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May 29, 2019 - 8:15pm

Committee recommends 200-bed County Jail, possibly including Genesee Justice

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Genesee Justice, notify, County Jail.

Co-chairs of a committee charged with navigating the road toward a new county jail underscored the validity of a joint architect/consultant study on Wednesday afternoon as they asked Genesee County legislators to consider a 200-bed facility to replace the current County Jail at 14 W. Main St.

“This is coming from the experts,” said County Sheriff William Sheron, who is heading the 12-member steering committee along with County Assistant Manager Matthew Landers.

Sheron, speaking at a Committee of the Whole meeting at the Old Courthouse, was referring to a study conducted by SMRT, the architect under contract with the county, and CRS Inc., a consulting firm noted for its work in jail planning and analysis.

Landers reported that the committee is unanimous in recommending a 200-bed jail in light of the study, which initially found that the county would need a 184-bed facility by 2042, but then changed its estimate to 214 beds after reviewing 18 months of new data. New York State has mandated Genesee County to erect a new jail.

“We felt 214 was too extreme,” Landers said. “We believe a 200-bed facility (with five separate areas or pods) would give us flexibility.”

Landers noted that about 30 of the cells could be sized appropriately to double-bunk (100 square feet compared to 80 square feet) as a relatively short-term solution (as the population swells).

Jail Superintendent William Zipfel, however, said he was against double-bunking.

"It really doesn't work," he said, "and to build a jail for double-bunking would be ludicrous.”

Zipfel agreed that flexibility was important due to the several “classifications” of inmates. He said the jail needs to be flexible as prisoners with special needs (medical, emotional, substance abuse, pregnancy, childbirth, etc.) would have to be segregated at times and given “recreational” space.

The current jail is operating at 95 to 99 percent capacity, Zipfel said, and has created a “lot of strain” on his employees.

Legislator Gary Maha, the longtime former county sheriff, urged legislators to look at recent history when making their decision on the new jail’s size.

“We don’t want to build it too small. That happened to us in the ‘80s,” he said, referring to the County Courts Facility across the road from the Old Courthouse.

As a matter of perspective, Zipfel said that the current county jail houses around 90 prisoners on average and “boards out” to other counties at least 30 more.

“If we moved into a new 184-bed jail today, we’d be at 80 percent capacity (the state’s recommended level),” he said.

When Legislator Andrew Young asked “how do we get from 120 to 200,” Zipfel answered, “As soon as it opens, the female (jail) population in this county will double.”

Zipfel said he values the opinion of the “professionals” who did the needs assessment, and agrees with (at least) the 200-bed figure.

“The Court Facility is too small now and it came back to haunt us,” he said. “We’ve done this before. It would be a shame to do it again.”

Legislator Robert Bausch said 200 beds may be the right size, considering “we’re at about 125 now at the lower end and if 160 is the top end – 80 percent capacity – I could see that the middle ground is going to fill up very quickly.”

Bausch mentioned, at least twice, that each cell costs $250,000.

Sheron and Landers’ agenda also included the possibility of including an “arraignment room” in the facility, moving Genesee Justice to the new jail and the requirement to hire four to five new correction officers as the “jail transition team.”

“If we pushed through an arraignment room, it would save considerably on transportation costs,” Sheron said, adding that he would like to see Genesee Justice there as well because “they’re the ones keeping them (potential prisoners) out of jail.”

The current plan also includes a 2,000-square-foot medical area, said County Manager Jay Gsell.

Landers said the county needs to start budgeting for four or five new correction officers – additional employees mandated by the NYS Commission of Corrections -- to serve as a team dedicated to transitioning from the old jail to the new one.

Sheron added that both jails – he termed the current jail as “antiquated” -- would be in operation for about six months after the opening of the new one.

Following the transition, these officers would be retained and join the sheriff’s office full-time staff.

Landers said the project has moved from the “programming phase into the schematic design phase” following the hiring of SMRT and the Pike Company as construction manager. He said the county has a verbal informal agreement with the owner of adjacent land on West Main Street Road for an additional 2.81 acres, if needed.

While nothing is official at this time, a jail of that size would cost around $50 million, and would be funded by sales tax revenue (the county has restructured its sales tax distribution system with its municipalities) and through a reserve fund, Landers said.

County leaders are looking at county-owned land near County Building 2 on West Main Street Road as a potential site. Sheron said he would hope to see a shovel in the ground by next summer – “if everything keeps moving along." Then it would take about two years to complete the jail.

Other members of the committee are Legislator Shelley Stein, Undersheriff Brad Mazur, Assistant County Engineer Laura Wadhams, IT Director Stephen Zimmer, Planning Director Felipe Oltramari and Deputy Treasurer Kevin Andrews.

Sammy DiSalvo
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I have some questions about this process:

-Was there any talk about creating a multi-county jail with Orleans or Wyoming county in an attempt to split the cost?

-It seems like there is a concern that 200 is too small (the article refers to "at least 200" multiple times). If the 80% threshold of 160/200 cells will "fill up very quickly" then why not build a larger jail so we don't run into this problem again, as Meha alluded might happen with only 200 cells? The article says data showed that we'd need 214 beds 22 years from now, but then Landers said that "214 was too extreme. " Zipfel later says that he agrees with needing at least 200 beds. So is the data correct and Zipfel correct or is Landers correct? Why is there such a disagreement on the number, and what will that lead to if we go with Landers claim that 200 is "too extreme" and we end up needing over 200, as the data says?

-1 cell costing $250,000 seems like a lot but it's the total cost of $50 million split over 200 cells, for anyone who thinks that the $250,000 per cell figure is outrageous. (200*250,000=50 million)

-What will happen with the current jail? Will it be updated and then utilized so we could house roughly 300 prisoners between the two facilities? Will it be re-purposed? If so, will we have operating costs for 2 facilities? If so, where is that money coming from?

-What rehabilitation programs are coming with this new prison so we can attempt to curb the prisoner count from increasing?

-If the county will start budgeting for 4-5 new correction officers, then what are we cutting in order to find the funding for those 4-5 positions? Is 4-5 positions enough to handle an additional 60 inmates (the 30 that are boarded out to other counties plus the additional 30 that seems to be projected to happen to quickly to reach the 80% threshold)? Are we still going to board out roughly 30 inmates so then there is an expected 60 additional new inmates to reach the 80% expected threshold?

-With an additional roughly 60 inmates projected to be housed in GC, what is the expected increase in operational costs for the new facility over the old facility, and where will the money come from to cover the increased operational costs? Will we be cutting something else from the county budget or will taxes increase?

Rich Richmond
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Sam DiSalvo, I am surprised that you, a Candidate for Batavia City Council would not know where to get answers to these questions? It is unlikely anyone here can answer those questions to your satisfaction. Albany is mandating we build a new jail. The politicians in Albany do not care how we will pay it or what the cost and tax burden We will do it or else! The idea of joint facilities with other counties has be looked into and they are not interested. A good start for your questions is to have a sit down with the experts. Have a sit down with Gary Maha, or Matt Landers, or the Sherrif. They are your elected officials. Like you, they are good guys. After you do that perhaps you can post the answers to your questions so that we will all know. By the way, good luck with your campain.

Sammy DiSalvo
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Rich -

Firstly, you stated I don't know where to get answers for these questions. I posted these as points that citizens should be asking regarding this process since it will affect citizens, potentially their taxes or services offered.

Secondly, details regarding all specific finances of this process should be addressed repeatedly in public and in writing and circulated more than they are - which seems to be very little (regarding specific finances). A conversation between multiple media outlets and the 12-member committee answering in detail all of the funding questions would be beneficial to citizens - not a private conversation between myself and the parties you stated, which wouldn't be public and circulated for everyone to see from a trusted media outlet. I'd sit down and ask those listed parties my questions if the media were there to record every answer and every bit of financing and how it would affect all citizens.

Thirdly, thanks for your kind words, sarcastic or not.

John Roach
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Sam, a few weeks ago, the County held a 3 hour question and answer session on all of this. It was well advertised on social media and in the local paper. Too bad you missed it.

Yes, a joint facility was discussed.
What to do with the old jail is being considered.
The cost per cell includes all the costs, from initial planning to final construction.
The jail is not a rehab center, but referrals are available. Many are only in jail for 3-5 days before released for one reason or another.

Maybe you should contact your County Legislator to find out when the next public information session will be held.

Rich Richmond
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Sam, you said, "I'd sit down and ask those listed parties my questions if the media were there to record every answer and every bit of financing and how it would affect all citizens."
You are a citizen, yet it appears you are setting conditions for getting the answers for public information that would be beneficial for other citizens. Will those be your conditions for answering questions for your constituents should you be elected to City Council when they call you?

Ed Hartgrove
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Mr. DiSalvo.
Any questions you have could probably be answered by submitting properly written public requests.

For example:
"I am requesting any and all information concerning conversations about creating a multi-county jail with Orleans or Wyoming counties in an attempt to split the cost?"

And,
"I am requesting ALL existing information which has been discussed concerning any expected increase in operational costs for the new facility over the old facility."

By tailoring your public records request to very specific questions, you should be able to get answers to most, if not all, of your concerns.

AND, the added benefit would be that you would have the answers in writing. That way, you could go over them at your leisure, and, not have to commit them to memory.

Just a thought.

Sammy DiSalvo
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John - After doing a search on past articles I saw the one stating the public hearing would happen on May 16th. I hadn't seen that when it was advertised. I can't find public records of what was discussed at the meeting or a breakdown of how the new prison will be paid. The county website has a 171 page document detailing the need but nothing regarding specifics of funding. I'm surprised that isn't public knowledge on the county website, unless I'm missing it.

Rich - I'll talk to constituents in whatever manner they want, privately or public. Regarding public projects I believe in written transparency.

I don't understand why more information regarding the prison project's breakdown of cost and future operating costs and where that money is coming from isn't listed on the county website if the project is going into the designing phase, according to Landers.

John Roach
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Sam, maybe the final break down on the cost will have to wait until the final plan is developed and set. Maybe you should call your County Legislator and ask when it will be available. You can also contact the Assistant County Manager and ask him.

Rich Richmond
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Sam, seven comments have passed, and we're back to you don't understand? People here are trying to help you understand with valid suggestions. You are the one who first commented with concerns. Forget for a moment that you are a candidate running for Batavia City Council. Are you willing as a concerned citizen in the 'spirit of transparency", to ask the Assistant County Manager for the answers you seek, and then share them with us? Or must it be with a sit down with the conditions you emphatically put forth in your Post #3?

Sammy DiSalvo
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John - You're right; it may have to wait until then. I assumed that any large scale plan would have at least a preliminary budget plan or a general outline that was on the county's website, similar to how a school budget is on their website.

Rich - Firstly, again, what I don't understand is why more information regarding a budget isn't listed on the county website like it is for a school budget or other public projects/entities, so please don't phrase it as a broad sweep that I don't understand anything. Maybe John is right and they won't release one until the project is ready to go, but I don't see why preliminary information isn't listed with the 171 page document on the county's page regarding this project.

Secondly, the county manager and assistant county manager have been contacted. Hopefully they'll respond within the week. I appreciate your aggressive replies; they keep me on my feet.

Thirdly, I think you should run for a political office. I just checked the BOE petitions list and didn't see you running for an office this year. You have strong opinions and are very vocal. Someone with that passion would be a good candidate. I think the same of John but he won't run for some reason. We need more officials with our shared passion.

John Roach
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Sam, large capital projects are usually funded by bond issues. Sometimes governments have Reserve Funds to help, usually they do not.

Rich ran in a primary 4 years ago for City Council, but did not win. He still ran on the Conservative Party line and almost won. But, as we know, almost does not count. He now serves on a Genesee County board.

Rich Richmond
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Sam, what broad sweep? We are talking about issues and concerns you specifically brought up. On those targeted things you keep saying you don't understand. Until you make a clarification, how do you suppose a person knows exactly what you are saying?

You said, "Secondly, the county manager and assistant county manager have been contacted. Hopefully, they'll respond within the week." If you had stated you contacted the County Manager and Assistant as your opening comment of Post #1, that would have cleared up much. It took my now 13th Post to establish that. Given that you didn't in your first Post, it is easy to misconstrue you didn't know where to get the answers, and me wishing you good luck as possibly being sarcasm.

I have the privilege of serving on the Genesee County Planning Board, representing the City of Batavia. John also ran for City Council a few times and didn't win. He has served on many Committees, including the last City Charter Commission. He attends all the City Council Meetings.

Daniel Norstrand
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So the deeply embedded political operatives (supposedly the right) gang up under cloak of concerned citizens on a fellow citizen for asking questions that he feels every citizen should be made aware. I don't know Mr. Desalvo's past political activities but I don't believe he is an entrenched politician or he would be self serving enough to garner the answers to his queries and use them for a "press release" self endorsement. As a political newbie he seems to simply have the good of the people at heart. Such innocence is seen by the politicos as a political pratfall worthy of ridicule.
John Roach, you have in the past wondered how the process of this jail scheme had progressed to such an advanced stage without the public being informed.

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