Editor: Where should the new Citrus County jail be? That's the $64 question! Most of the folks I've talked to are convinced it should be somewhere around Inverness. The only ones that seem to disagree with an Inverness location are the county commissioners. They are the minority. They've dug in their heels on the Lecanto site.
People are suspicious about the commissioners' obstinace. The secret ownership of the selected parcel adds to those suspicions. The proposal to have someone purchase the land from the secret owners and then sell it to the county is a pretty tortuous way to acquire a jail site. This gambit reminds me of the famous triple play, "Tinkers to Evers to Chance."
I think the Inverness City Council made a good decision that precluded the construction of a new jail on Cooter Pond in downtown Inverness. That would have been a very poor choice. To build it there would require moving people from their homes, would severely limit the possibility of expansion, would require closing one or more streets and would create drainage problems. And many would find it distasteful if the most prominent building in the city was a jail house!
We've spent more than $400,000 on architectural designs and surveys tailored to the Lecanto site. Commissioner (Nick) Bryant properly states that he doesn't want to waste all that money by changing the location. But he overlooks the fact that the paid-for design easily could be adapted to a new site with little cost. Some residents even question the wisdom of spending $400,000 for designs to fit land we don't even own.
If it's not put in Lecanto, then where should it be? It depends on what one considers important. Among these considerations are costs, ease and safety of prisoner transport, room for later expansion, parking, prisoner exercise space, and impact on nearby residential areas. There are several tracts of land very near Inverness better suited to a jail location than Lecanto.
The commissioners are getting a lot of flak about their Lecanto choice. They deserve it.
In all fairness, we need to acknowledge that the commissioners have been under tight time pressures. Some past decisions had to be made quickly in order to avoid expensive litigation. But we are now heading toward a cliff at breakneck speed without brakes. Is it too late to grab the emergency?
The much discussed problem of prisoner transport over distances has been greatly exaggerated. Unreasoned fears of many escapes and liability suits are red herrings. But certainly the costs of transporting prisoners long distances (such as from Lecanto to Inverness) are a consideration. More vehicles, more guards and tighter security controls are part of this equation. A location near Inverness would reduce such costs.
Too little has been said concerning the impact of a Lecanto jail upon the city of Inverness. Judge (Gary) Graham has made a good point in his statement that such a location probably would lead ultimately to moving the county seat. Movement of a large number of public and private activities that would follow the jail would have a serious economic impact on the city of Inverness, which even now is having a downturn in commercial activity.
This writer urges the commissioners to reconsider locating the new jail in Lecanto. Everything considered, it should be placed nearby Inverness. The Holden property just south of town wouldn't be a bad choice; it would take into account many of the points I've tried to raise. There is plenty of room, excess acreage in that tract can be sold, traded or used for other county purposes (fairground?). Prisoner transport costs would be minimal. And it would put to rest all the fooferall about new courtroom spaces, videotaping first court appearances and the like.
So, good folks out there, call or write your commissioner. They are unreasonably locked in and needs a push.