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Hernando commission rejects freestanding judicial center

BROOKSVILLE — Yet again, Hernando County commissioners have closed the door on building a freestanding judicial center.

Instead, in a unanimous vote Tuesday, commissioners asked County Administrator David Hamilton to bring back a plan that would make use of existing county space to accommodate judicial needs.

While the space needs of the county judges have long been discussed, Hamilton vowed to bring back other options to meet those needs in existing county facilities.

Citizens speaking on the issue had a wide range of viewpoints.

Continuing with the planning of the center was critical, said Paul Douglas, who has served as spokesman for one of the groups hoping to work on the project.

"We need this courthouse,'' he said. "Don't just throw this away.''

Brooksville resident Richard Ross saw it differently. He asked why the judges haven't tried to solve their own space dilemma by holding night and weekend court.

"Let's look at other options,'' Ross said.

In June, the commission voted to shelve plans for the project to focus on solving the county's budget issues, leaving 10 companies interested in developing specifications for the judicial project in limbo. While representatives of those firms voiced interest, commissioners did not.

The commission has about $18 million set aside for the project. Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. told commissioners that it was "imperative that the funds remain there.'' He was fine with their plan, provided that the county was going to continue to explore options.

"We cannot ignore the problem. It won't go away,'' Merritt said.

All of the court operations in Hernando County are housed in the county government center in downtown Brooksville, but judges have maintained that those facilities have become inadequate as the county has grown.

Merritt predicted that the need was going to get greater. The Florida Supreme Court has certified the need for five more circuit judges and three more county judges in the 5th Circuit. When the Legislature funds those positions, Merritt predicted one of those circuit judges or possibly one and another part time would land in Hernando County.

"At some point in time, there are more judges coming,'' Merritt said. "My immediate concern is for the judges we have.''

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

>>FAST FACTS

Other County Commission business

• The County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a revised master plan and rezoning to develop the long-abandoned Kmart building and site on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill. The plan creates three out-parcels on the store's parking lot. The old Kmart building would be used for some less-intense purpose, possibly storage or a furniture store.

• Hoping to jump-start home construction, the commission voted to extend until Nov. 30, 2011, the lower impact fees the commission enacted last year. The action was taken without discussion, and the vote was unanimous. Impact fees are one-time costs that builders pay to local governmental bodies to offset some of the impact on public services caused by growth.

Although there was not a large increase in the number of home-building permits in Hernando since the lower fees were put in place a year ago, there was a slight increase, and commissioners have said they couldn't see raising the fees back to higher levels at this time.

Last year, commissioners lowered the fees to 2001 levels, which means that the fee for a single-family home is $4,800, compared to the full fee of $9,200.

• County transportation services director Susan Goebel presented the County Commission with a strategic plan and a time line to accomplish the long-delayed Hernando Beach Channel dredging project.

The commission voted to bid the project again last week after they learned the state was granting another time extension for the county to complete the work.

Goebel explained that the contract should come before the commission at the end of January and the work will be based on the current state dredging permit. If the winning bidder wants a permit modification, it will be that person's responsibility to get one, but time would be short, Goebel noted.

The project must be completed by Jan. 1, 2012, or the county could lose the $6 million in state funding.

• Just minutes after the board issued a proclamation thanking local organizations that help those in need, Bruce Gimbel asked the commission to walk that walk. Gimbel, executive director of Jericho Road Ministries, said he wanted the board to review a decision by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday rejecting his plans to expand the organization's homeless shelter on Howell Avenue from six to 48 beds.

Commissioner Rose Rocco urged her fellow members to hear the appeal even though she will have left office by then. The board agreed to consider granting a formal appeal at its next meeting Tuesday. If they agree, the appeal would then be heard in December.

Hernando commission rejects freestanding judicial center 11/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 8:24pm]
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