The Democratic minority of the Herkimer County Legislature announced Wednesday they have sent a letter to the state Comptroller’s Office requesting they look into the county’s fiscal options in regard to building a new jail.
“It’s the first step we have to try and break the gridlock in this community,” said Legislator Helen Rose, D - Herkimer, during the news conference.
Rose said in prepared remarks during Wednesday’s news conference that, “Our communities are divided on whether construction is really a fiscally sound approach … and we don’t believe the county has done a good enough job to make the fiscal case and our community is polarized.”
Rose and Legislator Gary Hartman, D - Herkimer, distributed a letter dated Aug. 14 during a news conference at the legislative chambers of the county office building on Wednesday addressed to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and signed by Rose, Hartman and Legislator John Brezinski, D - Frankfort.
The letter asks, “Can your good office assist Herkimer County by quantifying cost projections of the various scenarios so we can have an unbiased assessment of our options?”
Rose said specifically they want to know the costs of constructing a new jail versus boarding out inmates to have a better idea of what is fiscally sound.
The county currently has plans to build a $34 million jail with LaBella Associates, but that is on hold because of a lawsuit pending with the village of Herkimer.
Legislature Chairman Vincent Bono said the county expects a decision from the appellate court in November.
In June, the legislature heard a proposal from Goldberg Group Architects that would include building a 130-bed jail, but potentially decrease the costs originally proposed by LaBella Associates. Legislators Robert J. Schrader, R - Herkimer, and Raymond Johnson, R - Ilion, are reviewing the plans.
“We aren’t asking for a philosophical analysis, but rather clear fiscal comparisons of the options,” said Rose in prepared remarks. “This wouldn’t be a partisan review, but rather an impartial cost analysis. We want to know if his office is available to offer this service, and we will ask the Majority to join us in support of this request.”
Hartman said, “I call on my colleagues to prepare to have an open mind on other jail options, and join us in asking the comptroller to find [other options].”
During a telephone interview on Wednesday, Rose said they have not yet heard back from the comptroller’s office, and noted “it’s a little outside the norm, but they offer help to municipalities and this is a significant amount of money.”
Page 2 of 2 - “I don’t know what [the comptroller’s] role in the whole process is going to be,” said Bono during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We’ve already committed to building the jail. I heard [Rose] say on the news this has gone on for long too far, but we’ve already made the decision to go ahead with the P&C site. We’ve hired an architect, we’ve done the testing, we went through the proper channels, we got our ducks in a row and now we’re being held up by this village lawsuit. We hope to get a decision by November and then hope to move forward.”
Bono said his concern as chairman is how long a new facility will last.
He said he hasn’t been able to get an answer from a Goldberg representative about how one of their older jails have stood the test of time.
“I want something that’s going to hold up. We have to learn from our mistakes. I don’t want to put the county in same predicament in 30 years,” said Bono.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Hartman and Rose also addressed other issues, including the way in which committee assignments are made within the county Legislature. Currently, the chairman is the one who makes those assignments.
“During our current term, we have seen the minority excluded from most committee assignments,” said Rose. “Despite that, we have been diligent, very diligent, in our attendance at committee meetings. But being present alone is not full participation. The energy it takes to overcome the prejudice of committee assignments could be much better utilized.”
Rose said they are sending the proposed changes to the county’s Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and hope to have them in place by the start of the 2014 term. She said the changes are similar to how state and national committees are assigned.
“My constituents will not be disenfranchised and I will not be marginalized,” said Rose.