A number of long-term issues came back throughout 2019 for Cortland County legislators and officials to figure out, including filling the county administrator position, but issues related to the county jail remain unresolved. New criminal justice laws were also big concerns for county officials.
These are among the top county government stories of 2019:
On Jan. 24 a 12-foot seam open on the Cortland County Jail roof, allowing water into the facility, which prompted the evacuation of inmates and lead to an almost six-month repair of the roof and other facility issues.
The damage brought back into the spotlight the issues that remain with the jail, which was built in 1992 with a planned capacity of 50 inmates. It has been crowded since 1997, but can hold up to 89 with special permission from the state. Inmates are sent to jails elsewhere when there is no room in the county jail.
Two studies were done to help legislators decide whether to build a new jail, which could cost more than $50 million. However, the studies differed from each other greatly.
The Vera Institute of Justice gave the county recommendations on programs and things it could put in place to divert people away from the jail and thereby cut the inmate population in half. Rod Miller of CRS Inc. said the jail will need 152 beds by 2039 — 63 more than it has now and three times as many as the facility was designed for.
The county has still not made a decision on what to do with the jail — leave it be, renovate or build new.
Come Jan.1, most people arrested for a misdemeanor and non-violent felony crimes will be released on an appearance ticket for future court appearances, essentially eliminating the bail process as part of a new set of laws signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The justice reform also requires the prosecution and defense to share all the information in their possession and addresses the speedy trial rules to reduce case backlog and delays.
The implementation of these reforms could have an impact on the jail population, although it’s unlikely the data to draw on will be available until six months after the laws are implemented.
It is also likely to affect several departments in the county, including the District Attorney’s Office, which must now hand over evidence in every trial, and the 911 Dispatch Center, which must have a person designated to find officer call logs and dashboard camera videos.
It poses a large question on how much money it will cost the county in possible overtime, hiring of extra personnel and even storage of evidence.
District Attorney Patrick Perfetti is awaiting guidelines from the state police on how they will handle traffic tickets before making his own decision on how his office will proceed after a traffic diversion program stalled in the county Judiciary and Public Safety Committee in November and no resolution had been reached in December.
The program would give drivers a choice: face the ticket and the state-imposed fine — and points on their license — or go through the program, pay a minimum $200 fee and take a six-hour safety course.
The revenue collected would have been dispersed for criminal justice matters. However, debate over who would be in charge of handling the revenue — the legislature or the district attorney — led to the program not beginning this year.
But legislators said they will begin discussion again with Perfetti on the creation and implementation of a traffic ticket program.
Perfetti has repeatedly said he will not implement the program unless he is in charge of the money. It has left county residents wondering what will happen with the tickets since Perfetti has also indicated he does not have the manpower in his office to adequately meet the demands of new state criminal justice legislation.
A new state law going into effect Jan. 1 requires the Perfetti’s office to provide evidence in every single traffic case, something that wasn’t done before. In Cortland County, that would require creating five positions, funds for which are not in the county’s 2020 budget.
The county named a new administrator on Thursday — promoting from within to fill the position. Rob Corpora, the information technology director, will take over in January for four years as the administrator. He will receive an annual salary of $120,000.
Corpora said he’s excited to get to work on building relationships with the municipalities and finding ways to cut spending without cutting services.
Corpora fills a position that was created in 2002 by law, but left vacant for four years following clashes between the two previous administrators — Scott Schrader and Martin Murphy — and the Legislature.
Corpora said he doesn’t think he’ll have problems working with any of the legislators.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office released an audit on the county’s financial situation in early December, faulting the county and finding that the county lacked so much essential financial information, key financial officials and policies and procedures that it should not have been making financial decisions. Some of those problems dated as far back as 2004.
The comptroller made several recommendations, including filling key financial positions like a director of finance, county auditor, and county administrator and getting financial paperwork in order to determine where county finances lied.
The county has since filled every key positions and has spent at least $373,500 working with ProNexus, LLC, Bonadio Group and EFPR Group to get financial records in order, complete audits and create procedures and policies.