Jail plans, staffing shortages, audit dominate discussions
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO July 16, 2013 Legislators tackled a range of important issues during Thursday’s committee meetings.
Jail back on agenda
After months of little to no discussion, replacing the century-old jail is once again a hot topic, with Acting County Manager Josh Potosek confirming that an internal county government group will convene this week to study options.
That announcement comes on the heels of a NYS Comptroller’s report urging the county to build a new jail now. The meeting is part of the county’s required “corrective action response” to the report.
Local officials have repeatedly said they’re in no position to afford the roughly $80 million facility.
But that doesn’t mean the state will allow them to continue putting it off.
“It’s only a matter of time before we’re going to be compelled to do it,” predicted Legislator Alan Sorensen. “I don’t think the do-nothing alternative is an option.”
“I think $80 million is still not doable,” replied Legislator Cindy Gieger, who pushed for reducing the scope to cut costs.
Legislator Jonathan Rouis encouraged her to attend the upcoming meeting to see how hard officials have already worked to create a bare-bones replacement.
“Our jail would cost $50-$60 million if we rebuilt it today,” he estimated.
Legislator Gene Benson urged another look at the former annex to the Sullivan Correctional Facility, a state-run maximum-security prison in Fallsburg. He disagreed with Legislator Kathy LaBuda’s contention that the state had rejected and would again that option.
A variety of options will likely be on the table this Wednesday, but the public is not invited. Legislators have decided to hold the meeting behind closed doors along with future meetings until the group decides to make a recommendation to the Legislature.
It will include up to four legislators (five being the threshold for requiring a public meeting), the Sheriff’s Office, and a variety of county staff.
Despite it being the norm for the past six years, the sheriff’s request for up to five 90-day deputies for the busy summer months has hit a snag.
Sheriff Mike Schiff told legislators Thursday that Personnel Officer Carolyn Hill stopped the hiring process after determining that the potential deputies don’t have “competitive status” in Civil Service.
Hill was immediately summoned to the meeting and explained that last year, she inadvertently allowed two non-competitive deputies to be hired.
She said the county, unlike neighboring Orange, doesn’t have an allowance for hiring non-competitive officers, who also have to be under 35 (most of the temporary hires are well over that age).
Undersheriff Eric Chaboty was incredulous.
“They’ve worked for us before, but now all of a sudden they have to be on a competitive list,” he lamented to legislators, saying officers meeting the competitive requirements would already be employed elsewhere.
Hill said the county could hire temporary peace officers, but Chaboty said such officers can’t execute warrants or stop people to question them.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur disagreed with Hill’s determination, even though Hill said she got confirmation directly from the state.
“That age rule is based on how old they’re going to be at retirement,” Yasgur said. “... I don’t understand how they can apply that rule to a 90-day person. ... It doesn’t make sense.”
He’s issued a legal opinion saying the Sheriff’s Office does have the ability to hire 90-day officers on an emergency, temporary basis.
Legislators also plan to draft and pass a law specifically allowing temporary officers to be hired without having to be on a competitive Civil Service list, as is the case in Orange County.
Representatives of the county’s new auditor, Toski and Co., congratulated officials on Thursday for creating a 2012 budget that brought in $1.3 million more than was spent.
Legislators were particularly pleased that the fund balance which was used in years past to reduce tax increases had begun to rebound, though there’s still a $10 million deficit at the Adult Care Center.
The auditors described the audit’s results as “squeaky clean,” which earned thanks from Treasurer Ira Cohen.
“As you can see, the [state] comptroller was just dead wrong as far as our fiscal health generally and our fund balance specifically,” Cohen said, referencing a much-criticized fiscal stability report from the NYS Comptroller’s Office.
Cohen did, however, urge legislators to once again explore their options regarding the county’s nursing home including privatization.
Planning needs staff
Though a replacement for the departed ag planner is in the interview stage, the Planning Division continues to be down by two staffers, causing backlogs.
“I think it’s unacceptable right now,” said Legislator Cindy Gieger in a thought echoed by former planning commissioner and Legislator Alan Sorensen.
Legislators are mulling whether to replace the also-departed commissioner or restructure the entire division, but they have yet to decide.
“With a staff of three, I feel we’re shortchanging economic development,” Gieger told her colleagues Thursday. “... I think the Legislature as a whole has to come to a consensus on this.”
In trooper’s memory
Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic informed legislators Thursday that the State Police in Liberty are asking the county and state to name a portion of Route 55 in memory of one of their fallen comrades.
Trooper Jeffrey Edelson died in November 2003 while chasing a speeding vehicle on that route, not far from the Liberty barracks, when he lost control of his cruiser and was killed in the resulting accident.
Martinkovic said the State Police would like to identify that section of Route 55 in Edelson’s name in a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of his death.
The renaming would not affect addresses or signage along the route, which would continue to be known as 55.
Legislators agreed to have the appropriate resolution drawn up.
No surprise visits
“Operation Splinter” is currently offline, Probation Director Jeff Mulinelli told legislators Thursday.
The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have enough staff to accompany the county’s probation officers on monthly surprise visits to probationers’ homes, so Mulinelli is temporarily stopping that program.
Probation itself is down two officers currently, so Mulinelli is considering restarting the program no earlier than the fall, when officers from both departments may be more available.
Slaughterhouse not so Grandin?
Legislator Ira Steingart confirmed Thursday that while the coming red meat processing plant in Liberty will be built to allow its independent operator to run it under Dr. Temple Grandin’s methods (considered more humane than the industry’s standards), that won’t be a requirement for the to-be-selected operator.
“We will not make it mandatory,” Steingart said. “... The building will be able to be fit that way if the operator wants it.”
Ground should be broken next month on the facility, after which an operator will be sought and chosen.
Public Works Commissioner Ed McAndrew told legislators on Thursday that his crew is repainting about half the line stripes on county roadways this season.
That means some roads may only see center stripes repainted.
“To do all four lines is about $675 a mile in materials,” McAndrew said.
The budget this year only allows for restriping of about 200 miles of the county’s 400-mile system.
Propane tanks accepted at stations
Looking to discard an old propane tank?
The county’s transfer stations are now accepting tanks up to 20 pounds in size for $2 per tank.
A contracted vendor will then take them for recycling.