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Hernando County officials reject Corrections Corporation of America jail contract offer

BROOKSVILLE — The company that runs Hernando County's jail on Friday made its first formal counteroffer to proposed changes in its 2010 contract.

And Hernando officials promptly rejected it.

County officials and staff, facing unprecedented revenue shortages, have been trying to slash the high costs of operating the lockup, which makes up a sizable portion of Hernando's budget.

Officials hope that by holding down jail costs they might be able to save government service and county employees' jobs. Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who has been working with Corrections Corporation of America officials for days, had hoped the county could save about a half-million dollars.

But after analyzing documents sent by CCA, county purchasing director Jim Gantt on Friday determined that changes the company proposed would actually cost Hernando about $1 million more than the current contract.

After Stabins examined the formal proposal from the Tennessee-based company, he said it was not what CCA officials had told him earlier in the week.

"That's a step back,'' he said.

For the last several years, as money has grown tight, county budget officials have pointed at the growing jail budget as one of the areas where they wanted to get costs under control.

In 2007, the county agreed with CCA to add beds to the old portion of the jail. Both the company and the county were to collect revenue from the additional inmates, some of whom are from outside the county and are paid for by the state.

But CCA and the county disagree on Hernando's share. Earlier this year, the county withheld $422,000 it says it is owed by CCA. CCA disputes that it owes the county that money and has asked for it to be returned.

The county also has asked CCA to forgo the 4 percent increase in fees that is called for in the current contract. Friday's proposal was the first time that the company put in writing its response to that request.

The CCA counterproposal is to take just a 2 percent bump. In exchange, the company wants the contract, which expires next year, extended for three years. Plus, the company would get a 3 percent fee increase each of those years, and the county would pay CCA $211,000, half of what the company says it is due in the dispute over the extra beds.

CCA also wants to cancel the agreement reached in 2007 over the extra beds and instead agree to a new formula for determining payment.

CCA said the agreement would save the county $1.9 million over the next four years. But that includes a large assumption: that the county would again sign with CCA.

County Administrator David Hamilton has said the plan is to seek proposals from companies interested in operating the jail and to see how much it might cost for the sheriff or the county to take over jail operations.

In a letter late Friday to CCA officials, Gantt wrote: "After due consideration and consultation with administration, we at this time cannot recommend acceptance of this proposal to the Board of County Commissioners.''

He asked the firm to again consider the county's June proposal to forgo its fee increase and other proposals that have been discussed.

He then notes that the county expects CCA representatives at Tuesday's special board meeting at 9 a.m. in the government center.

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

Hernando County officials reject Corrections Corporation of America jail contract offer 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 7:37pm]

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