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County jail project challenged

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

George Phillips, Reclaim New York regional director, discusses the cost of living in Cortland County on Tuesday during a community meeting at the Hampton Inn Cortland in the city. His group is trying to rally opposition to a proposed county jail.

A nonprofit organization looking to back Cortland County residents who oppose the county’s proposed $48 million jail project drew two people to a meeting Tuesday night to introduce a petition to “say no” to the project.

Reclaim New York, based out of New York City, describes itself as a nonpartisan organization that tries to inform and get residents involved in local government issues. Its regional director was a Republican candidate to represent Cortland in the U.S. Congress last year, losing to Rep. Claudia Tenney of New Hartford. One of its former directors, Stephen Bannon, is now a chief strategist for President Donald Trump.

The group met Tuesday night at the Hampton Inn Cortland to discuss its mission and talk about the county jail project, in which two community members attended.

One was Marathon Mayor William McGovern, who could not stay long, due to having to attend another meeting, and Cortland resident Tom Larson, who was already an active supporter of the organization.

George Phillips, Southern Tier regional director for the group, said the organization held an event in the county in March, and he spoke with some people who were concerned about the county’s jail project. He continued to hear concerns after the event and decided to support the citizens who are against the project.

He said Reclaim New York is acting as a vehicle for people to get their voices heard. Phillips said there is no specific goal for the petition, or timeline of when it could be sent to the Legislature.

McGovern said there is a small population of people in the area who actually get involved, so he wished the organization luck in their attempt.

The jail project is up in the air at the moment, as the county Public Safety Facility Needs and Assessment Committee, which is in charge of the project, decided at its last meeting to look into the costs of renovating the jail and adding a pod to it. The committee may then choose between doing that or building some variation of a new jail in Cortlandville.

The Public Safety Facility Needs and Assessment Committee’s next meeting is at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Legislator Joseph Steinhoff (R-Cortlandville), chairman of the committee, could not be reached for comment this morning.

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