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Hernando, CCA reach agreement over disputed jail equipment

BROOKSVILLE — Officials with Hernando County and Corrections Corporation of America agreed late Wednesday on who owns most of the equipment and furnishings at the county jail, which CCA is vacating next month.

The agreement avoids legal action the county had threatened against the company, which has run the jail for 22 years.

The County Commission on Tuesday had set a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline for an agreement or the county was going to sue. Hour by hour negotiations over the terms of the agreement continued throughout the day, according to Jean Rags, acting county administrator while David Hamilton is out on furlough.

"We've got an agreement,'' Rags said about an hour before the deadline arrived.

Sheriff Richard Nugent is taking over the jail at the end of August, but time was running out to make the transition smooth with the inventory questions unsettled.

On Tuesday, commissioners discussed whether to end negotiations over the remaining disputed items and go to court to stop CCA from removing property.

Chairman John Druzbick expressed concern that CCA had threatened to begin moving items out of the facility next week, and he worried that needed security devices might disappear putting the jail staff, inmates and the community at risk.

A divided commission voted to give the sides one more day to try to reach an amicable conclusion with Druzbick and Commissioner Dave Russell voting no.

After Tuesday's meeting, CCA official Natasha Metcalf e-mailed the county to say that there had been a misunderstanding and CCA had no intention of taking out anything critical to the day-to-day operation of the facility until the contract ends at the end of August.

Negotiations began in earnest.

On Wednesday, all parties agreed to a list of items that CCA owns and can take out of the facility at any time. But everything else falls under another portion of the agreement.

CCA will not remove any other items from the jail until the county's takeover late next month. At that point, the items that belong to CCA that the company plans to leave and the county plans to use will be appraised so that the county can reimburse CCA.

Items that belong to CCA that the county doesn't want must leave with CCA, Rags said.

Ownership of some items, such as the much-talked-about $30,000 dishwasher, are still in dispute.

The agreement does not speak to the still ongoing debate over how much of the jail repairs and upgrading is the financial responsibility of CCA and how much is the county's responsibility.

In an earlier volley of proposed inventory solutions, CCA tried to tie the topics, but the county attorneys were unwilling to do that and commissioners were not interested.

Druzbick said he was thrilled that negotiations had been successful.

"Did I want to have an injunction and have it get to that point? No,'' he said. But he noted that he wanted to be sure that the county's interests were looked after and no one would be put at risk if needed equipment were hauled away.

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

Hernando, CCA reach agreement over disputed jail equipment 07/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 8:23pm]
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