- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
There were 247 inmates in the St. Mary’s County Detention Center on Monday, a facility that opened in 1989 with a capacity of 230. That day, three of the county commissioners agreed to put money to expand the county jail back into the budget.
Three commissioners rejected the $24 million project in December after bids came in much higher than expected and then told the state government it could keep $6 million it had committed to the project.
They then learned that even without an expansion, the aging jail still needs $9.5 million in repairs and replacements, and St. Mary’s County would be responsible to pay for that alone.
This week Commission President Jack Russell (D), Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) and Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) agreed to put the original jail project back into the county budget, in fiscal 2015, which starts July 1, 2014. The project won’t be redesigned, but it will be rebid.
Last year, bids came in $7 million too high and the majority of the commissioners did not want to fund that.
“Aren’t we kind of hoping against hope on this option?” said Commissioner Cindy Jones (R). There is no reason to believe the bids will come in any lower, she said. “Somebody needs to tell me what’s going to be different this time.”
“There’s little chance that it will be different,” said Sheriff Tim Cameron (R).
“We can’t go out to bid thinking we’ll get considerably different results,” said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for St. Mary’s County government.
The jail can’t be redesigned. For the state money to remain, the project has to stay the same, Cameron said. “We can still utilize the design; the design has been approved by the state,” he said. The state could potentially fund up to half the cost of the project, which would house 424 inmates.
Beyond the jail expansion and modernization, the county still has to fund $2.5 million for a new locking system and $3.3 million for a new ventilation system that would bring air conditioning to the existing jail for the first time.
Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said he’s heard concerns from those living in Leonardtown that with a larger county jail it will bring in “drug dealers, rapists, robbers and everybody from up the road. We’re creating an element into Leonardtown that Leonardtown is not even prepared for,” he said.
The county jail is only intended to house inmates serving 18 months or less. Those with longer sentences are supposed to go to state prison. “I’m going to support what supports the sheriff,” Jarboe said.
Russell said he would support keeping the project alive “whether a figment of the imagination or not.” Earlier this month he expressed reservations about whether the project could be resurrected.
“Sooner or later, it’s build it now or build it later,” Morgan said.
Morris also said, “We don’t know which way the growth in the county is going to go.” Cameron said the number of inmates continues to increase.
Jarboe said there is a “huge trend” in the number of drug addicts in the county jail. “Ninety percent is based on illegal drug use and we don’t want them on the street, that’s for sure,” he said.
Morris said he supports air conditioning for the jail’s staff and expanding workspace for them. However, “The No. 1 burr under my saddle was $7 million” in higher than expected costs when bids came in last year. “But $7 million is too much for anybody to pay for when you don’t know where the money’s going. I can’t explain that and I can’t justify that,” he said.
A property line issue needs to be worked out between the state and county government as well to expand the footprint of the jail, Jarboe said.
In talking to state lawmakers, Russell said, “That’s never been an issue.”
“That’s an easily resolvable issue,” said George Erichsen, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation.