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Prison site vote put on hold again

First county commissioners told south Hillsborough County residents their neighborhood wasn't on the list of possible sites for a new prison. The next day, they said it was.

Now the answer is: maybe.

At their regular meeting Wednesday, commissioners voted 6-0 to table a decision on whether a 470-acre pickle farm southeast of U.S. 301 and County Road 672 should be included on a list of sites for a new 1,100-bed prison.

The issue was put off until the full seven-member board can vote on it. County Administrator Fred Karl said the earliest the full board can meet is next week.

Commissioner Sylvia Kimbell, who has been ill, left the meeting before the vote. Without Kimbell's vote, the board would have split. By commission rules, a split vote is a losing vote, meaning the previous decision would stand and the site would be back on the list.

The issue has turned into a jumble of parliamentary rules and procedures.

"This board says process, process, process," said Commissioner Ed Turanchik. "This is not process. This is a shame."

Commissioner Phyllis Busansky originally voted with other commissioners to eliminate the site from consideration. Saying she made a mistake, Busansky brought the issue up the next day and changed her vote. Two board members were absent and the measure passed 3-2.

Angered by the reversal, opponents of so-called Balm site packed the county boardroom Wednesday. They presented commissioners with a petition bearing 1,800 signatures against the plan. Building a prison in the area would lower property values, endanger the safety of residents and stunt future development, they said.

"I believe there are serious problems with locating a prison at this site because of your own comprehensive plan," said Jake Varn, an attorney for the company that now farms the site.

Even the name of site is misleading, opponents said. The farm is closer to the Sun City Center and Summerfield Crossing subdivisions than it is to Balm.

The site is one of seven that has been under consideration since the state ordered Hillsborough County to build more prison beds.

Of the seven sites, Balm held the most promise and was recommended by the county.

Wednesday, County Administrator Fred Karl said his staff has identified three more potential sites. Karl would not pinpoint the location of the sites, saying only that two are in the northern part of the county and one is in the southeast.

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