Money for jail may go to vote Ruppersberger wants to have initiative put on 2000 ballot

Schools 'higher priority'

December 20, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County taxpayers soon may be asked to pay the bill for the county's law-and-order ways.

With the county locking up twice as many prisoners as 10 years ago -- and the jail complex 24 percent over capacity -- County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is gearing up for $l construction of about $140 million jail by the middle of the next decade.

But to build a jail in his final four-year term, Ruppersberger must clear two major hurdles: finding a site and coming up with the money.

Ruppersberger, who is on the Democratic Party's short list of gubernatorial candidates for 2002, says the new jail will have to wait if it turns out the money is needed instead to renovate the county's 160 schools, many of which are old and in need of repair.

"The jail issue is important, but funding for the schools is going to have to be a higher priority for this administration," said Ruppersberger.

Still, Ruppersberger tentatively plans to seek a ballot initiative in the 2000 election asking voters to approve $32.5 million in county bond money to cover about 25 percent of the new jail costs.

County planners hope the state will fund the other 75 percent, which is the share the state provided for the county's four-year-old, 216-bed Detention Center annex on Kenilworth Drive.

A referendum approved by voters in November allows the county to spend $2.5 million next year for comprehensive planning and design work that is required as a first step for state funds.

Under Ruppersberger's schedule, a jail would open in 2004 or 2005.

The 1,680-bed facility would replace a complex of aging facilities and supplement the Detention Center, built in 1981, and the Detention Center annex. It would handle the county's jail needs until 2014, according to a 1995 consultant's report.

Baltimore County's operating budget includes $250,000 in planning money for the jail. The county is looking for a consultant to complete a study of the jail's costs and a survey listing all of the 40- to 50-acre sites available for a jail.

The county expects to select an engineering firm in January to complete the study.

Nearly everyone agrees that the county could use a new jail. The number of inmates has jumped over the past 10 years from an average daily population of 543 in June 1988 to 1,177 last June.

The jail complex that was designed to hold 965 inmates houses about 1,200 inmates a day. The complex includes the two facilities where high-security inmates are housed -- the Detention Center and annex. It also includes a collection of buildings on Courthouse Court known as the Courthouse Court Facility, which dates to the 1850s.

It's at CCF where the need for a new jail becomes obvious: Inmates serving weekend jail sentences sleep on cots in a gymnasium, and those on work release are in dormitory-style facilities, some with more than 40 beds each.

A trailer installed in 1991 at CCF to house 84 inmates has developed plumbing problems, so that the 80 or so inmates housed in the trailer last week shared two toilets in an adjacent building.

Corrections officials say the plumbing problem is expected to be repaired in the next two weeks.

Dorothy Williams, administrator of the Baltimore County Bureau of Corrections, said the plumbing problems are a symptom of how the increasing numbers have overtaxed the facilities.

'Well above' capacity

"At this point, we're well above the design capacity," she said. "That strains your water system, your kitchen, your laundry, every service required to house people under security conditions."

But a new jail may face funding problems.

Sandy Schilling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Corrections Information Center in Longmont, Colo., said the average cost for new jails in 1996 was about $40,500 per bed. That would translate into a cost of about $68 million for a 1,680-bed jail.

Institute officials said the figures are based on a national survey that asked jail administrators their total costs for construction, but did not ask whether costs included land acquisition, which can be high.

Baltimore County officials say much of their predicted cost can be traced to the price for acquiring a 40- to 50-acre site -- which could eat up a third.

Anne Arundel County built its 432-bed correctional center, which opened in February, for $27 million. But state Sen. Robert R. Neall, who was Anne Arundel County executive when that jail was being constructed, said the Anne Arundel facility was built on county-owned land.

When Anne Arundel County officials added land acquisition costs to cost estimates for their jail in the early 1990s, Neall said, the total price was $80 million.

"These kinds of things can get really expensive," Neall said.

Deciding location

Along with paying for a jail, Ruppersberger also must decide the thorny issue of where to place it.

"Jails and landfills are the toughest things to site," said Neall, who faced a barrage of community opposition during a two-year search for a home for the county's jail

Neall said it took two years to come up with size requirements fTC and other criteria for a jail site, hire a consultant to find a site and persuade the Anne Arundel County Council to build the jail on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie.

Neall said Ruppersberger has an uphill battle, both finding a site and persuading people to pay for it.

"In urbanized counties, you'd be surprised how few sites meet the criteria you have to have," Neall said.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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