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Hernando judicial center plans on hold for 6 months

BROOKSVILLE — Plans for a new judicial center have been officially shelved for the next six months but the Hernando County Commission approved a short-term solution to courthouse crowding on Tuesday.

Commissioners voted to spend $140,155 to renovate the government center to turn the jury assembly area into a courtroom on the fourth floor and create jury space on the first floor.

Board members debated spending money for temporary fixes while wondering what other projects will slide if staff does the work.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins questioned how staff can do double duty and whether they had the right expertise. These jobs, Stabins said, usually go to private companies.

Assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton showed commissioners a list of other projects staff has done, usually changing office configurations within the government center.

"This is not an extraordinary project,'' he said. "It's one of many projects that have been done in-house.''

Commissioners also questioned the time and cost estimates. Staff projections have the cost at $622,178 for an outside firm and 20 months to accomplish. Having staff do the engineering and construction would take just 11 months and cost just the $140,155 in addition to staff salaries already budgeted.

Commissioner John Druzbick asked why the county would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for space that might be used temporarily.

Commissioner Jim Adkins echoed the concern and asked Judge Daniel Merritt to once again tell the commission how urgent the judiciary's space needs are.

"We have been put on hold for 10 years,'' Merritt said. "We need help now. It's a matter of prioritizing some things.''

Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he had mixed feelings because he was a contractor himself. But in this case he saw it as faster and cheaper to do the work in house. "We've got to get this thing done,'' he said.

Stabins cast the sole no vote on the project.

The commission voted unanimously to put plans for the judicial center on hold for six months, including any requests for more detailed proposals from the top three ranked firms. Merritt said he understood the county's move for financial reasons.

County officials said they wanted to see how the economic environment has changed by the time they take up the issue again in October.

In a related issue, commissioners approved spending approximately $300,000 to expand the county's animal services facility. The expansion will create a more secure and workable entrance while also providing space to move code enforcement activities out of the government center.

The new jury assembly area would move to where code enforcement is now located.

In other activity:

• Faced with strong opposition from citizens and the Friends of the Library, the commission voted unanimously to stop exploring the idea of turning the county's public library management over to a private company.

Several citizens had protested the idea, which county officials have been considering for the past month as a cost-saving measure. The county had talked to a company that manages libraries in a half dozen other communities across the country. None are in Florida.

• The commission approved using $500,000 from reserves to attract new industries and retain existing ones. The move, which had been recommended by the county's Business and Economic Development Committee, would be that extra help the county might need, according to Michael McHugh, business development director.

• Commissioners agreed to accept an invitation from Hernando Progress to meet in a special workshop at the Hernando County Board of Realtors building on Sunshine Grove Road from 9-11:30 a.m. on April 30.

Stabins said the public had to be invited and be able to participate for him to agree to the workshop. Druzbick and Adkins thought it would be best to meet in the commission chambers.

Russell said the public could participate. When the board heard that their chambers were not available, they opted to accept the invitation.

The guest speaker at the event is economist William Fruth.

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

Hernando judicial center plans on hold for 6 months 04/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 8:21pm]
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