Officials disagree on whether to resurrect plans for St. Mary’s jail

February 20, 2013

The future of a project to renovate and enlarge the St. Mary’s County jail in Leonardtown remains uncertain.

County commissioners voted, 3-2, to kill the project in December, and now there is a proposal to bring it back. But commissioners President Jack Russell (D) said last week that it’s too late for that.

Larry Jarboe (R), one of the three commissioners who voted down the project when construction bids were $7 million higher than expected, said he would 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 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 that the current jail would still need $9.5 million in repairs.

Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for St. Mary’s, told the commissioners Feb. 12 that 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 last week that the jail project still has state money awarded for the first phase. At least $1.6 million has been spent on design and engineering, “so that’s there,” he said. More state funding needs 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.” The sheriff said new bids again could come in $7 million or more too high.

Work to replace locking mechanisms and security cameras and add air conditioning to the jail costs $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 planned would be $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.

The commissioners president was critical last week of Jarboe’s attempt to revive the proposal. “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,” Russell 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.”

“I’m a can-do kind of person,” Jarboe said Feb. 14. “I believe in working in the constraints we have. We’ve just got to move ahead.”

Jarboe said the main problem is that the jail is designed to overlap state property that houses the Carter state office building. “This was my point from day one. We have a property ownership problem.”

Cameron said he is waiting for 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 be adequate 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.”

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