- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s County Adult Detention Center will not be expanded after all, the majority of the county commissioners decided Monday.
The $35 million put into the capital budget last week to enlarge and renovate the jail was removed and instead $9.5 million was put in to modernize the locking systems, add more security cameras, bring on central air conditioning and to replace other decrepit facilities.
The capacity of the jail, opened in 1989, is 230 inmates. That capacity won’t be expanded under this project. The renovation and enlargement project would have brought inmate capacity to 460 beds, down from the original projection of 525 needed.
St. Mary’s County government will be responsible for the $9.5 million in repairs and replacement. The state could have funded up to half of the $35 million jail expansion.
The county commissioners voted in December not to build the new jail expansion when bids came in at least $7 million higher than the budgeted amount of $24 million. More than $6 million in state funding committed to the project was returned.
The new dollar amount for the jail was based on those bids, plus another 5 percent, said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for county government.
Commission President Jack Russell (D) joined Commissioners Cindy Jones (R) and Dan Morris (R) to opt for the $9.5 million project instead.
Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R), who in December was one of three commissioner to vote against the project, supported the jail expansion Monday and wanted to move it up to fiscal 2014, which starts July 1. Jarboe revived talk of the project last month when he changed his earlier position and said he would support it.
Discussions became heated Monday between Jarboe and Commissioner Todd Morgan (R).
Morgan said Jarboe was playing games, leveraging the jail project against the completion of FDR Boulevard, a $25 million county road from California to Lexington Park.
Jarboe said he would be willing to pay more than $24 million for the jail if bids come in higher.
“We can’t have our cake and eat it, too,” Morgan said. If the bids come in $7 million higher again, “How do you want to pay for it?”
“I’m not going to pay way over what we expect,” Jarboe said.
“We’re either going to spend the money or not spend the money,” Morgan said. “There has to be willingness to spend.”
“The jail is public safety and that’s a priority,” Jarboe said, “as opposed to other things that may not be a priority. I campaigned on public safety, education first. I didn’t campaign on FDR.”
Russell noted that Jarboe hasn’t voted for a county budget in five years, and Jarboe said he may not vote for this upcoming budget either.
“I don’t understand the rationale of bringing this project back,” Jones said. “This board voted to cancel the [bid] solicitation.” Then the project was brought back with more money attached, “which to me makes no sense whatsoever,” she said.
Morris said he didn’t want to spend the extra $7 million on the original $24 million project. “I don’t want to be part of that. That will come back and get you,” he said. With the jail expansion project, “You’re going to turn Leonardtown into a penal colony.”
Russell said, “We haven’t got a good track record voting on projects. I’m not going to vote to move it ahead. I’m tired of wasting time … and just fooling around with the state.”
“It’s done,” Jarboe said.
“You can’t take it out. It has to get done,” Morgan said.
“The only project that enjoys my support is the project for $9.489 million … that’s the project I propose this board move forward with,” Jones said.
“I’ve been in that jail. It’s hot in August,” Morris said. “Let’s get it started.”
The project to renovate the existing jail is now scheduled to start after July 1.
Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said Tuesday there was six years’ worth of design and planning work in the expansion project.
He said of the $9.5 million renovation project, “I wouldn’t even term this a Band-Aid. It doesn’t even rise to that level. We’re making emergency repairs, but not addressing the space needs. So now we’ll deal with the degrading conditions of the detention center with no additional space. This will be a question for the next board” of commissioners.
The sheriff added, “I think by summer we’ll be back around 300” inmates in the county jail.