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Hernando sheriff defends jail budget

BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent works out the many details of taking over the county jail in a month, he said he is concerned that some dysfunctional relationships within Hernando government are hindering a smooth transition.

"We're taking this (the jail) over because the county got itself into a pickle," said Nugent, referring to a decision by Corrections Corporation of America to pull out of its 22-year jail contract at the end of August.

While everyone should be working to make the transition as simple as possible, he said, it seemed "there are some people in the county who are not team players." He declined to identify anyone specifically.

The most recent manifestation of this conflict, he said Monday, is last-minute questioning of his budget projections for next year.

Nugent and a financial aide, Catie Blue, said they have been working with the same budget figures since the spending plan was submitted to Hernando County officials June 1.

Yet on today's County Commission agenda, County Administrator David Hamilton is recommending that the board accept Nugent's budget even though it is more than $250,000 above last year's budget figure.

The basis for the 2009-10 budget was the cost of 560 inmate days times $53 per day given to Corrections Corporation. Those figures came from the county, he said.

But last year, county officials subtracted $280,000 from that $10.8 million figure in anticipation of that much in savings by implementing an ankle-monitoring program that would allow defendants to be outside the jail.

Nugent noted that the county never adopted an ordinance authorizing the program. Thus, factoring that hoped-for savings into the budget was "fuzzy math," making it appear as if he is asking for more than last year's spending at a time when he has promised to bring down jail spending.

The issue surfaced earlier this month when County Commissioner Jeff Stabins questioned the discrepancy between the two budgets.

Hamilton promised to bring him an answer, which is in the commission's meeting materials for today. Because the ankle-monitoring program did not get started, he states in a memo, the anticipated savings did not materialize.

Thus, he states, the full amount should be put back into the jail budget.

Nugent said his staff had worked hard with county staffers to be sure everyone agreed on the figures ahead of time. "We didn't want to submit a budget the county didn't agree with," he said.

"The last thing that we wanted is to be where we are today," Blue said.

Nugent also said he was disheartened to have heard the jail budget memo sent to commissioners may have been changed before it got to them. He declined to provide more details.

Hamilton is on furlough this week and could not be reached for comment.

Community services division director Jean Rags, who is acting in the administrator's stead, was not aware of the memo issue. The county staff could not provide copies of the memo in question.

Stabins, who has been a critic of Nugent's budget and other jail-related issues in the past, said he had heard about the jail memos but has been traveling and had not yet seen them. One was reportedly from the County Attorney's Office offering an alternative to Hamilton's recommendation.

Stabins said he welcomed the independent look at the issue from the county attorney's office. County Attorney Garth Coller is also on furlough this week and an attempt to get a copy of the memo from the assistant attorney in charge late Monday was unsuccessful. As for the sheriff's comments on dysfunctional government, Stabins said he wished there was less discussion about dysfunction and more leadership from all those involved.

Nugent said he would just like to see everyone pull together to get the jail transition accomplished in the best way possible. "We're here to save the taxpayers' money," he said.

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

Hernando sheriff defends jail budget 07/26/10 [Last modified: Monday, July 26, 2010 9:31pm]
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