THEY SHOT THE SHERIFF

It now comes to light that Ulster sheriff Juan Figueroa got a nasty surprise upon taking office on Jan. 1. Via email, Greene County advised it would no longer be boarding its inmates at Ulster’s $92 million facility in Kingston. All of a sudden, the new sheriff had a $760,000 hole in his budget.

Figueroa’s attempts to negotiate a new contract with Greene fell on deaf ears, he told Democratic county legislators Tuesday might. The Greene sheriff, now boarding inmates at the Albany County jail, wouldn’t even return a phone call, he said. Call that one professional discourtesy.

Finding (or saving) three-quarters of a million in the sheriff’s $34 million budget represents a lot of doughnuts, metaphysically, less so from the county’s overall $330 million 2019 spending plan. That the county profited handsomely off the excess cash jail boarding produced until this year should at the least motivate bean counters in the finance department, currently playing poor-mouth, to dig a little deeper for the new sheriff.

Theories abound on why not-so-green Greene suddenly pulled the plug on the man who so decisively defeated three-term sheriff Paul Van Blarcum last November. In police work, as former Kingston chief Gerry Keller liked to say, “We call this a clue.”

Van Blarcum, a Democrat running on the Republican line after losing that nomination at primary to Figueroa, was well-respected and roundly endorsed by his colleagues in law enforcement. In most elections, that would have been more than enough, but 2018 was an unusual year. Bitterness lingers.

In sticking it to Ulster, might the Greene sheriff have been sending a clear signal to its voters?

And what now? With Dutchess building a huge annex to its jail and Greene apparently committed to the Capitol District, Ulster may have to begin boarding homeless people (at $75 a day) to fill the place.

It’s curious how things work out. Back in the day, proponents of a new Ulster County Jail were making the claim that by boarding in prisoners from around the region, the jail would actually pay for itself. Figueroa, with his limited experience, but an oblique cast on that pipe dream when addressing legislators this week. “The jail,” he said, “should never be used as a money-making machine,”

Actually, that was the whole idea, until it wasn’t.

Somewhere, perhaps on his favorite barstool at the Boiceville Inn, Van Blarcum is laughing.