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Veterans' home will be offered free land

Citrus County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to donate land in Lecanto to the state if it chooses to build a veterans' nursing home there.

The state requires a minimum of 5 acres, and commissioners agreed on two possible locations: near the jail or near the Lecanto Government Building, which is under construction.

Royce Carter, Citrus County veteran service officer, told commissioners that the nursing home, if it comes to Citrus, would create about 123 new jobs.

The building would be 71,000 square feet and could accommodate more than 100 veterans.

Commissioner Gary Bartell said the nursing home would be a "dynamite" addition to the area.

Commissioner Frank Schiraldi _ apparently frustrated that the Department of Juvenile Justice has taken months to give any final word on whether it will build a maximum-security juvenile detention facility on 20 acres near the county jail _ suggested that the county might reconsider its offer of the land to that agency.

Schiraldi said he thought the veterans' nursing home would make a "much better neighbor" than the detention facility.

Commissioners stuck with the two proposed spots near the jail and the Lecanto Government Building, giving their okay for the county to begin submitting applications.

LANDFILL SHORTFALL: County officials announced that the landfill is not receiving enough garbage to sustain itself financially.

Public Works Director Gary Kuhl said the landfill has lost 10 percent to 12 percent of its regular garbage flow recently, prompting concerns that other funding mechanisms must be found.

"In the short term, we need to look at some guaranteed source of revenue so we can cover our fixed costs," Kuhl said.

Fixed costs, including various fees and debt, make up about half of the landfill's costs, County Administrator Tony Shoemaker said.

Kuhl said the shortfall appears to be the result of price undercutting by a waste transfer station in Marion County. For now, Citrus County charges trash haulers a $60-per-ton tipping fee at its landfill. Commissioners said other disposal facilities are thought to charge significantly less.

For Commissioner Jim Fowler, a former division president of Waste Management of Central Florida, the solution appeared simple: make government act more like business and find out how much the competition is charging.

Other commissioners agreed, saying the county also should consider other short-term solutions, including deferring or delaying other county projects or even accepting waste from outside the county _ a move that is now illegal under county law.

Commissioners said they wanted to change the ordinance _ a reversal from previous discussions in which they considered trucking out local waste as an alternative to continued dumping in the county's landfill.

"We have to maintain a balanced budget," said Shoemaker. "We cannot operate in the red."

As a long-term solution, commissioners decided to initiate the process of creating a countywide municipal services benefit unit, or MSBU, which through fees from property owners would help support the landfill. The process of putting the MSBU in place generally takes about 18 months, Shoemaker said.

In the meantime, commissioners also could consider increasing the property tax rate to meet the shortfall. Budget discussions on the public works department, of which the landfill is a part, are Thursday morning in the County Commission chambers.

JOB CREATION: The Economic Development Association of Citrus County proposed a plan to use as much as $130,000 collected through the county's occupational license fees for job creation incentives.

Commissioners accepted the plan and set an implementation date of Sept. 1. The plan is intended to create an application process through which businesses can apply to the county for funding.

Commissioners would decide based on criteria including "type of business" and "number of jobs created" and would be able to grant incentives such as paying for businesses' infrastructure improvements, impact fees, taxes or training.

A written explanation of the plan said it is "designed to create jobs by expanding existing businesses and attracting clean, compatible manufacturers to the vacant industrial-use lands in the county."

Walt Driggers, who spoke for the development association at the meeting, said during a break that the plan is "essentially paid for by the business community through occupational licenses."

Commissioner Gary Bartell, along with other commissioners, told Driggers that the plan appears to be a good one.

But Bartell also said he thinks the focus of the program should be on providing infrastructure to businesses.

REDNER VERDICT: County Attorney Larry Haag briefed commissioners on a jury verdict in favor of Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner and four of his former employees in Citrus County.

In 1988, Redner spent 60 days in jail after violating an emergency county ordinance that required him to receive a permit before opening an adult club.

Haag said in a memo to commissioners that in his opening argument, Redner had asked for $1.75-million. Redner was granted about $211,000, while the other four plaintiffs received a total of about $32,000.

"This was our dream, in a way," Haag told commissioners. "It couldn't have come out any better."

Haag said in his memo that the court has yet to determine the amount of attorneys' fees to which Redner is entitled.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.