The issue of constructing a new county jail has been dormant since 2010 because of sagging county revenues due to the Great Recession. The issue was brought up again at a meeting in the government center on August 9 after indication that officials in Albany are once again expecting the legislature to start moving on the project.
In the fall of last year, the New York State Comptroller’s Office performed an operational audit and in May released its findings, which suggested that if the legislature were to consider building the new facility sooner rather than later, taxpayers could save $108 million over the 50-year life of the facility.
The audit said a 2.49% tax increase would be required to pay for the construction and operation of the facility.
Legislator Kitty Vetter wondered how the state could want the county to pass such an increase when they have mandated a tax cap of 2%.
The site that the majority of legislators seem to agree should be the location of the new jail is the former Mapes Farm about a mile outside of Monticello.
Legislator Gene Benson, who was not a legislator at the time, asked why the previous legislature dismissed an annex to the Woodbourne Correctional Facility as a possibility for a location for the jail. Undersheriff Eric Chaboty said that the site had been financed with bonds by the Urban Development Corporation and the bonds had not been paid.
Further, the jail administrator, Hal Smith, said he had taken the prisoner transportation figures from 2009 for medical and court transports, and compared the man hours and miles from the Mapes property to the annex property. The result was the transports would have required 668 man hours from the Mapes property versus 1,648 hours from annex; the transports wou1d have totaled 4,125 miles from Mapes property and 28,945 from the annex. He said, “And this is something that would never go away.”
Benson said, “I don’t understand how a seven- or eight-mile difference between two pieces of property can cause that much difference in hours and mileage.”
Later in the discussion Smith explained that the largest number of trips transporting prisoners from the jail go to Monticello or Liberty.
In relation to rejection of the annex, legislator Jonathan Ruis said the state Commission of Correction (COC), which has final approval over the jail, had told the county “you’re barking up the wrong tree” with that choice of a possible location, and it was not one of the six locations the COC had approved for the jail.
Benson responded that this was four years ago, and suggested the COC might be willing to consider the annex site this time around. He noted there is already water and sewer available at the property, and there is not water and sewer at the Mapes site.
The cost of bringing water and sewer to the Mapes site is included in the estimated $80 million cost of the project.
Chaboty and Smith said they would try to arrange a meeting with a representative of COC to get a response to the question about whether COC might be open to the annex as a location.
Acting county manager Josh Potosek said the county has spent about $1.9 million for the Mapes property and about $2 million has been paid to the design firm LaBella Associates for construction documents, which are 85 to 90% complete.
Legislator Alan Sorenson said he thought the best way forward would be to pay for the completion of the construction documents, which would give them a definitive cost estimate for that project.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda at one point said there is some urgency to moving forward because if the COC decided to shut down the current jail, which is more than 100 years old, the county would have to foot the bill for housing 180 prisoners at another facility, which would be prohibitive. She asked Potosek to find out the cost of having the construction documents completed.
There is still some resistance in the community to siting the jail on the Mapes property. Tom Manza, who has been an active critic of the location, sent an email to legislators and the media after the meeting that said, “I am disappointed that the committee I had asked to be on to discuss alternatives to building the $80 million jail has turned into the committee to in fact push the $80 million jail forward. I think some of you will agree this isn’t right, and a committee that one would have expected to meet openly five or six times before coming to a conclusion has, I believe, only met once, secretively and seemingly with a pre-planned agenda.”