Officials will fight prison closure

MALONE – Franklin County will make a case to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to keep the Chateaugay Correctional Facility open.

The movement began after the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced July 26 that it will close three medium-security facilities next summer- Chateaugay, Mount McGregor in Saratoga County and Butler in Wayne County – plus the minimum-security Montery Shock facility in Schuyler County.

Those facilities would be added to a list of seven prisons New York state has closed since 2011. The state currently operates 60 prisons. The additional closures are expected to save the state $30 million annually.

Sen. Betty Little spoke with Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman Billy Jones and Chateaugay town Supervisor Don Billow last Friday to discuss options for preventing the closure of the Chateaugay prison.

“We’ve said all along that we need to create and retain jobs,” Little told the Enterprise at a recent event in Tupper Lake. “I think we need to look at some alternatives to keep this facility open as a prison, and we’re working on it.”

Jones said the three officials talked about options for developing a strategic plan to convince Cuomo to keep the prison open. Those options included holding a public forum and organizing a committee of local stakeholders to facilitate discussion and strengthen the county’s argument against the closure.

“I don’t like to admit this, but our unemployment rate in this county, the poverty rate; we are right up there,” Jones said. “It would affect us more significantly than in other areas, and that’s all stuff we can prove. I think that makes a good case for leaving this facility open.”

In January 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that unemployment in Franklin County was at 11.9 percent and in Essex County it was at 12.1 percent. The national average is 7.4 percent.

If closed, the Chateaugay facility’s 75 corrections officers won’t be laid off, but will instead be added to a transfer list, meaning many of them might have to relocate to secure work. The prison currently employs 111 people.

“I imagine they (COs) will try to stay as close as they can to where they live now, but maybe some people won’t be able to do that,” Jones said. “As far as civilian staff, that gets a little bit trickier. They will have to go wherever there is an opening. It’s still a displacement of jobs, and we just can’t afford that right now.”

The thought of less jobs in the region has raised concerns among local business owners, too.

“Some business owners have already contacted me, saying we’ve got to do what we can because of our economics here, because they depend on these jobs in these facilities,” Jones said. “It does have an economic impact on them, there’s no question about that.”

Last week, the Franklin County board agreed with Jones and passed a resolution to strongly oppose the closing of the facility. Some legislators at the meeting expressed outrage at the closure.

Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, was the first to speak up.

“One of the reasons I voted for a natural gas line to come into the northern part of the county, which will probably never come into the southern part of the county, is because in my district I have a lot of corrections officers, and a lot of corrections personnel, who work at the prisons in Malone and Chateaugay,” Maroun said. “The natural gas would reduce the operation and maintenance end-cost for the state budget for corrections. The reason I voted for that was to save these prisons.”

Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, also took issue with the prison closing.

“It’s kind of ironic that, here we have the Adirondack Challenge the weekend before last, and then Friday morning the announcement came out that this prison was going to close,” Burpoe said. “To lose 111 jobs in the North Country is a devastating blow, and here he (Cuomo) is promoting tourism.”

Burpoe said promoting tourism is fine, but stressed that the region needs a diverse array of employment opportunities to be economically viable.

“I just don’t see how we’re going to have a healthy economy doing nothing but running a bed and breakfast or having a hotel here or there, taking care of the blue-bloods who come up to visit us once or twice a year,” Burpoe said. “That’s not for me; that’s not the kind of industry that I want to be a part of. For us to be losing all of the diversity that makes this a great place to live is a huge mistake. We can’t survive the continual body blows we’re getting from this governor and this government.”

Jones thanked the legislators for their comments, and said he will need all the help he can get in tackling this issue.

“I don’t want to be negative about it,” Jones said. “I believe we can put together a case that we have a great working staff there. We’re going to stay on this thing. I’m sure the governor will listen to what we have to say. I think we can put out a positive case to keep this facility open.”