Sen. John A. Cade suggested yesterday that the state place design money for a controversial new jail in escrow until county political leaders agree on a location.
But the County Council may never agree on a site for the detention center, at least not in the near future, said Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, who spoke before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee during a hearing on a bond bill that includes $1.25 million to design the jail.
"Senator, I can assure you there's no consensus whether even to proceed with this detention center," said Middlebrooks, a Severn Democrat. "I think you're going to see that the County Council is more concerned with other projects," such as schools.
County Executive Robert R. Neall, who also addressed the powerful budget panel, reiterated his support for a 650-bed detention center to be built on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. The County Council rejected that site by a 5-2 vote Monday night.
Neall wants a new jail ready in 1997, when asoon-to-be-opened addition to the existing Annapolis facility is expected to be filled. He opposes further expansion of the existing Jennifer Road facility, saying it would cost $30 million more and requirea potentially dangerous high-rise extension.
"I don't want to lose another year," he said, which would result if the county loses the $1.25 million. "And I really want to look off-site, as controversial and ugly as it is."
Cade, a Severna Park Republican, Senate minority leader and Neall ally, proposed allocating the design money on thecondition that Neall and the council agree on a site during the upcoming capital budget process in May.
"I don't want to be sticking my finger in the site selection process," said Cade, who is also a member of the budget and taxation committee.
But Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, the Brooklyn Park Democrat who has tried to kill the jail plan since its inception, objected to the approval of any design money this year. "If we approve it and the council does zero, that's $1.25 million that can't be used for Program Open Space or school construction," he said.
Jimeno said he believes a jail is needed but objects to its being built on New Ordnance Road. Jimeno said he wanted to introduce an amendment to the bond bill specifically excluding that site, but he could not get enough support from other Anne Arundel senators.
He and Middlebrooks repeated their complaint that Neall planned thedetention center behind a shroud of secrecy. Middlebrooks said he did not know a new jail was even being considered.
After the hearing, an exasperated Neall tore open the county's current capital budget book and poked at the page outlining plans for a new jail. The council, including Middlebrooks, approved that capital budget one year ago,he noted.
The Budget and Taxation Committee could vote on the bond bill as early as today. Politicians on both sides of the issue saidthey could not tell how the vote is likely to fall.
Several senators from other counties expressed reservations about approving the money without a specific site.
"Montgomery County came in just like you are," said Sen. Charles Smelser, a Carroll County Democrat. "Theyhad no plans, and they hadn't done their homework. You don't even have a site. It seems to me that if we're going to approve any plan at all for you, it ought to be some string on it."
Smelser said he was concerned about committing the state to an expensive project.