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To-do list rolls in for Hernando County sheriff's takeover of jail

BROOKSVILLE — When Sheriff Richard Nugent made his pitch to the County Commission to take over the jail earlier this month, he stressed that the clock was ticking and that there was still a long list of tasks that needed to be done before he accepted the keys.

This week, the transition from the Corrections Corporation of America, which has run the jail for 22 years, to the sheriff kicks into gear as several of the items Nugent identified start coming to the board for formal action.

Tuesday, commissioners will get an ordinance designating the Hernando County sheriff as the county's "chief correctional officer.''

The ordinance will formalize the Sheriff's Office as the new operator and grant it the right to employ correctional officers, while agreeing that their salaries are to be paid through the county's general fund, as required by law.

The ordinance would also require the sheriff to comply with all laws and rules related to running a jail and will establish that the jail's budget would be part of the sheriff's annual budget request.

Nugent rejected an earlier version of the ordinance that would have required him to make monthly reports on maintenance at the jail as well as stricter financial reporting requirements. Those provisions were dropped.

Commissioners will also consider approving an interlocal agreement setting out more of the rules for the sheriff's jail takeover including the county recognizing the sheriff was an elected constitutional officer and independent.

The term of the agreement would be for three years or until it is terminated and can be renewed in three-year increments.

The interlocal agreement sets out many of the details of running the facility such as overall funding mechanisms, how to deal with inmate health care and how any future disputes would be settled.

While the documents commissioners will consider formalize the legal details of their arrangement, another important and much more practical matter will also be considered Tuesday.

Commissioners will consider budget amendments to transfer millions of dollars for start-up and repair costs.

Earlier this month, commissioners gave a preliminary approval to transfer $3 million from reserves into an account to be used specifically to bring the jail up to acceptable standards. A variety of different inspectors who have examined the jail have determined that the facility has fallen into disrepair with a host of maintenance and structural problems.

Officials plan to hire a professional to assess just what must be done now and what can wait. County Administrator David Hamilton had proposed that the county set aside another $2 million from the judicial center fund but commissioners did not approve that allocation.

Commissioners have told Nugent that they want the basics done to fix up the jail but cosmetic issues have to wait. Four of five commissioners visited the Pasco County jail this week and each said they were impressed with what they saw. But they were also realistic.

"I don't honestly see us getting a facility that's going to be like that,'' commission Chairman John Druzbick said after the tour.

In addition to the dollars for repair, Nugent is also in line to receive nearly $850,000 for start-up costs so that his team is ready to step in and begin running the facility on Aug. 27, when CCA's 120-day notice expires.

Some of those funds could be used to replace some of what CCA will take as its equipment, furnishings, technology and supplies.

Determining who owns what is another of the items on Nugent's "to do" list that will get started this week. First thing Monday, officials from the county, the sheriff and CCA will begin combing through the jail to inventory what is there so that Nugent will know what he still needs.

Officials anticipate that the inventory will be completed by the end of the week.

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

To-do list rolls in for Hernando County sheriff's takeover of jail 05/22/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 22, 2010 1:05pm]

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