Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Tab for Pasco justice facilities hovering at $250 million

A report by a Miami-based consultant is adding more square footage — and expense — to the county's plans for a courthouse near the Land O'Lakes jail.

The findings, discussed at a County Commission workshop Tuesday, called for a bigger courthouse than envisioned last year by Pasco officials and suggested that before commissioners build it they should expand the jail. Further upping costs, the report recommended adding administrative offices for the sheriff as well.

The total price tag for the work, including a handful of related sheriff's projects: $232 million to $261 million, with the courthouse alone coming in at roughly $110 million.

That's a huge spike from last summer when commissioners were mulling whether to spend $28 million on a courthouse with eight courtrooms and 11 judges' chambers. The higher figure includes 12 courtrooms and 14 to 15 judges' chambers, plus space for the state attorney, public defender, guardian ad litem and court clerks.

"We can't afford everything on that list," Commissioner Ted Schrader said flatly after the meeting, which looked at a range of needs in addition to the criminal justice facilities, including new and upgraded roads, storm-water drainage systems, fire stations, parks and other facilities to keep pace with growth.

Commissioners have yet to decide which projects to back and how to fund them.

"That they recommended the jail addition ahead of the court facility, that was sort of glaring for me," Schrader said.

CGL, the planning and design firm hired for $325,000, suggested that long-range the county should build a criminal justice campus with the courthouse and sheriff's offices adjacent to the jail on 200 acres already owned by the county.

Clustering the facilities together will lower costs related to moving prisoners, but short-term the county should focus on the jail expansion, CGL managing director Bruce Orenstein told commissioners.

He said that given Pasco's incarceration rate and population trends, the average number of prisoners will double to 3,000 in 20 years. In the short-term, he suggested adding capacity for 1,000 inmates, or half of what the county will eventually need.

If commissioners roll back the courthouse plan and focus on the jail, they would be looking at a $106 million to $116 million price tag.

That would likely be Sheriff Chris Nocco's advice. Nocco suggested a year ago applying the brakes on the courthouse to focus on the increasing numbers of inmates. If left unchecked, he said, the courthouse would be swamped with cases almost from the day it opened.

CGL agreed with other portions of the county's plan — namely to use the existing courthouses in Dade City and New Port Richey for probate, family court and civil cases.

Among the other numbers in CGL's report: $16 million to $20 million for new administrative offices for the sheriff and $16.4 million to renovate or replace three district sheriff offices, the forensics lab and the Sterling Building off Little Road in New Port Richey.

That the county justice facilities are being stretched to the limit wasn't lost on commissioners.

"It's not surprising to me the numbers are so eye-opening," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said after the presentation. "The county has been run on a shoe-string for so long."

Contact Rich Shopes at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.

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