October 18, 2021

County Legislature diverts $600K in jail funds

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Cortland County corrections officers leave and enter the jail in this Cortland Standard file photo from Jan. 2020.

Money designated for a reserve account to repair the 28-year-old Cortland County jail will be diverted for non-jail expenses.

The Cortland County Legislature voted Thursday, 15-2, to take $600,000 from the $1.8 million fund to spend:

  • $250,000 to hire a consulting agency to help the county revamp its operations.
  • $29,675 on membership dues to the Southern Tier 8 and Central New York Regional Planning Board.
  • $320,325 for a buildings and grounds capital project reserve.

Legislators Sandra Price (D-Cortland) and Ron Van Dee (D-Cortland) voted no.

The jail repair fund was created in 2016, using money from a casino settlement with the Oneida Indian Nation and designated for repairs, renovations of replacement of the 28-year-old jail. It was bolstered starting in 2019 when the county decided to take $1.5 million off the top of sales tax revenue, earmarking $1 million for the jail, in a decision that took revenue away from the city of Cortland and other municipalities.

Price said she supported paying the dues for the Southern Tier 8 and Central New York Planning Board, which were taken out during the 2020 budget process and not placed back into the budget. And she supported putting money aside to pay for repairs to the County Office Building roof, which has been leaking in spots for several years. However, she did not support paying to have someone help make the county more efficient.

“I support efficiency, but not at that cost,” she said. “Remember, just a few short months ago we were all anguishing over cutting our senior center hours and then other worthy budget considerations. Now, to throw that amount of money into that idea is not my idea of prudent spending.”

Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland) said the professional services would help everyone, including County Administrator Rob Corpora.

“It is not a study,” Homer said. “It is feet to the ground individualized coachings for Mr. Corpora, not that he is not competent. … We do not have the skill set — if we listen to our constituents — if we look at our financial situation. I started working here in 1992 and it’s gotten progressively worse since 1992.”

Sheriff Mark Helms had said as long as the county has the funds to pay for any possible jail expenses it’s ultimately the Legislature’s decision.

However, an advisory committee on bail reform and the jail detailed in a December report that the jail has multiple flaws.

It’s poorly configured, so even if the jail has enough beds, it has insufficient space for programs to keep inmates from coming back.

The jail is 38,400 square feet, but only two rooms available for programs.

That space is already used for 20 programs, and the advisory committee suggests more space be added for new programs.

However, legislators Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) and Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) both said the money should go into the buildings and grounds capital project reserve so it could be used on any capital expense related to the county buildings. They also noted that when the county goes out for grant funding for the county courthouse repairs— estimated at $5.1 million — it will have money to show the state the county has matching funds available.