Onondaga County voters to decide whether sheriff's department will take over jail operations

Sep 1, 2017

Onondaga County voters will decide in November whether the county’s corrections department will move under the control of the sheriff’s department. Lawmakers voted 13 to 3 to move ahead with the referendum, despite some concerns.

It was only two weeks ago that county officials announced the proposal. Changing the charter like that is something that needs voter approval, and in order to get it on the November ballot, lawmakers had to act on the proposal by Thursday, which they did. 

Some didn’t like the quick turn around on an issue that’s been kicked around for years. County corrections Sgt. Kathy Zabinski says there are a lot of angry employees at the Jamesville Correctional Facility right now, who say they were never told by county officials this was in the works.

“We want details of the plan, that’s all we’re asking for,” said Zabinski. “And that’s our biggest question, what is going to happen?”

County legislator Brian May, who sponsored the legislation, admits this fast track isn’t the best way to discuss an issue.

“I agree that we make too many fast decisions here. And this could fall in that category,” he said. “But it’s the right decision to make. It’s not going to affect the people who work there.”

May says this move will only change the management of the jail, which will help create efficiencies that will help taxpayers down the line. And, May says, there will be fewer state regulatory hoops to jump with one entity in charge.

“There’s a lot of things we don’t control from a mandate standpoint,” he said. “Here’s something within a mandated process that we can make very subtle changes to, and affect an outcome.”

Onondaga County is the only county in the state that still splits jail operations between the sheriff’s department and the county, according to Sheriff Gene Conway.

A public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, will be held before the referendum is voted on in November.