BROOKSVILLE — Even as county commissioners were preparing this week to spend the last of the $3 million they have set aside for priority repairs to the county jail, a consultant was warning them that the needs at the facility are far greater than the money allotted.
"It was used hard,'' Lisa Hammond, the purchasing and contracts consultant for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, said of the jail. "That facility does not have a long-term future. Even with all we're doing, we're simply buying time.''
She added that she was reluctant to be the one to tell commissioners that the jail needed to be replaced.
The board on Tuesday had been discussing spending roughly $900,000 to buy galvanized doors, fix heating and air conditioning issues and related matters. The commission recently agree to build a medical facility at the Hernando County Detention Center to take care of some other immediate needs inside the 23-year-old building.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked if the county was negotiating to settle the federal lawsuit that former jail operator Corrections Corporation of America filed when the county decided not to make the last two payments to the company, totaling $1.8 million.
The county withheld the money because officials said CCA had failed to do routine maintenance.
Hammond said there have been no negotiations to settle.
"I think it would be a good idea,'' Stabins said, noting that reaching an agreement out of court would "help out the taxpayers.''
Commissioner John Druzbick asked if it had been determined how much of the needed repairs and replacements in the facility were CCA's fault, and Hammond said an engineering study done last year had identified what was caused by deferred routine maintenance.
Druzbick said the board needed the county attorney to help sort out who was responsible for what repairs. He added that, with Tuesday's vote of the board, all of the $3 million was gone.
Hammond said jail administrator Maj. Michael Page of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has been bringing in far more than CCA did in booking and sustenance fees since the sheriff took over the jail.
CCA brought in about $16,000, she said, and jail officials estimate they will collect $250,000 in fees this year, money that could be used for jail needs.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins also expressed concern that without the proper maintenance, a facility that should have lasted 75 years might only make it to 25.
Commissioners considered asking for settlement talks to begin with CCA, but Druzbick said he would prefer getting a report back from the administrator on the issue and the commission agreed.
In other business:
• The commission approved a new transit provider who will take over THE Bus and the door-to-door van services on April 1. The company, McDonald Transit Associates Inc., will initially have a five-year contract with the county.
The first 18 months will cost $1.23 million and the operator will be able to get one-time transition costs covered up to $25,000. Savings to the county will total $207,000 for the remainder of this budget year.
Mass transit is funded through a variety of federal, state and local monies.
The new operator has agreed to run THE Bus using the current system for six months, then bring forward to the county plans for improvements and ridership recruitment. It was unclear what would happen to the current employees when McDonald takes over.
• The county's financial advisers, including finance director Amy Gillis and the county's auditors, presented a detailed report to the board about Hernando's financial health.
Gillis said revenues continue to be down and the county is spending reserve dollars. She also expressed concern about county utilities, which is spending more than it is collecting in revenue.
An audit turned up no significant deficiencies in the county's finances but did note a recommendation to dump the computer purchasing system the county recently obtained for one that worked better with the county finance system.
• With the purchasing and contracts interlocal agreement between the county and the Clerk of the Circuit Court ending next week, commissioners learned that county officials have made a job offer to someone to take over the purchasing oversight and expected an answer next week.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.