Jail may cost county more than planned

State's share of expenses for construction could fall from 75% to 50%

October 12, 1999|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County taxpayers might be asked to pay a larger share of the proposed jail than first expected.

County officials had hoped the state would provide 75 percent of the construction cost for a detention center, estimated in 1995 to cost $140 million and house 1,680 -- figures that will be updated.

But a recent memorandum from County Auditor Brian J. Rowe concludes that, according to a state official, "the state's normal funding of local jail construction is 50 percent, and this is what Baltimore County is likely to receive."

If that's true, voters could be asked to approve loans of $67.5 million for the jail project, up from an expected $32.5 million. The county plans to seek voter approval to borrow the money in the November 2000 general election.

"I think we need to be realistic when we talk about setting funds aside," said County Council Chairman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat.

The 75 percent contribution is the amount the county received the last time it built a detention center, in 1993. That payment included money for jail beds for inmates awaiting transfer to Maryland prisons. With state prisons no longer as crowded as they once were, Maryland is not paying to build additional beds in county facilities.

"[T]he current demand for new state beds is not great and therefore Baltimore County's funding is likely to be 50 percent," Rowe's memo quoted a state construction official as saying.

The state Department of Legislative Services "said that recent expansions in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties were funded at 50 percent and 61 percent, respectively," Rowe wrote.

Location an issue

Money is one unresolved issue surrounding the jail.

"The biggest issue with that is not funding it, it's siting it," said Michael Davis, a top aide to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. He said the county would work to get as much state money as it can.

Last week, Kamenetz weighed in with his preference for the facility's site: in Towson, as an addition to the existing main detention center on Kenilworth Drive, or on the Washington Avenue site of the old Towson police station, which is being replaced nearby.

"That would be the most prudent," Kamenetz said. "It maintains the proximity to the courthouse, it doesn't allow for two separate facilities, and it avoids having to place a site in a new neighborhood that doesn't want it."

Fine-tuning plans

A location decision is expected after February, when officials expect to receive a $121,000 consultant's report fine-tuning the county's corrections needs and the proposed jail's estimated costs. The County Council approved hiring the consultant last week.

"The real definition of the cost of the facility and the size of the facility are down the road a little bit," said Fred Homan, county budget director.

Baltimore County houses more than 1,200 inmates in a variety of buildings -- one dating to the 1850s -- designed to hold 965 people. Jail expansion plans have been discussed for years, but officials hope to open a new facility by 2005.

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