Legislators approve smaller county jail
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO A proposed $105 million, 454-inmate county jail has turned into a $78 million, 303-inmate one.
Now all legislators have to do is convince the state Commission of Correction that Sullivan County doesn’t need the larger version.
“That fight is still before us,” acknowledged Sheriff Michael Schiff.
“We’re sharpening our tongues and pens,” added Legislator Leni Binder.
On Thursday, Schiff, Binder and other county officials watched County Manager David Fanslau’s presentation on the jail, part of the county’s strategic plan deliberations.
Fanslau outlined the choice between building a new jail which has been mandated (but not funded) by the state and sending prisoners to out-of-county facilities.
The rehabbing of the current century-old jail in Monticello would be required to board out inmates, as the state will not allow the county to have no jail facility.
The estimated tab of renovations is $6 million, and sending inmates elsewhere would run about $218 per prisoner per day by 2012, increasing to $366 in 2036 (not counting medical and transportation costs).
In contrast, building a new jail for $78 million would result in a per-inmate, per-day cost of $206 in 2012 (the earliest it could open), trending downward to $177 in 2036.
Plus, the current jail is landlocked and cannot be expanded, yet the average daily population is nearly 200 inmates housed within 207 cells, 60 of which are below state square-footage requirements.
The county is already shipping inmates to Chenango County, about two hours to the north, but without casinos, legislators are sure a new jail won’t have to be as large as the state is currently requiring.
But the Commission of Correction must be convinced that a smaller facility will meet the local need, and legislators are planning a trip to Albany to do just that.
They will not, however, fight the state’s mandate for a jail. Even now, property is being negotiated for purchase near Monticello.
“Twenty years ago, the Board of Supervisors should have built this jail,” remarked Legislator Kathy LaBuda. “Now it’s up to us. We’ve got to bite the bullet.”
Legislators unanimously endorsed the idea, though Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis warned that, even at a reduced size, the jail’s construction will be “all-consuming over the next few budget cycles.”
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The county’s strategic plan, of which the jail is just one part, is taking shape, and the public is welcome to weigh in on it at the July 10 Executive Committee meeting (1:45 p.m.) or the July 17 gathering of the full Legislature (2 p.m.), both at the Government Center in Monticello.