Could boarding out be cheaper than building a new jail in Herkimer County?

By PAT BAILEY

HERKIMER, N.Y. (WKTV) - Herkimer County Administrator Jim Wallace says the state never told them they must build a new Herkimer County Jail, however they were told they can not continue to operate the current facility as is.

The state has recently given the county a 60 day time period to come up with a plan regarding a new facility, Wallace said.

Wallace, along with Herkimer County Attorney Rob Malone, was in court Thursday morning fighting a restraining order against the county stating they can not perform studies on the former Pharmhouse Plaza property on Route 28 in Herkimer. The county legislature has targeted that property for a new jail.

The restraining order was lifted by New York State Supreme court Judge Michael Daley on the grounds that the county would repair any damages left behind from environmental studies if the county does not purchase the land.

Wallace says the county should be able to get on the Pharmhouse property by next week to conduct a study to see if its feasible to build a jail there.

Former Herkimer County Legislator Joe Chilelli says the county is jumping the gun and has not yet explored all their options.

Chilelli recently wrote a letter to a local paper breaking down a nearly $1 million savings if the county sends their prisoners to other county facilities in the state.

Chilelli says the county also needs to explore the option of expanding the current Herkimer County Jail. Both options are better than building a new jail, Chilelli said.

"I think building a new jail should be the last, absolute last resort," said Chilelli. "Under no circumstance should you do it until you have have explored those options. We have not done that - we have touched on them and disregarded them."

Herkimer County Administrator Jim Wallace says that if it comes down to boarding out or building, it's a new facility that makes sense.

"We think it's extremely important for us to create the new facility so that the staffing is more efficient and the cost to the taxpayers in the long run is cheaper," Wallace said.

According to Wallace, the full board of legislators did their due diligence, and there is a long term financial benefit to building a new jail.

"My projections show we would save $600,000 to $700,000 on the property tax by purchasing the building," Wallace said. "That is without boarding in or anything else. I stick by those projections."

However, Chillelli says that using the county's estimate of $30 million to $35 million in construction costs for a new jail and using the conservative lower number of $30 million to construct at a 4.5 percent interest rate would be $2,277,585 per year for 20 years.

Chilelli said by his estimates, this does not include the cost to operate the facility and doesn't include cost overruns or the additional cost of hiring more staff at full-time pay with benefits to run the much larger facility.

"Not to mention that after 20 years, there most likely will be the need for additional funds for repairs to our new jail," Chilelli said.

One outside agency is currently doing a study on the Pharmhouse Plaza property to see if its feasible to build a jail there, while another separate agency is doing a study to see how big a facility should be.

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