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Rising costs bring new urgency to jail decision

The Sullivan County Jail administrator, Hal Smith, explains details of the transportation obligations of the jail to county legislators as Sheriff Mike Schiff listens.
Contributed photo

By Fritz Mayer
December 4, 2013

One of the most frustrating issues confronting Sullivan County legislators is the construction of the proposed county jail. The decision had been pushed back over the past several years because of the tough economic climate, but now lawmakers are slowly moving forward again.

At a meeting of the Department of Public Works (DPW) Committee on November 14, the jail situation was discussed. Ed McAndrew, the commissioner of the Sullivan County DPW, said that major repairs have been put on hold with the idea that at some point the new jail would be built. But there is a question about just how long some of the systems will continue to operate. He noted that the sewer pipes are imbedded in concrete, and are 80 to 100 years old. He said if and when they start to collapse, parts of the jail will not be able to hold inmates when repairs are made.

The cost of boarding inmates at other facilities was also discussed. Not too long ago, the cost of out-boarding inmates because of a lack of space was about $100,000 per year, but that cost has now gone up to about $1 million per year.

Josh Potosek, the acting county manager, told lawmakers at this rate the cost of building a new jail is about the same as operating the old one, which is in dire need of various repairs and upgrades.

Kathy LaBuda, chair of the committee, said the rising number of inmates that must be sent out of the county was because the Commission of Correction in Albany closed some 40 cells in the jail due to unsafe conditions. Also, she said, there is increased crime in the county, and there are various other causes.

There are two plans that legislators may be considering as the process moves forward: one is an $80 million jail with plans that are 90% complete, from LaBella Associates; another is a new plan being developed by Goldberg Group Architects (GGA), which will reportedly bring in a new jail at a cost of $40 million. Some members of the legislature, including LaBuda, are skeptical that a new jail can be built for such a low cost; a somewhat more detailed plan from GGA will be presented to the legislature soon.

During a wide-ranging discussion about the jail, lawmaker Gene Benson was adamant that the parcel on which the former Woodbourne Correctional Facility is located be considered as a site for the jail, because there is already sewer and water at the location, which is not the case with the site selected by the former legislature on Old Route 17 just outside of Monticello.