OGDENSBURG — With a new governor in Albany, the Ogdensburg City Council decided it was time to state its case as to how valuable St. Lawrence County’s three prisons are to the north country.
Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a resolution supporting continued operation of Gouverneur, Riverview and Ogdensburg correctional facilities. The resolution and an accompanying letter will be sent to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul, as well as state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, Joseph R. Griffo and Daniel G. Stec, and Assembly members Mark C. Walczyk and Kenneth D. Blackenbush, among others.
“Make them aware of the importance of these prisons,” Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly said. “It’s on our minds, and I am glad we’re sharing that.”
While there was some discussion about the timing of the resolution, especially when the state has not released a list of potential prison closures, council decided to move forward.
“How do people know your concern if you don’t articulate it to them, if you don’t let them know the importance?” Mr. Skelly said.
City Manager Stephen P. Jellie will write the letter and send it to councilors for review.
The resolution states that the city and St. Lawrence County have a long history of seeking, welcoming and supporting state correctional facilities and that the support has allowed New York to find locations for its facilities at times when other communities were not willing to accept them.
“The New York State Correctional Facilities in Ogdensburg and Gouverneur have distinguished themselves for decades due to the safety, efficiency, and overall high standards of their operation,” the resolution reads. “The three correctional facilities combined provide close to $100 million in payroll and provide for approximately 1,000 jobs that help to improve the quality of life in Northern New York.”
The employees of the correctional facilities reside in Ogdensburg and throughout the north country, make purchases and supporting local businesses, hospitals and schools, thereby contributing to the local economy and making the region a better place to live and raise a family, according to the resolution.
Other areas of the state, according to the resolution, “offer more opportunity for the adaptive reuse of closed facilities due to higher property values and more robust environments for commercial activity.”
“Such facilities, in more expensive areas of the state, have historically been easier to redevelop, in so doing adding to the tax base and economic vitality of the state,” the resolution reads.
The resolution also points out that Ogdensburg already has 500,000 square feet of vacant state-owned buildings, which were formerly part of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, and that those abandoned and unused buildings are clear demonstrations of the difficulty in repurposing closed state facilities in the area.
“The state should be, as part of their decision-making process, looking at a community’s abilities to bounce back from these types of closures,” Deputy Mayor John A. Rishe said. “And other communities have a lot of private-sector jobs, even public sector. We have a lot of unemployment and poverty, and that ought to be taken into consideration.”
Mr. Jellie said that the city could ask Gov. Hochul to visit Ogdensburg, the only city in St. Lawrence County, to plead a case about how important the prisons are to the area. Councilors looked at the idea favorably.
“She certainly has shown an interest in being in the north country, so maybe it’s time we offer an opportunity and get her here and tell her all the facts and figures,” Mr. Jellie said.