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Hernando commission withholds payment to jail contractor

BROOKSVILLE — With the cost and responsibility for repairs at the Hernando County Jail still up in the air, the County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to hold on to $1.86 million billed by Corrections Corporation of America.

Lisa Hammond, the purchasing consultant for the clerk of the circuit court, recommended the action, citing a provision in the jail contract that spells out a process for disputed payments. Last week, the county notified CCA that the commission would consider withholding payment of the company's July and August invoices and placing them in a third-party escrow account on Tuesday.

But CCA officials balked. In a letter dated Monday, Natasha Metcalf of CCA, the private company that operated the jail for the past two decades, stated that the contract "does not provide for the withholding of payment in the manner you are proposing.''

She added that she hoped that County Administrator David Hamilton would not recommend withholding payments and asked Hamilton to send to CCA detailed invoices for $34,000 worth of jail repairs for which the county believes CCA is responsible so far.

"Under a complete reservation of the rights and remedies available under the contract, at law and in equity, CCA remains willing to work through any outstanding maintenance issues cooperatively with the county,'' Metcalf wrote. "We can be available to meet with you to discuss these issues at your convenience."

But the commission wanted a much better picture of what was wrong with the facility before releasing the money.

The county is in the process of assessing the quantity and seriousness of problems with the jail facility. CCA vacated operation of the jail last Thursday, and Sheriff Richard Nugent assumed responsibility for running it.

It was Nugent who brought the deteriorating condition of the facility to the commissioners' attention in April, and since that time various investigations have been conducted inside the building. Problems with water infiltration, rusty doors, frozen hinges, an improperly sloped roof and floor surfaces, and a variety of other issues have been identified.

Last month, the county agreed to hire HDR Engineering Inc. to provide a proposal for the jail upgrade at a cost of $239,000. The firm is expected to produce a report in about 40 days, Hammond told commissioners.

With payment to CCA tied into the conclusion of that report, Commissioner Jim Adkins urged Hammond to have the firm work as quickly as possible. Hammond said she would talk to officials from HDR when she meets with them Thursday, and she agreed that the county doesn't want to hold on to CCA's money any longer than it has to.

County Attorney Garth Coller urged commissioners to limit their discussion about the issue because the county could land in litigation.

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

Hernando commission withholds payment to jail contractor 08/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 7:16pm]
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