December 6, 2021

60 inmates evacuated from jail

Leaky roof causes extensive damage to HVAC, electrical systems

Cortland Standard file photo

A man enters the Cortland County Jail in this May 2016 file photo.

The Cortland County Jail was evacuated Thursday because a huge leak flooded the facility, causing extensive damage, Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said Thursday night.

Sixty inmates were evacuated, leaving just two in usable cells, said Undersheriff Budd Rigg. One inmate is set to be released; the other is in the midst of a trial and will remain in a usable cell.

No inmates were harmed, and were not in any danger, Helms said.

The 60 evacuated were moved to three different county jails –– not named –– and will stay there until the problems are addressed. However, there is no time frame for when that will happen.

The control center and booking area in the jail will remain open. The sheriff’s department will still make arrests and process people, Rigg said. But they’ll be boarded out to another county jail.

Inmate info

Anyone trying to find out where a friend or family member is being housed can call 607-756-4275 for more information. Officers will be available to answer questions regarding inmate locations.

Boarding out the 60 inmates costs the county about $5,500 a day, Rigg said — about $170,000 a month. Fortunately, he said, the jail’s population is typically low this time of the year, but it will increase again when warmer weather returns.

Last year, the jail averaged about 90 inmates a day.

Legislature Chairman Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville) said it is still to be determined how the county plans to cover the impending expenses. He acknowledged the cost will be significant.

The county is self-insured. However, it does not have coverage for water damage, said Legislature Clerk Eric Mulvihill this morning.

“Most likely it will not be a claim or a covered loss,” he said.

No employees will be laid off because of the situation, Mulvihill added. All correction officers will still work in some capacity. Some will be sent to training, and others will cover the increased need to transport inmates.

The jail’s roof has leaked for some time, Rigg said. It was patched with Flex Seal from time to time last year. The county hired a company last year to repair the roof, with the hope it would start the work last year. However, the company was not able to before winter hit and planned on doing the work this year.

The 26-year-old jail has had maintenance issues for years. Along with the leaking roof, there’s been occasional pipe breaks. To deal with issues that arise, the county had set up a jail reserve account, putting the annual casino money it receives –– about $300,000 –– into the account. Before passing the 2019 budget, the Legislature had considered putting the casino money into the county’s general fund, rather than the jail reserve account. That was changed before the budget was passed to have the funding go into the reserve account.

Because of recent heavy rains, the jail began to leak excessively Thursday morning, Helms said. At about 8 a.m., enough water had leaked into the dormitory of the facility — which can house up to 30 inmates — that all inmates in it had to be evacuated.

“There was about 2 to 3 inches of water on the floor,” Helms said. As the rain continued, so did the leaks. Members of the county buildings and grounds department tried to stop the water from entering the jail, but could not control the leaks.

Water started to get into the jail’s electrical system and heating and ventilation units, Rigg said.

“It got to the point where we couldn’t provide mandatory services,” Rigg said.

The medical area and visitation areas were affected, he said. There wasn’t safe passage to their food services area, too. Thousands of gallons of water flooded into the jail, Rigg said. Even the inmates tried to help clear it out.

The state assessed the damage and will provide the sheriff’s office a list of criteria next week on what needs to be done before inmates can be returned. Step one in the process will be for an engineering firm see what needs to be done, Rigg said.

“Until the roof issue is satisfied, nothing else can really happen,” Rigg said.