Mid-Orange Correctional employees plan to fight closing

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:50

    Closing date may be moved up to Sept. 1, By Roger Gavan WARWICK - On Thursday, June 30, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick was on the list of seven prisons to be shut down to save the state money. The reason given was that 3,800 unused beds statewide will be eliminated saving taxpayers $72 million in 2011-12 and $112 million in 2012-13. A week ago State Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt (R-C-Greenwood Lake) announced that the facility will be finally closed on December 1. And except for a caretaker crew, all employees will no longer have positions at Mid-Orange after the end of August. Rabbitt, however, was told that none of the 300 plus employees will be let go when the center closes. “There is a team of people putting together a statewide plan on how to close the seven facilities, she said. “There will be a lot of transfers, a lot of early retirements and incentives for the employees. All the employees will have a job.” The state, she reported, will also divvy up $50 million to the impacted communities to help ease the economic pain. Rabbitt said the state’s Empire State Development Corporation will be working with Orange County and Warwick officials to find a new business to take over the 1,000-acre property. One major concern to town officials is the impact on the town’s sewer and water rates since the prison consumes and pays for about half of the capacity. As helpful as all this may sound, Mid-Orange employees are now rallying to save the facility from closing. In a blog submitted to The Warwick Advertiser, Darrell Houghtaling wrote: “Being an Officer at Mid-Orange for 18 years I pride myself in working for the most efficient facility in New York State. Why we are being closed is beyond me. “For the town of Warwick to attract new industry it will have to offer large tax incentives, so the taxpayer will see no benefit for at least twenty years. Even the senior housing has a tax incentive tied to it. “Being born and raised in Warwick, I have watched many businesses leave town and watched as many more were refused permission to start by the people of Warwick. “As far as development goes Mid-Orange consists of nearly 960 acres of wetland and with the new DEC imposed buffer zones even the forty used acres might not be developable. So think real hard about this because we the employees of Mid-Orange have been giving back to the community of Warwick for decades with service and patronage to the businesses. Once we’re gone we’re gone and the businesses will be soon to follow.” In response to questioning Houghtaling later reported that he believed all Mid-Orange employees were on board with this position but that the “mother unions,” not the locals, were letting them down. Union effort Jason Predmore, president of the Mid-Orange Sector of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), a 23,000-member union representing the State Security Services Unit including New York State’s prison correctional officers, vows to fight the closing every step of the way. “I want Town Hall to fight for us,” he said. “And I think there should be public hearings to discuss all the unintended consequences of this closing.” Predmore believes many of the citizens are unaware that volunteer inmates perform numerous useful services for the community such as street, road, and park cleaning, cutting trails, shoveling snow, maintaining cemeteries, athletic fields and so forth. Local contributions “During Operation Clean Sweep,” he said, “we filled and picked up approximately 45 huge bags with garbage collected along Route 94 from County 1 to the New Jersey border. We’re a valuable asset for the Town. Now Warwick will have to use its crews to perform these services.” Predmore also argues that if Mid-Orange employees are forced to commute long distances or move altogether, the Town will loose their services as volunteer firefighters, emergency responders, coaches and the like. 'Deaf ears’ Since the official announcement by the Governor’s office, Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton, who is equally upset by the closing, must also deal with that office to negotiate for state assistance and the best possible deal for this community. “It has always been the Town’s position that the prison remain open and it remains our first choice,” he said. “We transmitted this from the first mention of prison closings to the Governor’s office through the Superintendent at Mid-Orange, Annie Rabbitt and Senator Carlucci. However , our pleas have fell on deaf ears. We were not privy to how the Governor’s office arrived at their decision. And we are told they have made their decision and will not go back on it. All of the points raised by Jason Predmore are valid but I am not sure that our protests will be any more successful than we have been before. I will discuss options with the Town Board and continue to fight for fairness for the employees and for equal say by the Town in what happens in the future of the site itself.”

    I want Town Hall to fight for us. And I think there should be public hearings to discuss all the unintended consequences of this closing.” Jason Predmore, president of the union that represents correction officers at Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick