Warwick left with more questions than answers on prison closing

| 15 Feb 2012 | 08:45

    Town also denied share in $50 million for impacted communities, By Roger Gavan WARWICK — There were more questions left unanswered than answered. That’s the feeling that Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton came away with from an Aug. 3 meeting with local representatives and state officials regarding the closing of Mid-Orange Correctional Facility and its impact on the surrounding area. The meeting was held at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton. Joining Sweeton were state Senators David Carlucci and William J. Larkin Jr. and Assemblywomen Annie Rabbit and Nancy Calhoun. The met with the governor’s representative Liz Glazer, deputy secretary for Public Safety; Brian Fischer, commissioner of the Department of Corrections; and representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation and the Office of General Services. This past June, Gov. 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 final closing has been extended to the end of October. The governor’s office originally informed local representatives that the state would divvy up $50 million to the impacted communities to help ease the economic pain. “We will work closely to ensure impacted areas are given substantial state aid to help them create jobs and transform their local economies,” Cuomo said at that time. During a recent meeting the Warwick Town Board passed a resolution requesting that Cuomo reconsider his decision to close the prison pending his office providing the town with the analysis that led to the decision as required by his own executive order. Disappointing news Sweeton restated that he and all the members of the Town Board are as frustrated by the closing as the employees and the business community. “However, we’re not going to change any minds,” he said after coming away from the meeting convinced that the governor’s decision to close Mid-Orange was cast in stone. The other disturbing news was that Glazer was not prepared to share the analysis that led to Cuomo’’s decision. But worst of all, a share in the $50 million fund to help impacted communities would not be available, as first understood, to mitigate the losses of existing businesses or to assist the Town. “The money is only to be used for development purposes to support capital projects,” said Sweeton. “That would be for an on-site project or one within five miles of the site and we couldn’t get an answer right away of how much or how that would work.” Once closed, the property will be turned over to the Office of General Services for disposition and maintenance, which should include some general upkeep and security until sold. Answers expected later this week Until the meeting, Commissioner Fisher was unaware that the prison was in the early phase of a five-year rollover agreement to pay the approximate $200,000 per year for sewage disposal. The town could face a challenge on that issue. “The governor’s office confirmed that despite our objections, the facility will in fact be closing and that inmates and guards have begun the process of being transferred,” Carlucci said in a statement issue from his state Senate office. “This is upsetting news for many in my district. We must now work to turn this loss into a potential economic opportunity for our area. I will continue to work with my colleagues in government to attract a buyer for the property.” Sweeton presented those attending the meeting with a list of unanswered questions. He expects a reply this week and promised to keep the community informed. “Until then,” he said, “I just don’t know.”