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Questions delay plan to relocate Hernando agencies

BROOKSVILLE — The project seemed fairly straightforward to county staffers.

At a time when the county is trying to save money, it made sense to move the property appraiser, now renting space at Brooksville City Hall, and all functions of the clerk of the Circuit Court, now leasing private space for its recording office, back under the roof of the county government center.

And it made financial sense to spend about $194,000 using in-house labor to make renovations, which would pay for itself in two years with the savings on lease costs.

"It just makes sense financially to get people consolidated back into the government building,'' said Larry Jennings, deputy county administrator. He noted that such a project "lends itself well'' to be done in-house.

But the County Commission's Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday was far from convinced that using existing staff was the right solution. And members had far too many unanswered questions to take the full proposal forward to recommend to the County Commission.

In fact, so many questions came up about using the county's facilities maintenance staff to do such space shifting inside the government center that the group went a step further. It voted to ask county commissioners to reconsider their decision last month to use county staff to build a new courtroom inside the government center to provide more judicial space.

Committee members, led by Commissioner Jeff Stabins, engaged in a tense exchange with the county staff over their recommendations on the space reallocation projects.

Stabins questioned the assistant county engineer, Gregg Sutton, on why his department had already begun in-house design of the new areas for the constitutional officers before getting approval of the County Commission.

Sutton responded that looking at the available space in the government center had to be done when he was preparing information for the commission to approve the courtroom construction.

But Stabins persisted, noting that four full-time people would be needed for the move of the property appraiser and the clerk for a full four months beginning in June. And 11 facilities maintenance staffers would be needed for the courtroom project for the seven months after that.

"That's half the staff,'' Stabins said. "What are these people doing now, and what have they been doing?''

Sutton explained the logistics and timing of getting departments moved one at a time for each of the projects. But then Stabins asked the same question again: "What in the Lord's name are they doing right now?''

Sutton pointed out that moving offices around the government center was a fairly typical task done by the maintenance staff, and he showed a list of many other projects around the building and the county that have been done in-house. He later showed a list of the kinds of typical maintenance jobs that the staff performs and noted that some nonessential tasks will have to be deferred to get the moves completed, but nothing that would compromise health or safety.

Stabins, who suggested that the facilities maintenance staff might be too large if it had time for such big projects, said he would like to see private-sector contractors get some of these types of jobs. Sutton replied that there are many tasks for which the county seeks private companies, including welding jobs, sprinkler systems and carpet.

Committee Chairwoman Rose Rocco questioned how the staff was so sure it could get all of the tasks done in time, especially since the work would be going on during hurricane season, always a time of uncertainty.

"You're cutting into the private sector's back pocket'' by having the work done in-house, said committee member Anna Liisa Covell.

"This is an opportunity to save the taxpayers $100,000 per year,'' Sutton countered.

By doing the work in-house, there would be no economic stimulus to the county, Covell shot back.

Sutton said that it would help by cutting costs at a time when the county is facing a revenue shortfall.

When Sutton couldn't answer how much it might cost for the county to break the lease it has with the city of Brooksville for the Property Appraiser's Office, committee members soured on moving forward with that project. Reading the lease, County Attorney Garth Coller and Sutton said they didn't anticipate problems or costs ending the lease early.

But committee members, fearing unknown costs, voted to recommend that the property appraiser's proposed move come back to them with more information next month. They did agree to recommend to move forward with the clerk's move since that lease ends this fall anyway.

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

Questions delay plan to relocate Hernando agencies 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 8:45pm]
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