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Anger flares at Hunter jail meeting

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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, addresses County Administrator Shaun Groden during Hunter’s informational meeting on the jail project on Thursday.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media Residents took turns addressing Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden during the Q&A section of Hunter’s informational meeting on the jail project on Thursday.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media Resident Scott Myers took the floor to address his concerns with County Administrator Shaun Groden’s presentation on the jail project, after Groden would not take questions from Myers at Hunter’s informational meeting on Thursday.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media County Administrator Shaun Groden held a Q&A session following his presentation on the jail project at Hunter’s informational meeting on Thursday.
November 2, 2018 10:10 pm Updated: November 5, 2018 03:33 pm


HUNTER — Tensions flew at the Town Board’s special informational meeting Thursday where residents were invited to ask questions about the county jail project Thursday evening and it was announced that the planned jail may not be big enough.

The proposed county jail’s bed size was reduced to 80 when the jail bond was passed Sept. 19.

“The 80 beds are divided by gender,” Groden said. “There are two male pods with 32 beds each and one female pod with 16 each.”

The state Commission of Corrections has expressed concern that the jail will not have enough female cells and the plans may need to be adjusted, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said.

“We will get CoC’s recommendations back on the (November) 20th,” he added.

Groden gave a presentation during the meeting at the Mountaintop Library, followed by public question-and-answer session on the project. The session began with a curt encounter regarding the planned county jail between Groden and County Treasurer candidate Tannersville Mayor Dr. Lee McGunnigle.

“Let’s gamble low,” McGunnigle said. “Don’t burden Greene County taxpayers.”

“That was a nice political ad,” Groden replied.

The audience demanded that Groden apologize to McGunnigle.

Groden obliged and the officials shook hands.

Tension continued to build when Groden refused to take questions from resident Scott Myers.

“I’m not taking any questions from you,” he said. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”

Town Supervisor Daryl Legg gave Myers an opportunity to address his concerns despite Groden refusing to speak with him.

Myers felt the real issue at hand with the old jail was the management, he said.

“We haven’t changed our fundamental approach to our local justice system,” he said.

Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, recommended the county look into sharing a jail with Albany County.

“Sheriff Craig Apple has made it clear to me he would be interested in having a regional jail,” she said.

Both Torgersen and former Public Defender Greg Lubow criticized Groden for defending the a study of jail size.

Myers took the floor during the session after Groden would not take questions from him.

“The study wasn’t just outdated,” he said. “It was fraudulent. They were fired halfway through their contract.”

Lubow wanted to know why the bed count had come down for the proposed Greene County Jail, he said.

“If it weren’t for the people in this room, we would have a 134-bed jail and a $51 million bond.”

“The 80 beds was a compromise to get a project,” Groden replied.

Jay Lesenge, of Catskill, wanted to know the total construction cost for the jail.

Groden estimated it would be $70 million, not including operating costs, he said.

The cost to board the inmates, he said, was $1.5 million.

“So, we have $70 million versus $45 million — that’s almost twice as much,” Lesenger said.

“We can’t board them forever,” Groden said. “The CoC says it’s not a permanent option to send inmates to another county.”

Legislator Larry Gardner D-Hunter agreed.

“There is no future in boarding out,” he said. “The state is not going to let us board for 30 years.”

Phoebe Potter, of West Kill, voiced her support for the shared jail with Columbia County.

“The cost would be driven by inmate population, not operating this massive infrastructure.”

Torgersen felt the meeting fell short of its goals, she said.

“I think the goal was to clear up misconceptions,” she said. “I don’t think you [Groden] did that...You clearly have a bias.”

Groden’s presentation looked at a variety of concerns that have been raised throughout the jail debate, including the Columbia County shared-jail option, other potential sites, the legality of a county jail, bed count, increased taxes, upgrade costs for the new jai, alternatives-to-incarceration options, the jail study and inmate inventory.

“If Columbia County wanted to build a new regional, co-owned jail, I’d be all for it,” Groden said.

The cost to build the necessary addition on to the Columbia County Jail to house another 40-60 cells would be $15 million, of which Greene County would have to pay $7.5 million, Groden said.

“I wouldn’t want to put an addition on a 37-year-old building,” he said.

The county would also have to pay 42-48 percent of the operational costs, or whatever the ratio of Greene County to Columbia County inmates is, he said.

“Their current budget is $6.5 million so that would be $3 million a year.”

The estimated operating costs is $5 million, Groden said.

Groden also expressed concern over increased costs in transportation to get detainees to the jail and to court dates at the Columbia County location.

“As far as the legal issue goes, I think it’s a matter of opinion,” Groden said. “I think it [the jail] has to stay in the county.”

Groden affirmed that property taxes would not increase significantly.

“Taxes will not be going up 25 percent,” he said. “The 2019 budget is within the state Tax Cap and the budgets for 2020 and 2021 are also projected to be within the tax cap.”

The tax cap limits property taxe hikes to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. In 2019, the limit is set at 2 percent.

After the meeting, Torgersen spoke about her views on the jail situation.

“I’m disappointed with the county and Legislature,” she said. “If we really value educating the engaging the public, we would have taken the opportunity to be fact- and evidence-based.”





As long as this group of legislators are in office, there will be a budge breaking, bankrupting jail and they will lie about it. Just like the President baldly lies about "supporting health care and preexisting conditions" - they will lie about building an oversized jail that people unnamed will profit from and tax payers will suffer for.

Where they don't lie they will deceive by fooling gullible legislators like Larry Gardner to mistakenly believe he has achieved "a compromise jail of 80 beds," when in fact neither Groden, Martinez, or Sheriff Seeley have any intentions of honoring any such agreements, and will play a game of deception and bureaucratic "footsie" with the State Department of Corrections, which will be restricted to commenting on Greene County's proposed plan, and will be forced to impose its own regulations upon it, according to which, one or two more beds required for women prisoners at peak potential will require a "whole pod" that can accommodate 16 beds, because such expansions are gross, not incremental, as they are driven by prescribed formulae for supervision and staffing.

Translation? It would be MUCH, MUCH less expensive for Greene County to board out under arranged contracts for sharing facilities with neighboring overbuilt counties that cover specific potential populations. This would NOT be "continuing to board out" in the eyes of COC, because it would be contract bound and structured. It would be legal sharing of facilities on a regional basis AND IS COMPLETELY LEGAL, IN FACT.

This is what Groden and our legislators are LYING ABOUT and grossly misrepresenting in their squirming non-answers, prevarications, and consistent distortion, and that is why people get so angry, because they know they're being lied to but are confused by all the dodges and mystification of language. No wonder Lori Torgesen is disgusted.

I did not attend this meeting, because I already knew what Groden was going to say, and how he was going to say it, and to what purpose. His purpose is to catch flack and wear down the electorate. Notice that now he's saying, "Your taxes will not go up by MORE than 25%!!" That's overall - not just your real estate taxes and assessments, but gasoline, cable/internet, phone, and sales tax revenues. For most of the people who attended that meeting it means an extra $2,500 - 5,000 annually minimum out of their pocket that is NOT deductible, but right out of pocket, because most are already paying at the tax cap rate. But, the truth is that it will be more, much more based on Martinez's, Lawrence's and Groden's records of lying so far.
Wow... sadly Larry Gardner, who represents this area as a county legislator, doesn't get it yet. He thinks an $80 million facility (bond + interest + "reserve" + operation + maintenance...) is cheaper than spending out of existing funds for a shared/regional jail. No it's not Mr. Gardner. You cast the deciding vote. 10 - 4. NONE of your constituents agree with your vote.

While I attended every one of the Safety and Finance meetings, and everyone of the ATI committee meetings AND everyone of the engineering meetings - you did not. You may come to the legislature meetings with piles of books and papers but you are not paying attention.

In Buy In Greene's shiny booklet published last week they write that 38% of Greene County jobs are in the public sector. p19. That's not sustainable. On the same page they write that the salaries of prison and jail staff is the highest of all jobs here: $69,000 per year. Get it! Page 21: "Having two state prisons in the county also boosts wages and provides high-wage employment appropriate to the skills base of a large number of county residents, sic. watching humans in cages.

Notice the game. Put people in jail and prison and get high paying (public) jobs. It's not sustainable.

Implement ATI as a standing committee - stat. 80% of the people being held are detainees - not convicted. There's no rehabilitation while in a human cage, it's contradictory to being healthy. Try it.

Enough. Stop this train wreck.
The video
Jack Norton/Vera’s article about USDA
My section of the Hunter information session