Crumbling wall adjacent to windows of a cellblock in County Jail. Photo from the NYS audit report.
State says new jail needed; county says not right now
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO June 18, 2013 Perhaps not surprisingly for the oldest such facility in New York State, the news was not good this past week for the Sullivan County Jail.
The day a critical state audit of the jail was released, Jail Administrator Hal Smith told legislators that space is tight.
“We’ve had problems boarding out and finding beds,” he explained at the Public Safety Committee meeting on Thursday.
Smith and crew usually try to send excess prisoners out to Delaware, Ulster and Chenango counties, which charge $85 a day. But at times they’ve had to turn to Orange County, which charges $125 a day, he said.
Audit: new jail needed
Auditors from the NYS Comptroller’s Office, in a report released the same day, argued that a new county jail could bring in prisoners to fill empty cells and thus raise revenue.
Indeed, the auditors made a case for replacing the existing 104-year-old jail with a modern facility something county officials have considered on and off for the past 25 years.
Calculating increased operational efficiencies and reduced staffing needs, they argued that building a new jail now is better than later.
“The cost of a new jail would be fully offset by payroll, inmate boarding, and facility cost savings within 33 years, with projected net savings over the 50-year life of the new jail of $108 million,” reads the report, available at www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/counties/2013/sullivanjail.pdf.
“Moreover, because of the larger capacity, the county could also collect revenues for boarding inmates on behalf of other counties or the federal government. This could further reduce the break-even point and projected savings,” it continues.
But in a response included with the report, Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson disputes the state’s estimates, deeming some unrealistic and others speculative and predicting that such a large construction effort could result in tax hikes of eight percent or more per year.
“We do not doubt that the construction of a new facility might result in long-term savings,” he writes. “However, incurring over $80 million in new debt at the present time will cause the county significant fiscal harm, including untenable tax increases and a downgrade in its bond rating.”
Samuelson argues that enough changes have been made to stave off the state’s threatened closure of the jail.