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Hernando sheriff wants more money for county jail

BROOKSVILLE — Sheriff Richard Nugent is requesting $10.9 million from the county to run the Hernando County Jail next year, an amount that tops the current budget by more than a quarter-million dollars.

Not only is it more than the County Commission had previously approved, it also is at odds with Nugent's earlier assertions that he could operate the facility for less than the amount the private company running the jail has charged.

County Administrator David Hamilton, however, will recommend to the board on Tuesday that it pay the sheriff the larger sum. In a memo to the commissioners, he explained the factors leading to the different amounts.

When officials developed last year's jail budget, they assumed that the county this year would adopt an electronic ankle-monitoring system, which would mean fewer inmates actually housed in the facility.

Details of that program were never worked out with the judges, thus the projected savings from a lower jail population never materialized.

Also, under the contract with Corrections Corporation of America, costs were figured on a per-day charge for the inmates. Nugent, by contrast, will operate under a fixed-cost budget, getting the same amount no matter how many prisoners are in the jail.

Hamilton said that even if Nugent implements the ankle-monitoring program after he takes over the jail next month, there will not be a significant cut in his costs other than possibly savings from food or medical expenses.

In his memo to the commissioners, Hamilton recommends adding the proposed cost of the ankle-monitoring program to the budget. That accounts for the additional $280,000 in the budget, bringing the total to $10.9 million.

Hamilton adds, "Further reductions may occur based on continuing negotiations in the spirit of good faith and integrity'' as the county works on cutting general fund expenses.

County Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who pointed out the differing budget amounts earlier this month, said he's not sure that Nugent should get the $280,000.

He said that if the sheriff really needs the money, it should not come from the county's general fund. Rather, since the sheriff and the judiciary promised to implement the cost-cutting ankle-monitoring program last year, they should find the money themselves.

"That's why we put (the projected savings) into the budget,'' Stabins said. The fact that it didn't happen, "it's no fault of the County Commission.''

He suggested that the county take the money from the fund set aside for a proposed judicial center. "It's the responsibility of the judiciary,'' Stabins said.

Several other jail-related items are also on Tuesday's agenda, including correspondence between the county and CCA regarding the dispute over who owns equipment at the jail.

CCA has said it will start removing equipment the company believes it owns if an agreement with the county can't be reached by Wednesday. The attorney for the Clerk of the Circuit Court has recommended that the county file an injunction to stop CCA from seizing any property.

On Friday, Lisa Hammond was scrambling to assemble a list of the big-ticket items that are still under dispute. She is the consultant hired to work with the clerk and county on purchasing and contract issues.

In addition to a $30,000 dishwasher, correspondence also indicates that other items under discussion range from computer terminals, cameras and razor wire to beds, mattresses and linens.

In a letter to CCA on Friday, Hamilton rejected CCA's Wednesday deadline and asked CCA officials to coordinate a meeting with Hammond later next week to settle the remaining issues.

"We want to put these issues to bed,'' Hammond said.

Nugent has written to the commission urging a quick settlement of the disputes before the takeover happens and asks county officials to be sure not to make taxpayers pay twice for the same equipment.

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

Hernando sheriff wants more money for county jail 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 6:40pm]
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