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The Telegram
  • County hires Albany law firm for jail litigation with village

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  • Herkimer County will hire an Albany law firm to handle its litigation with the village of Herkimer over the placement of a new jail.
    The Legislature voted 10 to 4 with one abstention to approve a resolution to retain the West Firm to provide legal services in the matter, but not before several legislators aired their opinions on the proposed new jail.
    The county agreed to pay $350 per hour for the services of attorney Thomas S. West, $225 per hour for other counsel in the firm and $100 per hour for paralegal services.
    Legislator Gary Hartman, D - Herkimer, abstained from voting, but read a prepared statement. He said hiring an outside attorney to pursue the county’s litigation against the village of Herkimer relative to the proposed construction of a $36 million jail at the former P&C site would not be a wise use of taxpayer money.
    “Should we continue to drive this runaway train in an attempt to build a costly over-sized jail on that site, even if the county would prevail in the subject litigation, more litigation costs are on the horizon,” Hartman said.
    He pointed out the property owner is opposed to the plan and “strong-armed eminent domain proceedings will obviously mean more litigation.”
    He noted he had drafted and introduced the zoning amendment that was upheld by the Appellate Division while serving as deputy mayor and trustee for the village of Herkimer and expressed confidence “the village of Herkimer will prevail and justice will be served ... I also believe that Herkimer County taxpayers would benefit from such a result because it will force us to seriously consider more cost-effective solutions to our criminal incarceration needs.”
    “I think the county should stay focused on this site,” said county Legislature Chairman Vincent Bono, R - Schuyler. “To deviate now, it would cost millions of dollars to go to an alternate site.”
    As for the legal action, he said, “I’m confident Herkimer County will win.”
    Legislator Patrick Russell, chairman of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee, which, with the Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee, introduced the resolution to retain an outside law firm, said funds for the new jail would come from tobacco funds and sales tax money, not property taxes.
    “I don’t think we’ve exhausted all possibilities,” said Legislator Dennis Korce, R - Mohawk, adding he would like to see the county explore the possibility of a regional jail. “New York state sets the rules and the guidelines. New York state is trying to get out of the prisoner business as fast as it can.”
    He suggested the county have only a 24- to 72-hour lockup and send most prisoners to a regional jail.
    Page 2 of 3 - Legislator John Brezinski, D - Frankfort, said that several years ago there was an effort to set up a meeting with Oneida County.
    “If there had been more cooperation then, we may have been in a different position now,” he said, adding that money had been wasted.
    Russell, R - Old Forge, said legislators did meet with Oneida County. “They don’t want us,” he said. “They’d rather have federal prisoners.”
    Legislator Leonard Hendrix, chairman of the Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee, said legislators had met with four county executives and sheriffs. “They don’t have room for us,” he said.
    “I think we can work with them,” said Hartman. “We should at least try.”
    Bono said he has talked to Oneida County officials, including the sheriff, and Oneida County does not have room for Herkimer County’s prisoners and would have to board them out. As for a regional approach, he said, that presents its own issues.
    “We’d have to form an authority which would have control of that jail,” he said, adding the authority could make decisions about building onto the jail or other matters. “With an authority, chances are that we get the short end of the stick — seven members to three or nine to five,” he said and added by building a jail, he said, the county would save close to $700,000.
    Legislator Frederick Shaw, R - Little Falls, said that had the jail been built when it was first discussed, “it could have been built for $10 million and we’d have saved an average of $700,000 a year. If boarding out prisoners is the answer, why is every other county building a jail? We need to move on this while interest rates are low and create jobs and revenue here in Herkimer County.”
    Bono said the county has nearly $14 million saved toward a new jail.
    Legislator Robert Schrader, R - Herkimer, who joined Raymond Johnson, Korce and Brezinski in voting no on the resolution, said he was in favor of a new jail, but thought there should be an alternate site.
    Legislators Helen Rose and Robert Hyde were absent.
    Asked after the meeting how many inmates the county handles, Sheriff Christopher Farber said the number varies.
    “There were 97 this week,” he said.
    Many must be boarded out because of regulations regarding the jail population. Men and women cannot be housed together and juveniles must be kept separate from the general prison population. The department makes calls to other facilities to find places to house prisoners. Oneida County charges $90 a day to board inmates while most of the other counties charge $80. These are not the only costs, however. If a prisoner boarded at another facility becomes ill and must be taken to a hospital for treatment, Herkimer County receives a bill for any overtime pay that is necessary.
    Page 3 of 3 - The point of building a new jail would be to improve efficiency, he said.
    “This jail was inefficient the day it opened,” said Farber.
    The recommendation to hire outside counsel came after the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court vacated an earlier judgment by Judge Erin P. Gall, which declared null and void the Feb. 6, 2012, amendment to the village of Herkimer’s zoning ordinance. The amendment would not allow for the construction of a correctional facility, correctional institution or jail in an industrial or central commercial district that is zoned C-3. The matter was sent back to Herkimer County Supreme Court for the court to develop a record so a balancing test could be performed to see if the county is subject to the village zoning law.
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