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July 19, 2021 - 8:46pm

Next Wednesday, July 28th, is shaping up as round three in Genesee County’s attempt to get a grip on the size and cost of the new county jail it has been mandated to build by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

At the end of the Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting today at the Old County Courthouse conference room, County Manager Matt Landers said he has received an updated 10-page bed study from the SMRT architectural firm of Portland, Me.

Landers said he plans to go over the report at a meeting of the full legislature next week, and expects to have a revised cost estimate from the Pike Company of Rochester at that time as well.

“We’ve done this twice before,” Landers said. “Going back three or four years, the legislature gave me a thumbs-up, and probably two years ago when we were getting a better handle on the costs, I did it again and got the legislature to agree to $60 million. We were all in agreement – thumbs up.”

Calling the coming session a “good gut check,” Landers said it will be the first time that two new legislators – Brooks Hawley and Chad Klotzbach – will get to hear the full scope of the project.

Genesee County has been conducting its due diligence on the construction of a 184-bed jail on land just east of County Building 2 on West Main Street Road.

Landers is hoping that $60 million figure is still in play, but things could change in this post-COVID environment.

“Now, we’re in a different world, COVID, numbers, everything. So, once again we need to make sure everyone is on board for whatever cost estimates are before us,” he said. “The next thumbs up is going to dictate preparing our bid documents and going out to bid sometime in the spring. If cost estimates are two or three times (what we budgeted for), we’d have to stop and wait.”

He noted that SMRT reported that the 184-bed number is still intact, but even that isn’t etched in stone.

“We all know that the state is taking a left turn, to a degree, with social justice reforms,” he said. “Is that the way it’s going to be for awhile or is there going to be a pendulum swing, using the sheriff’s (William Sheron) words. But how much of one?”

Another factor is whether the state will allow those sentenced for one or two years to be kept in county jail.

“Now, if it’s longer than a year, you’re sentenced to state prison,” Landers said. “The state, using the mantra of social justice and to save money, may decide to shift these people and keep them in (county) jails, which meets their argument of keeping them closer to their families.”

WHAT ABOUT THE CURRENT JAIL BUILDING?

When asked if it was possible to sell the current jail in tandem with the sale of the City of Batavia police station building, Landers said it was “an interesting concept but there a lot of pieces that would have to work together.”

“It’s going to take longer to build a jail than it’s going to take to build a police station. We’re not going to be out of the current jail for two or three years and that’s if there are no cost overruns and we are ready to go in the spring,” he said.

Landers also mentioned that Genesee Justice and the backup 9-1-1 center are housed in the jail building.

“We have to make sure we have the ability to move all of that out into a new location. All of that has to happen,” he said. “And to tie that with the city. They may be waiting on us, and we’re still not out.

“Timing is everything. If everything tied up and we wanted to sell it, maybe it would work, but we have as part of our contract with SMRT a dedicated study to see what we could use the current jail building for in the future.”

The county manager said he has thought about using the jail portion of the building at West Main Street and Porter Avenue as a countywide records’ center.

“I have been thinking that it could be a shared services model because all of these towns have permanent records,” he offered. “We could take a jail cell and say ‘Town of Byron, here’s your permanent records'; 'Town of Bergen, here’s your permanent records’ and actually have a centralized shared service project where all the records from the county come to one area.”

June 15, 2021 - 1:30pm

Sixteen months ago, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers observed that because of bail reform in New York, it was the “worst time in state history to be building a jail … but it must be built.”

Well, since that time, the COVID-19 pandemic hit society extremely hard – resulting in staggering increases in construction costs – while the legislation that eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenses remains in place despite calls throughout the state to “reform the reform laws.”

On Monday afternoon, Landers updated county legislators of the municipality’s state-mandated obligation to construct a new jail, expressing the view that it may be difficult to get under the $60 million price tag for a 184-bed jail on property just east of County Building 2 on West Main Street Road.

“We rely on experts that do build jails across the county and rely on trends and speak to the interested parties in the community to better understand how large a jail to build,” he said. “It behooves us to take a step back and make sure we update this study. And although it is less than four years old, a lot has happened in four years.”

Landers said that a revised report from Pike Company, project construction manager, is nearly finished.

“I have been told that we are days out from getting a draft of it, and then we will study it and bring it to the attention of the legislature for review before we finalize a report,” he advised. “At the same time, there was a smaller meeting of consultants (with county management) to try to get a timeline established of what a restart would look like.”

He said if the county is to make “meaningful moves forward, we really need to understand what kind of costs we’re looking at for the jail.”

Previously, legislators supported a budget of $60 million.

Landers said that “estimates had us right around there – maybe a shade over.”

“So, when we put this on pause (due to the pandemic), we were working really hard to shave it to get under that $60 million goal the legislature had put in place,” he said.

Landers said he had approved having SMRT, an architectural firm out of Portland, Me., do a cost estimate of the final design, based on 184 beds, with the understanding that the county might lop off cells in increments of eight if necessary. He said he expects to receive that report, including the amount of cost savings by reducing the number of beds, in two to three weeks.

When that report is finalized, Landers said that Graham Vickers, principal/director of justice practice for SMRT, will appear before the legislature to go over it and answer questions.

“The cost of the jail may drive additional decisions,” he said, adding that questions being asked now focus on whether to wait for construction prices to come down before relaunching the project.

Landers said that Vickers indicated restarting in July and putting it out to bid in the fall.

“That would be the ideal timeframe where we could have our project out there for bidding before companies are already set up for the following year,” he said.

Landers said a major reason for the update is the fluctuation in jail population in the county over the past two years.

He reported that currently the county is responsible for 50 inmates with six of those females being housed outside of the county. By comparison, there were 141 inmates in June 2019. At that time, the thought was that a 184-bed jail was the right size. Now, the thinking is that it could be too big.

Landers said the county’s plan to partner with Orleans County is on hold, but Genesee can’t afford to delay the project.

“What we can do is move forward with the jail and be a viable option at some point in the future if Orleans wanted to partner with us …,” he said.

He said recently the idea of adding a backup 9-1-1 center at the new jail – a 20-foot by 20-foot space that would accommodate two dispatchers – came to light, with the possibility of obtaining a grant to fund it.

In closing, Landers said much depends on what happens to the bail reform laws – whether further legislation is passed to give judges more discretion in remanding those accused of a crime to jail.

“Everything swings back and forth, but with the state legislature controlled by one party, I don’t see it swinging too far back,” he said.

County Sheriff William Sheron, who also was on the Zoom call, said he thinks otherwise.

“I believe the pendulum will come back,” he said. “People are reoffending and reoffending … it’s just a matter of time.”

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