August 08 , 2007


County resumes talks about options for adding jail space


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
The Cortland County Public Safety Building, left, and the Cortland County Jail as seen Tuesday from the top of the county courthouse.

Staff Reporter

The prospect of adding on to the county jail, as opposed to building a new facility, raised numerous questions and objections Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Legislature’s General Services and Judiciary/Public Safety committees.
Still, that the topic of space needs at the jail on Greenbush Street is back on the table, after months of minimal public discussion, was encouraging to the Sheriff’s Department and to legislators.
“It’s unfortunate, but it takes so long in government to get something like this started,” said JPS Chairman John Daniels (D-Cortlandville), who invited construction management firm Bovis Lend Lease to the meeting to discuss the prospect of an addition to the current jail. “I just wanted to at least get us talking again so hopefully we can make some progress.”
Adding on to the jail — either directly above the facility or expanded out over the parking lot — could save the county from the cost and difficulty of acquiring property, representatives of Bovis, which has an office in Freetown, told committee members.
An addition also would allow for the continued use of the current space as a jail, Bovis Vice President Bill Connor said, saving the county from a costly renovation for some alternate use.
Members of both committees were quick to question the long-term feasibility of adding to the building, noting the construction of the current jail had proved to be shortsighted.
“We have to do it different from the way it was done before,” said Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward). “That jail was outdated the day they opened the doors.”
The facility, constructed in 1990, houses a maximum of 69 inmates, but in recent years has surpassed that capacity, requiring the county to board inmates in jails elsewhere at a cost of      $85 per day.
A study commissioned by the county and made public in January estimated the county needed a jail with capacity for at least 140 inmates, to allow for current capacities and potential future growth.
Very preliminary estimates have suggested the cost of a new jail could reach $30 million.
Jim Mulherin, a senior project manager for Bovis, said that, contrary to the apparently cramped space on the site, there is room to build on to the jail to suit the county’s needs.
Additional jail space potentially could be constructed adjacent to the building where the parking lot currently sits, Mulherin said, or it could be built above the parking lot or atop the current facility.
Daniels suggested adding to the jail could save the county money and keep the jail in an ideal location, adjacent to the County Courthouse, which would save on transportation costs.
“I was thinking of it as an independent structure right above the one we have now,” Daniels said, noting his primary reason for bringing an expansion plan to the table was the difficulty the county has had in finding sites for the jail. “That way we keep the 50 cells we have now, maybe share the laundry and the kitchen and things like that, and we save a little by constructing a smaller facility … and we don’t have to purchase any property.”
Meanwhile Legislator Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) suggested the county look at building over the parking lot and creating a two-story parking garage beneath the new construction.
“At this point, I think it’s worth it to look at all our options,” Ross said.
Daniels did acknowledge though that building above the jail could increase costs, and Mulherin agreed.
“There’s going to be a give and take no matter what you decide to do,” Mulherin said, noting a new facility constructed outside the city could increase transportation costs, but also could be built to require less staff.
Capt. Budd Rigg, who is in charge of the jail for the Sheriff’s Department, said after the meeting a two-story layout would require significantly more staff, and would represent a much larger cost increase than transportation costs if the jail were located farther from the Courthouse.
Rigg also noted that doing construction around or above the jail could be met with serious resistance from the state Corrections Department.
Sheriff Lee Price said he was glad the jail was being discussed, but he also said a new jail with a one-story layout would be preferred.
“How we design it is going to be important,” Price said. “I think we need a new modern jail, definitely.”
County Administrator Scott Schrader agreed, saying he felt it was a waste of money to try to expand the jail.
“It isn’t bricks and mortar we have to worry about, it’s the cost of staffing, and we need to maximize the number of prisoners a corrections officer can supervise,” Schrader said.
The most modern jails allow a single corrections officer to oversee up to 40 prisoners, Schrader said, while the current county jail allows a roughly 1 to 10 prisoner-to-supervisor ratio.
“To try to make the facility we have now meet modern day designs of modern jails is just impractical,” Schrader said.
Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) asked if Bovis could provide an analysis comparing the potential staffing, transportation and other future costs of building a new building at another site, building an addition adjacent to the jail or adding a second story to the jail.
“The other thing we have to look at is if we need to expand in the future,” Tytler said.
Connor said such an analysis was possible, but Bovis or the county would need to contract with an architectural firm and that such a move would require more certainty from the county in terms of possible locations for the jail.
“We really just wanted to help them get started in thinking about it,” Connor said after the meeting. “There’s a lot of questions that they’re going to need to answer before it’s time to move forward with anything.”
Daniels was hopeful that discussion of the jail would continue at next month’s JPS meeting.




City looks at noise, parking measures

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city Common Council hopes to enact at least one ordinance that would address local housing issues before the return of SUNY Cortland students for the fall semester.
A nuisance party ordinance and a front yard parking ordinance would allow the code office to pursue property owners to put a stop to the activities, rather than just the tenants, Larry Knickerbocker, the city’s lawyer, said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
He said the front-yard parking ordinance stands the best chance of being enacted by the students’ return.
The current law allows for the citation of vehicles’ owners, but not the property owner who allows front yard parking.
If cars have parked on green space on the lawn of a property several times in one week, Knickerbocker said that rather than simply ticketing the cars, the code office would send a notice of violation to the property owner — if cars continue to park in the front yard, the owner would be issued an appearance ticket by the code office, in addition to the ticketing of the vehicle owner.
The penalties include a maximum fine of $100 and imprisonment for no more than 15 days.
Alderwoman Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) said she was concerned about some single-family homes in her ward, which do not have enough parking for their families.
Since there is no overnight parking allowed on city streets, they have to move their vehicles somewhere to get them off the street, Terwilliger said.
“Maybe some areas, or some sides of streets, should be all-night parking,” she suggested to the council. “I think we need to address the problem of where these people are going to park their cars.”
Knickerbocker said the Department of Public Works and emergency service providers probably would not support that proposal.
The nuisance party ordinance — adapted from a city of Syracuse ordinance — would also lay “the onus of responsibility” on the shoulders of property owners, Knickerbocker said.
If a police officer busts a party with scores of intoxicated young people, city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said, it is likely the property’s tenants won’t step forward.
“We know who the owners are,” Damiano said.
A nuisance party is one where someone in attendance has displayed disorderly conduct; an open container of alcohol; outdoor urination or defecation; unlawful sale or furnishing of alcohol, and underage drinking; possession, sale or use of a controlled substance; littering; property damage; unlawful vehicle or pedestrian traffic; and unlawfully loud noise.
If a police officer observed a nuisance party, it could be shut down immediately and all non-tenants forced to leave the property, and any “responsible persons,” which include owners, occupants and tenants, can be liable and fined a maximum of $500 and even imprisoned for a maximum of 15 days.
Currently, the owners cannot be held liable for the actions of their tenants.
Knickerbocker said he hopes the nuisance party ordinance could be enacted by September.


End in sight for Wal-Mart project

Town nears end of approval process with public hearing Thursday on aquifer permit

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Thursday night is expected to signal the end of the town’s review and the likely approval of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13.
A public hearing regarding an Aquifer Protection Permit for the 33.7-acre site is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Raymond G. Thorpe Municipal Building, with a vote on the issuance of the permit immediately afterward. It’s the final action required by the town in the project’s lengthy approval process.
The town Planning Board approved the project’s site plan and subdivision request on July 31, and the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation still have to approve the project.
The big-box store wants to erect a 205,000-square-foot Supercenter on the parcel just north of Bennie Road and Walden Place assisted living community, and has agreed to relocate Bennie Road in order to accommodate safety concerns raised by the state Department of Transportation.
Throughout the review process, the town Planning Board and Town Board have asked for and received many concessions from the company, including the removal of a tire and lube department and an in-store restaurant from the plans; landscaped berms surrounding the property; heated sidewalks to cut down on the need for salt and other de-icing chemicals in the winter; and relocated truck access.
Rochester-based Wal-Mart engineers APD Engineering have designed a high-tech stormwater management system that far exceeds any that are in place in the town currently in response to local concerns about the site, a former polo field that many contend is a sensitive aquifer recharge area.
Past public hearings have lasted several hours and featured impassioned pleas by opponents and supporters alike.
Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said that he doesn’t expect the same kind of turnout and depth of emotion at Thursday’s hearing, because “the process has gone beyond that.”
Because there’s always the possibility that a concern could be raised at the public hearing that has not been heard before, Tupper would not predict whether or not the aquifer permit would be granted.
“You can’t predict how a vote will go until after the public hearing has been held,” Tupper said this morning. “It’s been a very long process, and certainly has been thoroughly discussed at many, many public meetings and public hearings.”



Mayor’s salary would nearly double

Staff Reporter

The Common Council decided  Tuesday to raise the salary for the position of mayor beginning in 2008, from $13,800 to $25,000.
A local law still has to be drafted before the council can enact the pay increase, which is the first for the mayor’s position since the late 1990s.
There will have to be a public hearing on the local law before the salary increase can be enacted.
The proposal had been put on the council’s agenda in June at the suggestion of Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward), who cited the much higher salaries of mayors in comparable communities.
The only council member to vote against the raise was Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward), who said she did not feel comfortable approving any raise outside of the annual budgeting process.
She also felt other city officials were also in need of raises.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said it would be difficult to approve the raise in conjunction with the budget and to draft and enact legislation before the first of the year.
Partigianoni pointed out that other, nonelected city salaries have built-in raises to account for increases in the cost-of-living.
The salaries for elected officials must be raised before the beginning of each new term; Mayor Tom Gallagher is running for his third two-year term as mayor, unopposed for the second time.
Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) said he hopes the higher salary would attract high-caliber candidates in the future who would treat the office as if it were a full-time position.
“I know I’ve been thinking about this for the last two years, because I think we need a strong mayor,” Quail said.
Alderwoman Val VanGorder (R-1st Ward) said she felt that perhaps aldermen should discuss raising next year’s salaries for members of the Common Council.
She pointed out that with only a handful of challengers, perhaps the salary is not high enough to induce residents to run for office.
The salary for Common Council members is $3,500 a year. Both the mayor and council members are eligible for health insurance and state retirement, if they so choose.