Vote on new Cortland County jail delayed after residents speak out

CORTLAND, N.Y. — County legislators will wait another month to vote on a measure that would authorize $1.9 million in spending toward the engineering and design of a new county jail.

More than 50 people packed the chambers of the Cortland County Legislature Thursday evening in anticipation of the vote.

After hearing from several members of the public who asked legislators to delay the vote, the legislature voted 10-6 to table the measure until its April 28 meeting. Legislator Christopher Newell was absent.

While some outright opposed building a new jail, others asked that the county reduce the size of the proposed project. The sheriff’s office is asking for a 150-unit facility at a price tag of $38 million.

“There may be the possibility of boarding in inmates from other counties,” which could lead to increased revenue for the county, said Kathie Arnold, a former county legislator. “But we are in a period where there is much discussion nationwide and actual changes in the over-criminalization of drug use. It could very well come to be that there are no inmates to board in.”

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Nick Lynch, a corrections officer since 2003, said the current facility is deteriorating, overcrowded and poorly designed, leading to high overtime and maintenance costs for the sheriff’s department.

“The objective of a new facility is to create an atmosphere of self responsibility,” Lynch said. “The new facility provides more rooms for programs and services to better assist the inmates when they are discharged from custody. This cannot be achieved in the current facility due to lack of space and poor facility design.”

Following Thursday’s vote, legislators discussed the possibility of holding a special meeting where local attorneys, judges and other players in the county’s judicial system could provide input in a dialogue that has largely been spearheaded by the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office.

A date for that meeting will likely be scheduled in the coming weeks.

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