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September 28, 2016
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Forty million dollars for new jail? With pressure from Albany jail talk resumes

With a number of lawmakers convinced that Sullivan County taxpayers can’t afford an $80 million new jail, county officials have moved to get a second opinion. The $80 million plan came from LaBella Associates.Now a company called Goldberg Group Architects (GGA) will provide the county with a “concept plan” for a new jail.

That information was passed on by the county attorney, Sam Yasgur, at a meeting at the government center on September 11. He said GGA will “see if they can design a facility that will save substantial dollars; they have to design it so that it meets with the commission of corrections in Albany.” He added that they will also determine what uses, if any, the existing 102-year-old jail can be put to.

In a related development, county treasurer Ira Cohen, who is running unopposed for another term, sent an email to residents on September 20 saying, “because of poor leadership in the county government center, to date, the county has paid (and wasted) millions to LaBella for initial work on the prospective new jail with little to show for it.” He added some good news saying, “GGA is now estimating it could build a 300+-bed facility on that already acquired property off Route 17’s Exit 104 in Monticello for as little as $40 million, which is a much cheaper (half the $80 million) price to build a new jail.”

One question that has yet to be answered is where the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Road Patrol and Office will be located when the new jail is built. Under the original plan, the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies such as the probation department were to be located at the new jail. But the La Bella plan for that would have cost $120 million. After those entities were dropped from the plan the price dropped to $80 million, but a decision about the location of the sheriff’s patrol was never made.

At the meeting on September 11, legislator Alan Sorenson said that county lawmakers should consider using a county-owned building situated behind the Apollo Plaza, a third of which is now being used to house the county’s new voting machines, which unlike the old lever machines, require housing in a climate-controlled building.

But the county has agreed to sell that building to developer Butch Resnick as part of the deal for him to develop a supermarket on the site. Sorenson said because of the attributes of the site, the deal with Resnick should be renegotiated.

That suggestion brought a strong reaction from legislator Kathy LaBuda, chair of the Division of Public Works. She said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not going back and negotiating anything. We’ve been talking about Apollo for four years.”

Legislator Ira Steingart, who as chair of the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency has been involved in the Apollo negotiations, said he agreed with LaBuda.

Legislator Gene Benson repeated his concern that the annex to the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Fallsburg was being overlooked. He suggested that the existing buildings there might serve the road patrol and there would still be room to build a new jail.

County legislature chair Scott Samuelson said that he had spoken to a representative of the Commission of Corrections, and was told they would need full build-out plans before they could render a decision on the site, a requirement that would cost the county “a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

The current plans for the jail call for a pod system. Each of four pods is capable of housing 48 inmates, and with special authorization for double-bunking each could house up to 60 inmates. The number of pods could be expanded.