BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners on Tuesday approved a $5 million contract to begin work on widening, deepening and straightening the Hernando Beach Channel. The winning bidder, Subaqueous Services LLC, is expected to begin setting up for the job next month.
Commissioners also boosted the pay to Halcrow Inc., the project's consultant, by $1 million, more than doubling the amount paid to the firm to date.
Also on Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers told Public Works Director Charles Mixson, via e-mail, that the last needed permit for the dredge would be in the mail by the afternoon.
Mixson told the board that the work is expected to come in significantly under budget. Between the contractor, the consultant, a special attorney, costs to settle a legal challenge, staff work and other costs, the total for the dredge is $7,718,604.
Estimates have been $9 million, with two-thirds funded through the state and one-third from the county. Mixson said some of the money earmarked for the project won't be spent.
Commissioner Rose Rocco asked officials with the Jacksonville-based Subaqueous to answer concerns about their firm. Officials said an FBI probe into a corporation of a similar name didn't touch the company or anyone affiliated with it. The parent company of Subaqueous also pledged the company would get the job done.
At Commission Chairman Dave Russell's urging, the company pledged to do the work for the contracted amount and not seek contract increases.
Mixson said the additional pay for Halcrow was for oversight and various water-quality monitoring and environmental concerns raised by the state and federal environment regulation agencies.
In other business:
• Commissioners rejected the idea of raising the county gas tax from 9 to 12 cents per gallon. The 3-cent increase would have raised $1.8 million for capital road improvements.
County administrator David Hamilton said he brought the idea forward after it was discussed by the county's leadership team and budget committee.
Russell said he was not interested in moving forward with a required public hearing on the tax hike since staff said property taxpayers could not be given a break if the gas tax was raised.
• The commission set a workshop for June 9 to discuss proposed increases in water and sewer rates, and the trash collection assessment fee that property owners pay each year.
County staff and Russell have been exploring new funding sources, which might mean that those increases are not necessary. By consensus, the commission agreed not to send out public hearing notices.
Utilities director Joe Stapf said the county did not make the cut for more than $10 million in federal stimulus money for improvements to various county water and sewer projects. He said he would have more information for the workshop.
• Commissioners voted 4-1 to move the Property Appraiser and records office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court back into the Government Center. The moves also mean a office shuffle in which commissioners would land in satellite locations around the county, and the county administrator, human resources and purchasing departments would shuffle to new spaces.
Rocco, who will continue to have an office in the Government Center, was the sole dissenting vote. She said she thought commission offices should remain in the centralized location.
The moves are expected to save the county $250,000 in lease costs over the next five years. The work will be done by in-house county maintenance and facilities staff.
• Hamilton cut short a discussion on having staff build a courtroom in the Government Center. Commissioners had previously approved the plan, but the scope had changed slightly.
Questions have been raised about using county staff for the project. Hamilton asked that, since the project isn't slated until later in the year, that further discussion cease. That would show commissioners how the staff works on moving the clerk and property appraiser's offices.
After Hamilton's suggestion, Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who has scrutinized the use of county staff on in-house projects, said he was taken aback. "That sounded like a friendly gag order,'' he said.
Commissioners did not discuss the item further.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.