- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The project to renovate and enlarge the St. Mary’s County jail is in an undead state. The county commissioners voted 3-2 to kill the project in December, but there is now a proposal to bring it back to life. However, the president of the commissioners said this week it’s too late for that.
Last week, Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R), one of the three who voted down the project when construction bids came in $7 million higher than expected, said he would be willing to support the project again on three conditions: A land boundary issue between the state and county needs to be resolved; the scope of the work needs to be reduced; and the state has to supply funding.
The state had already committed $6.2 million, but the Maryland Department of General Services was notified in December that St. Mary’s was withdrawing its request for that funding. Then the commissioners were told last month the current jail would still need $9.5 million in repairs.
Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for St. Mary’s County government, told the commissioners Tuesday the jail would have to come back to the table as a new project. “There’s nothing to resurrect easily,” she said.
Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said this week the jail project still has state money awarded for phase one, as at least $1.6 million has already been spent on design and engineering, “so that’s there,” he said. More state dollars need to be requested for phase two.
The first phase of the expanded jail was projected to cost $24.2 million; the second phase is $4 million, Cameron said. “The only way we can utilize the state money is if the project stays the same,” he said. “The project will have to be rebid. Will [the bids] be $7 million again or will it be $10 million” too high?
The work to replace the locking mechanisms and security cameras and adding air conditioning in the existing jail is $5.78 million and is not included in the state’s share of the project, the sheriff said. The total for all of the work programmed is $34 million.
Instead of evaluating why the bids came in too high or putting the project back out for bids, “it was a rush to judgment that day,” Cameron said of Dec. 11, when the commissioners decided to terminate the project on a 3-2 vote.
Commission President Jack Russell (D) was critical this week of Jarboe’s attempt to bring the jail project back on. “The jail project is dead. This is a figment of someone’s imagination to get good press time or add to the conflict. I’m not looking to waste thousands and thousands of hours of staff time on a pipe dream,” he said.
Cameron said at least six years of work has been invested in planning and designing the new jail.
“This makes us look like the buffoons of Hooterville bringing this on,” Russell said. “This board voted to kill the project. You can’t value engineer $7 million out of this project.”
“I’m a can-do kind of person,” Jarboe said Thursday. “I believe in working in the constraints we have. We just got to move ahead.”
Jarboe said the main problem is the jail is designed to overlap on state property that houses the Carter building. “This was my point from Day 1. We have a property ownership problem.”
Cameron said he is waiting on a response from the Maryland Department of General Services on the property issue.
The capacity of the jail was to be expanded from 230 inmates to 424, intended to meet the need for the next 25 years.
Cameron’s main goal in the project is to “minimize inmate movement,” he said. “I wish we had a problem with not having enough people in the damn place,” but it is overcrowded.
“If it’s delayed a little bit, is that going to hurt anything?” Jarboe said. “Down the line we’re going to need a new jail.”