Cortland County lawmakers take “first step” toward building new jail

CORTLAND, N.Y. – A committee of Cortland County lawmakers on Thursday voted to begin the first phase of a plan to find a suitable site and design for a new county jail.

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The vote comes after a separate advisory committee released a 20-page report Wednesday that recommended the Cortland County Legislature pursue a new facility to address issues of overcrowding, board out costs and deteriorating infrastructure at the current public safety building.

With Thursday’s vote, the resolution moves to the county’s budget and finance committee before coming to the full legislature for a vote.

If approved by the full legislature, the county will spend $149,000 to hire an architectural firm to identify potential sites for the jail.

The firm, Albany-based SMRT Architects and Engineers, will also come up with a design for the facility, which is estimated to cost $38 million to build.

At Thursday’s meeting, law enforcement officials urged lawmakers to pursue the project.

“I realize it’s an expensive project, but it’s time we looked at building towards the future,” Cortland County Sheriff Lee Price said. “We need to build 50 years down the road.”

Related: Report highlights urgent need for new Cortland County Jail

Former county legislator Tony Pace, who attended Thursday’s meeting, asked if the committee looked at the possibility of collaborating with neighboring counties to establish a regional jail.

Captain Bud Riggs with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department said county lawmakers would have to clear several legal hurdles to create a regional facility.

Under state law, every county is mandated to have a jail, which is overseen by the county sheriff.

“To actually pull something like that off, you could be looking at years of fighting legislation in Albany,” Riggs said.

Peggy Mousaw, director of budget and finance, said the county cannot afford to delay the project.

“The infrastructure in that facility is rapidly deteriorating,” Mousaw said. “The cost for the infrastructure alone, to bring that facility up to current code and requirements, is going to be heavy. Do you want to continually try and band-aid the structure to keep it running, or do you want to take those funds and put them into building a new facility? Either way, you’re going to pay now or you’re going to pay later.”

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