Every year, Anne Arundel County taxpayers spend millions of dollars keeping small-time crooks off the street and in jail. Now several for-profit companies want a piece of the action.
County Executive John G. Gary plans to meet with officials from two of the companies next week during a four-day tour of privately run jails, municipal golf courses and trash disposal plants in the southern United States.
Mr. Gary said he believes that private companies may be able to build and operate those types of facilities more cheaply and efficiently than the local government does.
The trip, which will cost county taxpayers about $6,800, will start in Tennessee on Tuesday and end in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday.
Mr. Gary and his entourage -- two county councilmen and two aides -- are to meet in Houston with officials from the U.S. Corrections Corp. and the Corrections Corporation of America. Both companies built and operate prisons for Texas.
They are two of the three companies competing to build and operate a 400-bed, minimum-security prison on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. Both companies have proposed altering the blueprints that the county paid a consultant, Crabtree and Rohrbaugh & Associates, $1.01 million to draft.
The third company bidding on the project is Correctional Partners Inc., which has proposed using the Crabtree design.
Officials estimate that construction of the dormitory-style jail, for inmates serving 18 months or less, will cost $27 million. Operating costs would be an additional $10 million to $14 million annually.
Mr. Gary said he is going to Texas to better understand the changes to the Crabtree design proposed by the two companies. Corrections Corp. has hired Annapolis lawyer Jonathan A. Hodgson to lobby the county.
"We're only going to have one shot at building a correctional facility," Mr. Gary said. He added that he does not want to make a mistake.
A panel of county employees is expected to complete a review of the three proposals and make its recommendations to the executive by mid-August. Mr. Gary said he wants answers to two questions: Can the private companies provide the same security and rehabilitative services as the county for less money? And which one has tendered the best proposal?
"I really believe this could save the taxpayers millions of dollars," Mr. Gary said. "But I need to [be certain] of it, and I need to convince the County Council."
Two Democratic council members, George F. Bachman of Linthicum and Tom Redmond of Pasadena, are expected to travel with Mr. Gary, a Republican. Mr. Bachman's district includes the site for the jail, and the county has proposed building a 36-hole municipal golf course in Mr. Redmond's district.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Dvorak and Tom Andrews, the executive's top land-use and environmental adviser, also will attend.
The first stop will be near Sevierville, Tenn., to tour a plant that composts municipal trash and sludge. Officials with Bedmeister, which built the machine, claim the process is quiet and odorless and can reduce trash to 30 percent of its original volume.
Two weeks ago, the county began soliciting proposals through advertisements in newspapers and trade publications to build a plant at its Millersville landfill similar to Bedmeister's.
James Pittman, chief of Anne Arundel's Bureau of Solid Waste Disposal, said the county is looking for "proven technology" that could be used, possibly as part of a mining operation that would extract trash buried in ground years ago.
The group also will stop in Atlanta to learn more about a new, less expensive construction technique used by the Georgia Department of Corrections. Mr. Gary said he also hopes to visit a boot camp there that is similar to the "Gateway Center" he has proposed opening to teach wayward teen-agers career skills.
Mr. Gary said the group will tour privately run golf courses and will meet with officials from Texas-based Von Hagge Design Associates and Jack Nicholas' company, Golden Bear, in Palm Beach, Fla.
In addition to building a 36-hole course on Fort Smallwood Road, Mr. Gary said he would like to turn the Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville over to a company such as Golden Bear to upgrade it and operate it.
Mr. Gary said his group will not have time to use any of the courses during the trip.
"This is not going to be a fun and games trip," he said.
But the executive said he intends to extend his stay in Florida through the weekend to play a few rounds and visit his parents near Orlando "on my own time and my own nickel."