New St. Mary's jail back on table -- Gazette.Net


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Larry Jarboe (R), one of the three St. Mary’s County commissioners who voted in December to shelve a project for an expanded and renovated jail, brought the matter back under consideration Tuesday, with three conditions.

The jail has to be on county, not state, property. The scope of the work needs to be reduced and the state needs to contribute to the cost.

The state had committed so far $6.2 million to the project, but when construction bids came in $7 million over the $24 million projected budget, the majority of the county commissioners scuttled the new jail in favor of making repairing the existing jail. Last week, the commissioners were told that could cost at least $9.5 million, without any contribution from the state.

Built in 1989, the jail has a capacity of 230 male and female inmates. The new jail would double that capacity, modernize the security system and bring air conditioning to the jail.

Jarboe said Tuesday he would be willing to support the new jail project if a property boundary issue were resolved and aspects of the work can be made less expensive. At least three of the commissioners supported taking another look at the project.

Jarboe said he contacted Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) this week. “The sheriff feels the state is still willing to put up half” of the funding for the entire renovation and expansion, Jarboe said Tuesday.

“No. 1, we have to put it on our own property,” he said of the jail expansion. There are boundary issues between the state and county government, around the Joseph Carter building, which houses district court. “Somebody made a mistake when they didn’t review the purchase that went back to 1988,” he said.

“Somehow we put it on the wrong property and the bid came in excessively high,” he said.

Also, Jarboe said Cameron is willing to “value engineer” the project to find cost savings by looking at what drove the bid costs higher than expected. “I think it’s a value to discuss this” in the capital budget plans, Jarboe said. “I would be supportive of that moving forward.”

“Value engineering, I would like to know more about it,” said Commissioner Dan Morris (R), who also voted against the jail expansion in December. He also moved to return programmed dollars for the jail project back the county’s building budget. Last week, $16.2 million was returned to county coffers and the state was informed the county would not use the $6.2 million committed for the jail. It was at last week’s meeting that the commissioners were told the jail still needs $9.5 million in repairs and replacements, for such things as locking systems, new floors, ceilings, boilers and staff workspace.

Morris said of the value engineering, “Why hasn’t it been brought forward before?” He said he understood the need for air conditioning, mainly for the corrections staff, and locking systems. “I understand the needs and they are justified. Where was it at two months ago?” he said of the value engineering.

Cameron did not attend the commissioners meeting, but said later Tuesday, “It was a rush to judgment without that discussion. There was no time.”

However, he said, “I appreciate the contemplative position of Larry Jarboe. It was a good development.”

Working the land ownership out should not be a significant problem, the sheriff said. “The land issue in the big picture is a minor thing,” Cameron said. The big question, he said, is whether or not the state government has already committed elsewhere the $6.2 million set aside for the St. Mary’s jail.

Cameron said Tuesday he was on the phone with state lawmakers asking that question. If those dollars are lost “everything else is academic,” the sheriff said.

“Let’s hope they will come up with half of the project again,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D). “I wholeheartedly endorse the project no matter how we get it done.” He asked the other commissioners to vote for the project and to vote to approve the next county budget.

“As long as each commissioner feels comfortable with what’s in the budget,” Jarboe said.

County budget work sessions begin Feb. 25.

jbabcock@somdnews.com