Aside from County Executive Robert R. Neall, elected officials seem loath to take a stand on a proposed North County jail. State lawmakers and County Council members each prefer to shunt responsibility for the jail's fate onto the other.
Although the council is scheduled to take the first vote tonight, County Council Chairman David G. Boschert and some of his colleagues are downplaying its importance.
"Where the issue has to be addressed is not in the County Councilchamber but in the state Senate," said Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat.
"(Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park) can kill the whole thing if he can kill the appropriations package" that includes $1.25 million to design the 650-bed jail, said Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, a Pasadena Republican.
"He has to use some of his prestige-- if he has any in the Senate -- to kill the package. If he can do that, the whole thing's a moot point."
The council could seriouslyhamper the project tonight by voting down Neall's resolution to support building the jail on New Ordnance Road, on a former Army depot just south of the Baltimore City line. The county bought the land in the early 1980s.
Without the council's commitment to that site, state lawmakers from other areas -- facing myriad economic woes -- probably would be unwilling to allocate design money for the project, said Jimeno.
Both Jimeno, head of the five-member Senate delegation, and Del. Michael Busch, chairman of the 13-member House contingent, said they have been waiting for the council to move before voting on thebond bill providing the design money for the jail.
"The council vote is the first step, though the most important vote probably will be in the Senate," said Jimeno, who opposes the project.
He added, however, that he would prefer that Neall's resolution be withdrawn without a vote and the issue delayed until May, when the county debatesits budget.
Under the current proposal, the county and state would each pay half of the projected costs. If the council is unwilling to include the jail in its fiscal 1993 capital budget, the project would die.
Tonight's council vote will be close.
As of Friday, three of the seven council members were opposed -- Democrats George Bachman of Linthicum, Edward Middlebrooks of Severn, and Holland.
Bachman and Middlebrooks objected to the jail from the beginning, but Holland said he only recently made up his mind.
"The people of the district were really adamant," he said.
Boschert, Diane Evans, R-Arnold, and Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, are expected to support it. Boschert has said repeatedly he will not allow a jail in his West County district, home of one of the "runner-up" sites.
Councilwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, could be the swing vote. Clagett, who has voted for environmental issues in the past, has made no comment on the jail site, which is near property being considered for federal "Superfund" cleanup money.
Neall announced plans to build a jail to replace the county's 25-year-old Annapolis detention center in January, saying it is needed to relieve overcrowding. An expansion to the Jennifer Road facility will open in May, but its 750 beds will be filled by 1997, detention center officials said.
A consultant recommended that a new jail be built because expansion of the existing facility would cost at least $30 million more.
Staff writer John A. Morris contributed to this article.