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Square dancers get reprieve from hall ouster

They came wearing the same embroidered shirts and skirts they wear many Saturday nights to square dances.

But the members of the Inverness Square Dancers club were in no mood to do-si-do when they appeared before the County Commission Tuesday.

They were angry that county staffers had told them to stop holding dances at the East Citrus Community Center, a hall on State Road 44 where they have whirled their partners for the past 11 years.

Their offense: a recent dance allegedly left a scuff mark on the hall's polished wood floor.

The dancers were not happy with the substitute site offered by Jane Harling, director of community services: the county auditorium.

"Older people have a very difficult time dancing on a concrete floor," the club's Ed Gustavus told the County Commission. Dancers have to be able to glide a little, he said.

Most of the group's 52 members are senior citizens; the youngest is 60, "and he's only a kid," Gustavus said. The dances, on the second and fourth Monday of every month, also attract non-members. "It's good, clean family entertainment," he said.

A dispute began shaping up earlier this month when the county officially took ownership of the building. It was formerly operated as a community hall for the Gospel Island fire station, but the board donated the building to the county.

The scuff mark was found two days after a square dance. But Gustavus complained that Harling had not asked a line dancing group or an aerobics class to vacate.

About 20 members of the square-dancing group packed the commission's inaugural meeting in their new offices in the Masonic Building.

Commissioners asked county staffers to let the dancers stay and to monitor the problem through the county's maintenance workers. "I am at a loss to understand which dances were excessively fast or heavy to damage the floor," Commission Chairman Frank Schiraldi said.

In other matters, the commission:

Authorized paying an additional $30,000 to a Tampa law firm, Thompson, Sizemore and Gonzalez, which is representing the county in its ongoing labor dispute with the county's unionized paramedics.

The county already authorized $15,000 in payments to that firm.

The board approved the payment without discussion. Assistant County Attorney Richard Wesch pointed out last week the expenditure is less than the $536,000 a year the county could save ifa private company runs the county's ambulance service, the Emergency Medical Services Division.

Awarded a contract for $60,405 to John Rife Corp. to remodel the second and third floors of the new county courthouse.