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Hernando County judicial center project may be shelved

BROOKSVILLE — With Hernando County needing to cut $3 million from its budget now and looking at a $13 million deficit next year, commission Chairman Dave Russell said Thursday the county should shelve plans for a new judicial center.

Russell said he will recommend to fellow board members on Tuesday that no further work be done on the project until "such time that we're financially able and the space needs demand it.''

The county, he said, should keep the nearly $19 million that has been earmarked for the project in the special fund categories. The money comes from court and judicial sources and cannot be used for the general operation of the county.

The county requested proposals last year for a building to hold all the offices and courtrooms and related spaces for the judiciary in good faith, Russell said, but times have changed.

"There are a number of fiscal issues that have come to light,'' he said. "It's unfortunate that it's come to this. We were prepared to move forward.''

The estimated $50 million center will commit the county to spending money on debt service for any loan or bonds needed for the project, funds Russell said the county cannot afford at this point.

Still, he said the judicial center would have a large positive impact on the community, bringing with it many jobs and an economic boost.

Russell said with the continuing fiscal bad news, ''these are things that are transpiring daily. … We're going through some very trying times right now.''

The judges who share the government center with other county offices have long asked for more space. Russell said he is working with Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt to find room for a new courtroom in the existing building.

Russell said other ideas are under discussion, including moving Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek back into the building to save the $5,000 a month rent for his offices on the third floor of Brooksville City Hall.

Other ideas include combining the administrator's offices with the attorney's offices and moving planning officials to the development services building off the Bypass.

County staff has a short list of three firms hoping to build the judicial center out of 10 that submitted proposals late last year. But purchasing director Jim Gantt told the Times on Wednesday that a mistake he made computing the scores from a review committee changed the results that were announced last week.

Burnhardt Group LLC, a local firm with ties to prominent business leaders in Hernando, did not make the cut originally. After Gantt corrected his mistake, the local group was ranked second, while two other firms were dropped in rank.

Burnhardt is the only local firm in the final three.

Steve Kingery was surprised on Thursday when he learned from the Times that the company he represents, Ryan Companies US Inc., was no longer on the short list.

Ryan had been ranked No. 2 and he had left the review committee meeting Friday believing his company was in the running.

Gantt said Wednesday that he intended to contact the firms that day about the changes, but Kingery said Thursday that he had yet to hear an explanation from Gantt.

"That's really disappointing,'' Kingery said.

Russell, a member of the evaluation committee, said he took local firms into consideration as he was making his ranking because they bring dollars and jobs into the community.

But he pointed out that the firms don't have to be based locally in order to put local people to work, and he also took that into consideration.

As for Gantt's math error, Russell said he was sitting beside him at Friday's meeting and saw him rapidly trying to input and digest the numbers to give some answer to the many people gathered for the meeting.

"I believe it was an error … made in his haste to publish a result,'' Russell said.

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

Hernando County judicial center project may be shelved 03/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2009 8:10pm]
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