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Hernando County, CCA at odds over unpaid $1.86M bill

BROOKSVILLE — Corrections Corp. of America wants the $1.86 million it says Hernando County owes it for running the county jail, and the company is prepared to sue to get it.

But CCA, which ran the jail for more than two decades before giving way to the sheriff last month, won't be getting any money any time soon.

CCA gave county officials until 5 p.m. Friday to turn over payment on the final invoices owed. But that hour came and went, and no money changed hands.

The issue is listed on the board's agenda for Tuesday along with other routine matters.

The commissioners are waiting for a report from a consulting firm that examined the physical conditions at the jail to determine which side is most responsible for paying for repairs.

There was confusion at county offices on Friday as to the status of that report.

Lisa Hammond, the purchasing and contracts consultant for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, told a Times reporter Friday that the preliminary report was in, but it lacked some details and costs. A final report is due in two weeks.

Hammond said she would be preparing a memo to commissioners about the report to be reviewed on Tuesday. A copy of that memo was also unavailable by the close of business on Friday.

The details of the report are critical because CCA's attorney is indicating that the county is keeping much more of CCA's money than it will cost to take care of the maintenance issues the firm is responsible to pay for.

At least one commissioner who was anxious to have that information was frustrated when he wasn't able to get it.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said when he asked County Administrator David Hamilton for a copy of the report, Hamilton, who was at a meeting away from the courthouse, told him that he would make a copy available Monday.

Stabins, who does his research for commission meetings over the weekend, said he wanted to see it before that. He is not going to be available to do the reading Monday and "this is one of the most important things we're going to be voting on this month. I want to be reading it this weekend.''

"I don't think this is a good thing at 5:15 on a Friday night,'' Stabins said.

County officials voted weeks ago to hold onto the money until receiving a report from HDR Engineering Inc., a firm hired for $239,306 to examine the jail top to bottom, assess how much CCA's lack of routine maintenance contributed to the current run-down state of the facility and manage the construction and repairs.

That engineering contract will be covered under the $3 million the commission set aside for bringing the jail to an acceptable condition.

Earlier in the week, CCA attorney Robert Stoler urged the commission to pay the July and August invoices due to CCA up through when Sheriff Richard Nugent took over jail operations at the end of August.

Relying on a reference to payment disputes in the contract between CCA and the county, Stoler asserted, "to withhold payment for these two invoices reflects a gross misinterpretation of the contract.'' He went on to say that the county has no justification to withhold the money.

In his letter, Stoler states that CCA's liability for the failure to routinely maintain the jail is "minimal and bear(s) no resemblance to the amount the county is withholding.''

While acknowledging that CCA remained "willing to discuss any legitimate maintenance issues with the county,'' the firm still demanded immediate payment of the invoices or "CCA will initiate legal action.''

Assistant county attorney Jon Jouben notified CCA on Friday that the issue is on the Tuesday agenda and no action could be taken until that time. Jouben invited Stoler and CCA representatives to Tuesday's meeting.

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

Hernando County, CCA at odds over unpaid $1.86M bill 09/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 24, 2010 7:41pm]
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