With his plan to build a new Youth Detention Center stalled, County Executive Joel A. Giambra on Thursday called the refusal of Legislature Democrats to approve the new building nearly "criminal."
"We're asking them to get real," said a frustrated Giambra, who submitted his plan to the Legislature in early July. "This (old) facility should have been torn down years ago. This borders on being criminal."
The county's current facility for delinquent 8- to 15-year-olds on East Ferry Street is overcrowded and run-down and has lost its state certification. Legislators toured the site earlier this year and were appalled by conditions there.
But Legislature Democrats -- who held the plan back in committee Thursday -- fired back at Giambra, saying he is trying to slip through a radical change in the way the county deals with its troubled youth.
"He is saying: 'I no longer want to help children who are in need. I just want to deal with them in jail,' " said Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo. "This is something that needs a great deal more discussion."
The stalemate between Giambra and Legislature Democrats breaks down into several key areas on which neither side seems willing to bend. The key areas of disagreement include:
Whether children classified as PINS, or persons in need of supervision, should be housed by the county at the Detention Center as has traditionally been the case or, as Giambra now proposes, contracted out for care to private agencies. PINS cases are generally younger children who are troubled and need care but who have not committed the kind of crimes that result in juvenile offender status.
Who the architect of the new East Ferry Street facility will be. Giambra wants to hire a New Jersey-based firm to oversee the project; Legislature Democrats prefer to use Robert Traynham Coles, a Buffalo architect who runs one of the few minority architectural firms in the state.
What the impact will be if Gov. George E. Pataki signs into law a change that would raise the maximum age for PINS children from 16 to 18. That could substantially increase the number of children the county is responsible for, Democrats maintain.
George A. Holt Jr., D-Buffalo, chairman of the committee where the Detention Center plan is tabled, said not much can be done on the project over the winter.
"We've got a little time," he said. "We need to come to some consensus on this."