County starts process for new court complex

BROOKSVILLE — After years of talk about the need for more space for Hernando County's judiciary, the County Commission on Tuesday started moving toward a solution.

The board backed the county staff's recommendation to work with an engineering and architectural firm to frame a request for builders to submit proposals for a new court complex.

The plans would address the building's location, parking, construction financing and contractors.

County Administrator David Hamilton urged that the building be situated in downtown Brooksville, the county seat, but the commission allowed a wider venue, with a strong emphasis on Brooksville.

Attorney Jake Varn, representing a coalition of local residents affiliated with Trillion Development Group LLC, a corporation that formed on July 5 according to a filing with the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations, argued that a request for proposals was too narrow.

Varn suggested that a request for qualifications was more in order to provide a more flexible format for groups to bring forward their ideas.

Other representatives of Trillion Development attending were Glenn Claytor, who is active in the local Democratic Party, a lawyer, planner and developer who ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2006; and Paul Douglas, a former member of the Brooksville Housing Authority who has been active in various community projects.

"We have exactly what the county's been looking for,'' Douglas told the commission seeking time for Trillion to make a presentation before the county sought other proposals through its selected firm, the DLR Group.

By the county using its firm to seek and then review proposals, Claytor argued, "there will be no opportunity for competitiveness.''

But the county staff assured commissioners that Trillion, like any other group, would be able to submit a proposal.

Hamilton has proposed that the county put $20-million toward the project with a private entity investing about that same amount. The private firm would build the structure and the county would lease it back until the private entity was paid back over a period of years and then the building would belong to Hernando County.

Circuit Judge Dan Merritt said he was ready to see the county finally take some action to make the long-overdue project move forward. "We've been cutting bait for a long time,'' he said. "It's time to fish.''

In other business:

• The commissioners were presented with the 2009 balanced budget by George Zoettlein, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget.

Zoettlein told commissioners that the proposed spending plan is $17.5-million less than the original budget proposed in 2007. The county does a two-year budget. The budget was balanced by making reductions in various county department operating expenses, personnel reductions, cutting the county jail budget by $5.7-million, some revenue increases and use of county reserve funds.

A budget workshop is planned for the next commission meeting Tuesday, and topics will include the proposed $200,000 cut in the county's subsidy toward THE Bus.

• Commissioners voted to close the Animal Services facility to the public on Saturdays in order to save money. Although he acknowledged that the closure of half-day services Saturdays might mean fewer animal adoptions, interim code enforcement director Mark Caskie said a reduction in staff and the hiring freeze made it the best option.

He agreed to explore other options for help at the shelter, including using volunteers from animal-oriented organizations and possibly low-risk, nonviolent jail inmates to help out.

The motion passed 4-1 with Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley voting against the Saturday closure.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

County starts process for new court complex 07/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2008 10:57am]

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