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Irene: Schoharie County inmates still displaced

Monday, March 5, 2012
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— Schoharie County officials say plans for a public safety facility remain unclear six months after the jail was put out of commission by Tropical Storm Irene.

The facility on Depot Lane served as offices for 911 communications and dispatch, emergency management and district attorney as well as housing inmates before it was evacuated as floodwater bore down on it Aug. 28.

Since then, the county has been bleeding money both ways — paying Albany County to house its inmates and losing money the county once earned housing prisoners for other counties.

Sheriff Anthony Desmond on Friday said he and other county officials met earlier in the week to discuss the jail’s status and learned nothing.

There’s been discussion about repairing the jail or moving it elsewhere, but Desmond said what will happen is unclear.

“Nobody has that answer as far as I know,” Desmond said.

Schoharie County currently has 21 inmates who are being housed at the Albany County Jail at a cost of $80 a day, Desmond said.

Albany County cut $5 off the typical $85 cost for housing out-of-county inmates, Desmond said.

That cost is in addition to the cost of driving inmates back and forth for court, approximately 48 miles, Desmond said.

County Treasurer William Cherry said the cost of the situation suggests getting a jail up and running is critical.

“In the meantime it’s costing us $70,000 per month to board the prisoners in Albany County Jail, not to mention the lost revenue of another, probably give or take $50,000 to $60,000 a month in lost revenue,” Cherry said.

“That’s a $120,000-to-$130,000 per-month hit to Schoharie County taxpayers.”

Cherry said the situation could worsen once a contract with FEMA expires at the Guilford Mills facility in Cobleskill.

The county was preparing to cut 10 correction officers from the payroll while developing the 2012 budget before a deal was struck with FEMA for the officers to guard temporary housing units being stored at the Cobleskill site.

“If at some point before the jail does get rebuilt, if those jail guards are laid off, Schoharie County pays 100 percent of the unemployment costs. That’ll be another probably $30,000 a month,” Cherry said.

“Getting the jail back in operation should be, from a financial sense, top priority,” Cherry said.

Desmond said for now, he’s eyeing other jails that might serve the county’s needs temporarily if they are closer than the trip to Albany.

Some jails, including Delaware County and Fulton County, have space periodically. The trip to the Delaware County Jail in Delhi is a “long ways from Schoharie” but might come in handy if prisoners are arrested in southern towns such as Gilboa or Jefferson, Desmond said.

Cobleskill Supervisor Thomas Murray said any decision on the jail hinges on word from FEMA.

The county is expecting to receive public assistance money from the disaster, and the amount of money needs to be known before a decision is made, he said.

Murray said depending on the amount of money FEMA will provide, the jail could be fixed up or another option could be considered such as using the Summit Shock facility shuttered by the state last year.

 
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