Saratoga County

City taking steps to handle its prisoners

The city is working on solutions to its outdated lockup cells.

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The city is working on solutions to its outdated lockup cells.

The jail cells, which are original to City Hall, will get new locks that comply with state standards after lead paint is safely removed from the cells, Ron Kim, commissioner of public safety, said Tuesday night.

“We’re dealing with original equipment,” Kim said of the locks. “These will actually be made by the company. They’re not off the shelf.”

All that won’t be complete until at least Labor Day, and Kim said the city needs someplace to lock up prisoners until then.

So the city plans to reconfigure the police station’s tiny booking room and add hooks and benches so prisoners can sit and be handcuffed to the hooks while they wait to be processed, Kim said.

The booking station work hasn’t been approved yet, and City Council was expected to vote late Tuesday night on a contract with Bonacio Construction to do some metal work on the cells after the lead is removed. The Saratoga Springs-based company is expected to replace angle irons on the tops of the jail cells and install privacy panels in front of the cell toilets for $8,200.

The lead removal work has not been sent out to bid yet.

Kim isn’t quite sure why two previous tests done on the jail cells failed to detect the high levels of lead that a recent test found. One past test found low levels and another found none, he said.

Until the cells are fixed, prisoners can wait in the booking room until they are arraigned and can be sent to the Saratoga County Jail, Kim said.

“We don’t have any place to put prisoners that’s authorized,” Kim said. “We’ve had a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks who say, ‘We’ll just take them to the county.’ ” But that’s not allowed until the prisoner has been arraigned by a city judge, he said.

Currently, the city police have to watch a prisoner in the cell because the locks don’t meet state standards, Kim said. In the event of a fire, the city would not be able to rescue prisoners in time, the state Commission of Correction determined after an inspection last fall.

Having the prisoners stay in the booking area means police department employees would have to walk past them, and some civilian employees have expressed a concern about that, he said. But it’s the only apparent option while the department fixes the cells.

The money for all these projects will come from a capital budget contingency fund, Kim said.

The City Council also was expected Tuesday night to vote on asking LaBella Associates to come up with more cost estimates associated with the city’s proposed new police station, in response to council members’ questions.

That $23,000 contract asks LaBella to estimate the costs of furnishing and operating the proposed building, renovating the current police station for public safety offices, renovating the City Court area and moving equipment into the new police station, all concerns that Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins had.

Ivins said he would not decide whether he’s in favor of building a new police station until he sees all those numbers. “The public should be completely aware as to how it’s going to affect their tax bill on a long term basis,” he said.

Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco also questioned whether the city could build a police station on Maple Avenue right behind City Hall and then reroute the road, so the cost of doing that will be projected. Officials have complained that further separating the police and court functions would be detrimental to both.

Also on Tuesday night, the council voted 5-0 to put a traffic signal with turning lanes at the intersection of Church and Myrtle streets, rather than the less popular roundabout.

Officials said that intersection was not an ideal spot for a roundabout in the city.

The changes to Church Street also will include a new middle lane for people turning left into driveways between Myrtle and Van Rensselaer streets, left turn arrows and pedestrian lights.

The traffic signal will cost about $1.4 million, while the cost for the roundabout was projected at $2 million. The city only will foot 5 percent of the cost of the traffic changes.

Saratoga Hospital officials and residents had opposed the roundabout, saying it would confuse drivers, make it difficult for pedestrians to cross and for traffic to turn out of Myrtle Street because of the heavy traffic on Church Street.

Reconstruction is set for the spring, summer and fall of next year.

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