coxsackie that has never been approved by voters that was based on numbers that the Sheriff pulled out of thin air to justify his workforce. He is trying to empire build -- and this is a 'poor kingdom.' In Ulster there wound up being indictments and an investigation over suspicious construction cost overruns. But, all that happened when the horse had left the barn after it was too late to really address the problem. We have a chance to avoid disastrous mistakes and misjudgments here by acting prudently and carefully with a professional non-partisan study that represents all sides of this issue equally. The Lawrence committee is dominated by pro Coxsackie jail proponents and they must step aside. Taxpayers, business interests, experts with academic backgrounds in planning and professional without ties to the Corrections Officers Union and Sheriff, who have personal job interests in the jail, need to be incorporated into finding smarter and less spendthrift solutions to administering our incarcerated population while it awaits trial, sentencing or release.

There is no justification for the rash and inadequately researched jail bonding that the pro-jailers are advocating. That is clearly not "the answer" to anything except whatever arrangement Lawrence and Seeley may have with one another to build a jail in Coxsackie regardless of the facts or rational support for doing so.

It is criminal to resist spending $5,000 and a little time to carefully weigh all our options before committing millions on a jail capacity that might be less expensive to address with resources already existing and at our disposal.

Sincerely,

Jon Phillips
8 Franklin Street
Catskill, New York 12414
Jail proponents WIlliam Lawrence, Felix Martinez and other allies of Sheriff Seeley including Kevin Lewis, have been putting out a lot of false facts and misinformation out there, on the official Greene government website, and that's wrong.

They have been misleading us about the need for a new jail in Coxsackie, what the law requires, and reasonable alternatives. In doing so, they've also distorted the public debate regarding the cost of a feasibility study, which the state would largely reimburse. It would in the end only cost $5,000 for funding Greene County's portion of this study. Yet they have had seemingly no problem in spending over $2,000,000 on architects designing an oversized jail in Coxsackie before any vetted survey and study could be performed.

They did this among themselves using Mr. Groden their employee, and then tried to force the Frankenstein of a plan down the taxpayers' throats to the tune of a bond that would wind up costing us nearly $100,000,000. They backed down at the outcry, and now are manipulating their figures to represent "they only need a $39,000,000 bond to pay for a jail they are now saying will "only" cost $47,000,000 to build" . . . not counting interest, which will bring it to $89,000,000 over 30 years, by which time it will already be 'obsolete.'

There were only 40 inmates in all Greene County including inmates being boarded out when the Greene County jail was shut down this summer. No one can explain where the facts were provided that lead the pro jail forces to insist that we need 96 beds in a new jail, or how that number can be justified except by rationalizing it by how many jail guards Seeley insists upon in his budget.

A few years back, Ulster County made a similar mistake and after over $36,000,000 in overruns wound up nearly bankrupting their county burdening it with a 402 bed jail finally costing over $100,000,000 - that's why they're happy to give us a lower bid for boarding out our prisoners than Columbia at its Hudson jail facility. They need to pay for their empty beds.

The law allows us all to find a regional solution. The NY State Attorney General made this crystal clear in a 1991 memorandum addressing the subject of shared services that certain Greene County Legislators have intentionally ignored and lied about.

Taxpayers in Greene County are upset when they learn of all this, and they have every right to be. They're getting the bum's rush and being treated like a rich uncle when they're poor cousins. This proposed new jail is a boondoggle and will hurt the schools, quality of life and economy of Greene County for decades to come.

Members of the public need to make their voices heard now. The Legislators have already spent over $2,000,000 on a design of a super jail in Coxsackie that has never been approved by voters that was based on numbers that the Sheriff pulled out of thin air to justify his workforce. He is trying to empire build -- and this is a 'poor kingdom.' In Ulster there wound up being indictments and an investigation over suspicious construction cost overruns. But, all that happened when the horse had left the barn after it was too late to really address the problem. We have a chance to avoid disastrous mistakes and misjudgments here by acting prudently and carefully with a professional non-partisan study that represents all sides of this issue equally. The Lawrence committee is dominated by pro Coxsackie jail proponents and they must step aside. Taxpayers, business interests, experts with academic backgrounds in planning and professional without ties to the Corrections Officers Union and Sheriff, who have personal job interests in the jail, need to be incorporated into finding smarter and less spendthrift solutions to administering our incarcerated population while it awaits trial, sentencing or release.

There is no justification for the rash and inadequately researched jail bonding that the pro-jailers are advocating. That is clearly not "the answer" to anything except whatever arrangement Lawrence and Seeley may have with one another to build a jail in Coxsackie regardless of the facts or rational support for doing so.

It is criminal to resist spending $5,000 and a little time to carefully weigh all our options before committing millions on a jail capacity that might be less expensive to address with resources already existing and at our disposal.

Sincerely,

Jon Phillips
8 Franklin Street
Catskill, New York 12414