Updated 03/20/2012 02:18 PM
FEMA extends contract, but problems linger for sheriff's office
An agreement has been reached to extend a contract with five state corrections officers who have been providing security for FEMA trailers in Schoharie County since Irene last summer. But as Megan Cruz reports, a bigger problem lingers.
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SCHOHARIE, N.Y. -- "Last year in 2011, we were on track to make $900,000 income from boarding prisoners," said Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond.
That is, until Tropical Storm Irene.
"It was not only water," he said. "There was all kinds of debris in here. This whole bottom floor of the public safety building had to be cleaned out."
Prior to the flood, the county treasurer said this jail used to bring in close to $1 million a year to house inmates from other counties. Now, more than six months after the flood, despite it still being out of commission, it's costing taxpayers thousands - because with or without a jail, they still need to process county prisoners.
Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry said, "We are now paying Albany County to board our prisoners, and that's about $70,000 a month."
"So it's a big hit on the county, and it's a big hit on the taxpayers, and until we get back into a jail in this county, it's going to be a large expense," said Sheriff Desmond.
State law requires that each county have a jail, but whether or not the jail is built at this current location is ultimately up to the County Board of Supervisors. Chairman Harold Vroman said, unfortunately, it's not a simple yes or no.
Vroman said, "We're waiting to hear back from FEMA. We've submitted some stuff. We're waiting to hear back how much they're going to fund the jail."
He explained that the jail is considered a "critical facility" and that in order to get funding from FEMA to rebuild it, they have to wait for an OK from the agency. Both Desmond and Cherry are urging the board to put more pressure on FEMA, because if a jail isn't built soon, taxpayers are the ones who will suffer because they'll have to continue housing prisoners in other jails.
"That's a very poor option because of the cost of that," said Sheriff Desmond. "We had to budget $720,000 to pay out to board our prisoners with no off-setting income."
"Taxpayers will see a 10 percent tax increase at the worse possible time, when they're trying to rebuild," Cherry said.
The good news is the sheriff's office was able to renew a contract in which corrections officers are used as security guards for FEMA at the Guilford Mills property, where FEMA trailers are still being kept. That would bring some income into the county, but no where near the $1 million the jail brought in.