- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Last fall the plan to build a bigger St. Mary’s County jail was on and the project went to bid. But in December the county commissioners called it off. Then in February it was back on again. This week it is off.
Who knows if this is the final word from the county commissioners. But Sheriff Tim Cameron probably had it right when he summed things up after Monday’s latest reversal: This will be a question for the next board of commissioners, who will be elected next year.
Meanwhile, here’s where things stand. The county commissioners this week decided they will spend $9.5 million to patch together the old jail, which will not expand it beyond the current 230-bed capacity.
“I wouldn’t even term this a Band-Aid. It doesn’t even rise to that level,” Cameron said. “We’re making emergency repairs, but not addressing the space needs.” The sheriff expects he will have to house 300 inmates this summer, as the old jail has in the past.
The county government will pay the total $9.5 million cost of the renovation. Had the original plan to expand the jail gone forward, the state government would have paid as much as half of the cost.
For those who haven’t been following along with the flip-flopping of the county commissioners, here’s a brief recap:
The new jail and renovations were budgeted at $24 million, but the bids came in at least $7 million higher than budgeted.
This prompted three of the commissioners — Larry Jarboe (R), Dan Morris (R) and Cindy Jones (R) — to pull the plug.
Then the commissioners learned that they would have to spend more than $9 million to repair the existing jail. Jarboe, who provided the third vote to kill the project in December, in February was responsible for reviving it. This time it was put in the county budget with a cost of $35 million, with the understanding again that the state would pick up a share of the cost.
But this week the majority of the commissioners said they had had enough. Commission President Jack Russell (R), who earlier said that the county’s on-again, off-again approach to the jail project “makes us look like the buffoons of Hooterville,” joined Morris and Jones in squelching it.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) accused Jarboe of playing games. He said Jarboe was backing the jail now in order to kill a $25 million FDR Boulevard expansion project in the Lexington Park area that Morgan advocates.
“The jail is public safety, and that’s a priority,” Jarboe said. “I campaigned on public safety, education first. I didn’t campaign on FDR.”
But here’s the situation. If Jarboe had considered an expanded jail and public safety to be a priority back in December, as he says he does now, it would still be on track. It was his vote that killed it in the first place.