ALBANY — The New York State Association of Counties is hoping that if Washington puts together an economic stimulus package, it includes for infrastructure projects, including a possible jail shared between Genesee and Orleans counties, if the counties choose to pursue that further.
Genesee County has been planning to build its own new jail, with the current one in a building that is more than 100 years old. County leaders are wary of spending more on the current facility than is necessary. There is no telling when work on a new jail would begin and the county put the project on hold for now.
It was with the jail project on pause that the county is taking a look at a possible joint jail facility and holding center in Albion, said Assistant County Manager Matt Landers.
Landers said Wednesday that in a previous state budget proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed legislative changes that would have made a shared facility feasible. The changes did not end up becoming part of the state budget, Landers said.
“That has made us think maybe there is a possibility for a joint jail with Orleans County. Since we’re already paused, it’s only logical for us to explore whether this is a feasible project. I think it would be missing an opportunity if we didn’t explore the possibility of a joint jail. We’re working with officials from Orleans County and trying to come to a consensus between the two counties if there’s a good fit.”
The press release NYSAC issued Monday included a link to a county-by-county listing of projects which could use infrastructure funding. Included under Genesee County was a $63 million joint facility in Albion, which could include 181 beds and six holding cells and four pods, a $5 million Orleans holding center and a $3 million demolition of the existing Orleans County Jail.
“We have to make sure this is a good fit for both governments. There are capital costs that Orleans County would have to incur,” Landers said.
Orleans County Chief Administrative Officer Jack Welch also said a shared jail is an exploratory discussion, noting the law doesn’t allow for them.
“It’s illegal to do such a thing. The state Legislature would have to change a couple of laws. That concept was initially put into the state budget plan and then it was removed,” Welch said Thursday.
Welch said the demolition of the jail would be tied to the ability to build a shared jail.
“The current jail is 50 years old. If the governor says we’re supposed to reimagine things, this is just a concept of reimagining services,” he said.
There would be a separate set of requirements with a shared jail, Welch said, but the county doesn’t know what they are right now.
“There’s a lot of moving parts that we absolutely have no control over,” he said.
The consideration Cuomo gave to the idea of a shared facility was one of the things that made Genesee County think about it.
“The other one that has struck an interest in us is the federal infrastructure money that could be tied to the stimulus — the potential for federal money to assist us,” he said. “This is a great opportunity.”
On the other hand, Landers said, if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t struck and county sales tax revenue hadn’t dropped, Genesee County would probably be on the way toward building its own jail using sales tax revenue.
Sales tax revenues for May were down 32 percent statewide, in line with NYSAC’s most recent Coronavirus Economic Impact Report, which projects that counties outside New York City will face revenue losses of up to $2 billion and the potential of another $1.5 billion in state budget cuts.
The NYSAC news release followed a letter sent Monday to President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders in support of an infrastructure stimulus package.
The release also included renovation and stabilization of the current Genesee County Jail at 14 West Main St., Batavia.
The cost of improvements to the facade is about $750,000. Engineering and bids for the work are complete.
NYSAC also told Trump and Congressional leaders about Genesee County’s $57 million plan for Phase 3 of its countywide water project, which will be needed with more people connecting to the water supply, including farmers.
“Phase 3 is going to happen. If we can leverage some federal money to assist us, that’s great,” Landers said. “Phase 3, in its simplest form. It’s just bringing more supply of water into our county, which is going to be necessary.”
Broadband internet into unserved or underserved areas is another Genesee County project for which NYSAC would like the federal government to release aid.
“That is eventually going to come down the road, it the federal government can assist in speeding that up, that is wonderful,” Landers said of the broadband project.
The list of infrastructure projects from 40 counties totals more than $7.35 billion, NYSAC told the federal government.
“Now is the time to innovate, to invest in our future, and to rebuild a stronger, smarter infrastructure for the good of all,” said NYSAC President John F. Marren. “It is in this spirit of renewal that we presented these project recommendations to our federal partners. These projects represent a significant opportunity to jumpstart our economy, add construction and trade jobs to our workforce, and strengthen our infrastructure for the next generation of Americans.”
Landers said NYSAC asked counties whether they have projects that are “shovel-ready” or that they are going to need to do over the next five years.
“We’ve made this very realistic list of things that we would like to have assistance with,” he said.
In a June 18 letter to NYSAC, Orleans County Legislator Kenneth DeRoller listed a couple of projects that could benefit from stimulus funding. One was a $3 million Orleans County Industrial Development Agency Medina Business Park infrastructure project. The project includes engineering and installing infrastructure, such as water, sewer, power, natural gas, broadband access, road work and drainage in the east central section of the business park.
The advantages of this project include the locating of more than 500,000 square feet of new industrial building there, $30 million of new assessment, creating 500 new jobs and increasing the use of and the revenue from municipally-owned infrastructure.