Property on Route 13 in South Cortland will be the site of Cortland County’s next jail, legislators decided Thursday, ending a three-month delay in replacing an overcrowded and difficult-to-staff facility in downtown Cortland.
The measure passed with 31,421 votes under the county’s weighted voting system, or 11-4 with two absences. It followed four comments from the public, three opposing the development of a jail in any form and one encouraging the county to act.
“Former Chief Justice (Jonathan) Lippman of New York already paved the way by critiquing the failed bail system that ‘bails in’ folks who can’t pay,” said Mecke Nagel, a philosophy professor at SUNY Cortland. “So many of Cortland’s remand prisoners (those jailed for failure to pay bail) get time served, clearly a failure of the system to adjust punishment according to the offense.”
However, the county is under a state order to do something about its 93-bed facility built in 1991. The county risks losing a variance that has allowed it to house 30 inmates since 2014 in recreation space turned into a dormitory. And it has an older variance that allows13 inmates in other space converted nearly 20 years ago. If it loses the newer variance, that would add about $2 million to the county’s cost of boarding inmates at other facilities, on top of the$1 million it expects to spend this year.
“We’ve been stuck for three months and not doing anything,” said Legislator John Troy (D-Cortland). “We’ve been jerking the sheriff around for months.”
“The one thing you cannot correct is where it is,” said Legislator Jim Denkenberger (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton). “We have not thoroughly investigated the other sites.”
Katherine Wickwire would ratherthey had. She’s chairwoman of the Cortlandville Planning Board and that site is in the middle of the hottest commercial real estate market in the county.“You’ve got a place in Cortland County where people want to be, and they want to put a jail there?” she said. “It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. You’re not going to get the people we want to come here.”
The state ranked the South Cortland site as the best option. No. 2 on the list is near Cortland-Ready Mix near Interstate 81’s Exit 11. But that site would require pumps to send water up thehill and a good deal of excavation. The No. 3 site, on Route 13 south of Webb Road in Virgil, is near a residential neighborhood. Other sites, about 20, were eliminated for being brownfields, in flood plains, having limited access and other issues.
The Route 13 site was donated by DMK Development of Michigan, along with site tests typically necessary for construction. The donation eliminates a task for which the county expected to spend $2 million, regardless of site. The company had initially developed the Tractor Supply Co. store adjacent to the jail site, and the 73 acres was left over.