Town Hall meeting addresses Mid-Orange Correctional closing

| 15 Feb 2012 | 08:36

    Warwick officials to meet next week with Gov. Cuomo’s staff WARWICK - The Warwick Town Board has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reconsider his decision to close Mid-Orange Correctional Facility pending providing the town with the analysis that led to the decision as required by his own executive order. A meeting between town board members and the governor’s staff and various state agencies has also been tentatively set for Aug. 2, when board members intend to discuss this as well as many other concerns about the facility. During the regular board meeting at the Town Hall held on July 21, approximately 30 Mid-Orange Correctional employees and other concerned citizens were on hand to voice their objections to the closing of the facility. On June 30, 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 facility was originally scheduled to close 60 days from the governor’s announcement. Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt (R-C-Greenwood Lake) reported that 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 would be let go when the center closes. She added that the state will also divvy up $50 million to the affected communities to help ease the economic pain and that the 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. Seniority in play At the July 21 meeting Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton reiterated how he and all the members of the Town Board are as frustrated by the closing as the employees. “We lobbied hard from the early budget discussions that we preferred Mid-Orange to remain open and despite our continual transmittal of that message to Governor Cuomo, Senator Carlucci and Assemblywoman Rabbitt we lost.” Jason Riggins, the acting chief steward for NYSCOPBA at the facility, said that all the facility’s inmates will be relocated by the end of August. He also reported that with typical government efficiency, contractors were still performing repairs to buildings that will probably be torn down. Riggins explained that correctional officers will immediately be required to list their preferences for transfer to the other 60 facilities by numbering them from one to 60 and that seniority will determine who goes where. The hardship will obviously fall on those with lower seniority who live in this area and because of family, home ownership and other considerations cannot accept an assignment to a distant facility. “And there are currently about 1,000 parole violators,” he said. “Where will they go when all the jails are filled?” Rezoning the property The Town Board has also scheduled a hearing for Aug. 11 to re-zone the property into a non-residential zone (office, research, industrial) in the event they fail to convince the Gov. to reconsider his decision. “In addition,” said Sweeton, “I informed the employees that I had already requested that our legal firm review what we knew of the decision to see if there was any legal basis whatsoever to contest it.” Legal challenges, however, may prove difficult. One possibility for example, the State Environmental Quality Review Act has been ruled out. In New York a SEQRA environmental review is mandated whenever the action of any government agency could have an adverse impact on a site. However the governor and legislature are exempt from this law. “The employees gave me some other things to look at and I passed them on and will also discuss them when I meet with the Governor’s representatives next week,” said Sweeton. “We did schedule a public hearing for August 11 to consider rezoning the property to Office/Industrial from Rural Residential to remove the fear of a large dense, housing development from the discussion,” the supervisor said. “Once we know what the state’s intentions are, we can have a wider community discussion of what could happen on the site.” Carlucci sent a representative to the Town Hall meeting. On July 20 he and several other elected officials sent a letter to Cuomo with concerns regarding the time frame of the closure citing the potential for employees to have to make life changing decisions, such as selling their homes and finding new places to live. Commissioner Brian Fischer of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision responded by extending the closure dates from 60 days (beginning on June 30) to October (91 days). “I remain deeply committed to continue to fight the closure of the Mid-Orange Correctional facility,” said Carlucci. “The entire community will be seriously affected by this decision and I will continue to work with the Governor’s office toward this goal. In the event that the facility does close, I will continue to work with the Governor’s office and the Empire State Development Corporation to ensure that Mid-Orange employees are offered equitable benefits for options such as early retirement, that there are sufficient transfer opportunities as well as what new economic development possibilities exist for the community.” We lobbied hard from the early budget discussions that we preferred Mid-Orange to remain open and despite our continual transmittal of that message to Governor Cuomo, Senator Carlucci and Assemblywoman Rabbitt, we lost.” Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton