Supes support ‘Raise-the-Age’ bill, back bus contract

HUDSON–The Columbia County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution last week calling on the state legislature to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18.

Also at the March 9 meeting supervisors approved a two-year contract with Johnston and Pulcher LLC for bus services.

The Raise-the-Age bill now before the state legislature would increase to 18 the minimum age at which someone can be prosecuted in adult criminal courts, marked as a “felon” and incarcerated in adult prisons. The current age limit is 16.

Governor Cuomo supports the measure but the county resolution approved last week also recommends that the language in the governor’s proposal be changed “to reflect the state’s commitment to fund 100% of all costs” the county will incur as the result of raising the age.

Supervisor William Hughes, Jr., (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) introduced the resolution. One of his motivations, he said in previous meetings, was to keep 16- and 17-year-olds found to have committed “minor offenses” out of adult prisons, where they are likely to suffer abuse and their chance of recidivism increases.

All county supervisors present voted for the resolution with the exception of Jeffrey Nayer (I-Copake), who voted “No,” and Majority Leader Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook), who abstained. Mr. Grattan explained, “I’m a court clerk, and I don’t think I should vote on something that could come before a court.”

Mr. Nayer said of his vote, “Information I got from the district attorney and sheriff led me to believe that I could not support it as it is.”

Supervisor Richard Keaveney (R-Canaan), in a committee meeting held before the full board meeting, said he would vote for the Raise-the-Age resolution but hoped it would not “open doors” to problems. “After you have an elderly resident beat up in their front lawn… I hope it doesn’t lead to kids being put in a non-secure facility when they should be in a secure facility.”

People under the age of criminal responsibility who have been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent may end up in a juvenile detention facility. In Columbia County, these include Berkshire Farm in Canaan, which is “non-secure,” and Brookwood in Claverack, which is state-maintained and classified as “secure.”

After the meeting Mr. Hughes said that when he joined the board in 2007 he became concerned about how many children in the county ended up either in foster homes or at Berkshire Farm. Partly to alleviate the situation, he encouraged youth mentoring programs, working in partnership with non-profit organizations. This, he indicated, could be a factor that lifted the Hudson City School District out of its state designated “focused” status this year. The lifting of the focused designation means the district is no longer considered “substandard” in any respect by state regulators.

Mr. Hughes said he also spearheaded and encouraged mental health programs in schools and re-entry programs for former prisoners. The re-entry program sees that people just released from detention get housing, transportation and food vouchers. Compared to when he joined the board, Mr. Hughes said, “we’re much further along.”

The Johnston and Pulcher (J&P) contract approved by supervisors allows the company to continue to operate local bus service. Currently Columbia County has three types of bus service:

• To Albany from Hudson, via Kinderhook and Valatie (4 round-trips weekdays)

• Loops from Hudson to Fairview Avenue shopping centers (7 loops, Monday-Saturday)

• Once-a-week shuttles from some rural areas to and from Hudson.

All buses can adjust their routes by up to two miles to drop off or pick up someone by prior arrangement, as long as the diversion stays within Columbia County, according to a J&P spokesperson.

Public transportation in Columbia County falls under the county Planning and Economic Development Department, which reports at the monthly meetings of the County Government Committee. Recently Supervisor Richard Scalera (D-Hudson, 5th Ward), a member of the committee, volunteered to serve as liaison between the riders, the bus operator and the county.

“It’s not a taxi service, it’s mass transit,” Mike Johnston, president of J&P, said at the most recent County Government Committee meeting February 23. “Anything we do has to be approved by the state. Most of our problems are when the state doesn’t help us. We employ 100 people in Columbia County. And we keep the money in the county. That’s a big plus.”

Mr. Scalera said by telephone March 8 that he invited people to contact him at any time by phone or email or letters, with their comments and concerns about the bus service. He is also designing a form for people to submit their comments. Transportation-related concerns should be addressed to Supervisor Scalera, Columbia County Board of Supervisors, 401 State Street, Hudson, NY 12534.

Mr. Scalera said he would direct information he receives to the appropriate party. “I need a clear understanding of which comments are legitimate concerns and which are from people who like to complain,” he said, adding that he hopes he can “streamline” the process by giving people an outlet to express their transportation concerns as they arise.

The February committee meeting started with a room full of people—including children–and the committee listening to their bus concerns at the outset. Committee Chairman Supervisor Clifford “Kippy” Weigelt (R-Claverack) advised those who arrived later to put their comments in writing. Mr. Weigelt said he’s received comments praising the bus system, but some people have indicated a need for better schedules and safer drivers.

The next full Board of Supervisors meeting will take place Wednesday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m., at 401 State Street.

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