Md. legislators seek new study of Towson jail expansion plan

Ruppersberger asked to consider other sites

November 06, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Four state legislators are asking Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to conduct a new jail expansion study and to consider sites outside Towson, where a plan to double the size of the County Detention Center has run into neighborhood opposition.

The lawmakers, in a letter to Ruppersberger, acknowledge that the county needs more jail beds and that it is difficult to expand a jail or build a new one without angering neighbors. But they fault Ruppersberger for not seeking a public study of alternative sites.

"It is true that there are certain [decisions] a county executive can make on his/her own, but good government really calls for a more democratic process, especially with such a volatile project like a jail expansion," the Oct. 31 letter says.

The authors, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Dels. James W. Campbell, Maggie L. McIntosh and Samuel I. Rosenberg, call for Ruppersberger to initiate a new study, preferably to be done by an independent consultant, to consider the most appropriate size, type and site for a new jail.

Ruppersberger was working on a response yesterday, but spokeswoman Elise Armacost said he will not order another study. Keeping the jail in Towson, she said, is important for security reasons because it minimizes the trip between the detention center and courthouses. "We are going forward with it," she said.

The county has conducted two studies on the jail expansion, and the current plan is based on the second study. That study, completed in May 2000, concludes that the county's needs for the next 20 years can be met by expanding the Kenilworth Drive site and does not consider other locations. The planned $70 million expansion is to be funded half by the county, half by the state.

Although the administration says the county would pay for the whole project itself if need be, residents have been lobbying state officials in hopes of cutting off the state's share of the budget.

The authors of the letter don't hold out much hope that they can stop the state funds because the legislature typically defers to local authorities. Besides the bond vote, the County Council has approved funding for the jail in several votes.

But, they write, "You will be traveling to Annapolis in January and asking us ... to be advocates for this project. All we are asking is that you demonstrate to us and the citizens that this is the best location for an expanded jail."

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