Neall seeks state funds to plan jail

March 27, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall is moving quickly to secure nearly $1.2 million in state money to plan a minimum security jail annex in Glen Burnie. Meanwhile, state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno says he hasn't given up hope of blocking the project.

"We'll fight it at every step," the Brooklyn Park Democrat said.

Ever since the County Council approved, 4-3, the 85-acre tract on Ordnance Road as its site for future jail expansion two weeks ago, Mr. Neall has been busily lobbying the county's delegates and senators. He's hoping to get money to design the "campus-like" complex for inmates serving sentences of 18 months or less.

It appears he has the votes, which would make it easier to get construction money next year.

Mr. Neall has proposed using $1.16 million of state money left over from the expansion of the detention center on Jennifer Road near Annapolis in 1990, matched with county funds, to plan the jail and to renovate the existing detention center.

The plan would meet Mr. Jimeno's complaints that adding money to plan a jail to the state budget this late in the General Assembly session would take money away from priorities that already have been set, namely school construction and community colleges, Mr. Neall said.

"We're not taking away from school construction," he argued. "It's already been allocated for jail construction. We're not asking for anything out of the fiscal 1995 pie."

Mr. Neall is asking the county delegation to approve using the leftover money, traditionally a prelude to approval by the entire legislature. The House delegation has scheduled a vote tomorrow, and the Senate delegation is expected to vote early in the week.

The vote appears to be split along geographical lines, with senators and delegates from the north opposing the Glen Burnie jail and those from the south and west supporting the plan.

North county legislators argue that planning should wait until after the removal of soil contaminated with radioactive thorium nitrate that was left over from when the Glen Burnie property was a U.S. Army depot.

Federal officials say the cleanup should be complete by October, but Mr. Jimeno says the county should wait until environmental officials deliver their final report.

After Mr. Neall presented his proposal to the House delegation on Friday morning, Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, said: "I have concerns about spending that much of taxpayers' money and not being sure that's where you can put it."

But south county legislators counter that state officials should follow the lead of the County Council.

"The issue for me is a local governing body issue," said Del. John C. Astle, D-Annapolis. "They made the choice, and I think we need to take the responsibility now of funding that choice."

Neall said he plans to place minimum security inmates who have been sentenced in the Glen Burnie facility. Offenders who receive sentences of 18 months or less are housed in county jails; those serving longer terms are sent to state prisons.

Other programs, such as work release or a pre-release or substance-abuse treatment facility, also could be located there, he said.

Inmates waiting for trial -- which would include some maximum security prisoners -- will be housed at a renovated Jennifer Road jail. Keeping pretrial inmates in Annapolis makes sense logistically, Mr. Neall said.

"Since we're going to spend $50 million on a new courthouse [in Annapolis], it makes sense to keep the intercourse between jail and courthouse down here," he said.

If Mr. Neall's request is approved, the money must be matched in the county's 1995 fiscal year budget, which is to be voted on in May.

After that, a consultant will devise a plan for both sites, which Mr. Neall said he will submit to the governor's budget office in October so construction money can be included in the fiscal 1996 budget.

With planning money in hand this year, "it has the practical effect of picking up a fiscal year," Mr. Neall said. And it means the project will be well under way when his successor takes office in December.

But not so far along that it couldn't be stopped, say its north county opponents.

Mr. Jimeno successfully blocked planning money for a jail on Ordnance Road two years ago. But he may not have as much luck this time because the council has approved the site.

"Last time it was killed on the floor because it didn't have County Council approval," he said. "This time, it does."

But Mr. Jimeno said that even if Mr. Neall gets his planning money this session, there will be plenty of other chances to block the jail.

The jail will become an issue in the campaigns later this year for county executive, County Council and the General Assembly, he said. When the new council and executive take office in December, they could revisit the issue.

"It's not a short-term battle," Mr. Jimeno said.

But state Sen. Bernie Fowler, a Democrat who represents Calvert and southern Anne Arundel counties, pointed out that a new county executive and council may be relieved they won't have to deal with the issue.

"They may look at this as a hot issue that has been resolved, and they may not want to touch it with a 10-foot pole," Mr. Fowler said.

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