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Buyout rumors continue

Nothing is official, but former Florida Power Corp. employees and a published report suggest that a deal may be imminent.

The rumors about a buyout at Florida Power Corp. are well-worn ones for residents with any history in Citrus County.

They can remember the flighty talk and the crash landings.

Crystal River City Council member Ed Tolle was the county's property appraiser when the company began constructing the Crystal River energy facility, which became the area's biggest employer and taxpayer with an annual contribution of about $30-million.

As for new ownership, "They've been saying that for a long time," he said.

County Commissioner Roger Batchelor, whose district includes the Crystal River area, worked 36 years with Florida Power before retiring as its main public relations person for the area. He, too, has heard periodic talk of buyouts.

"When I was with them, I heard some rumors," he said.

But the utility world was abuzz with discussion Thursday about a rise in Florida Power's stock and a trader's published reports that the company was being targeted for purchase by a British power company and could be sold for a share price in the mid-50s. The stock closed Thursday at $42.5625.

Last year, a Scottish company almost bought Florida Power, only to back off because of the company's asking price.

At the company level, there are no sure indications of an imminent sale.

Scott Charlton, a Tampa lawyer representing dozens of mostly former employees charging the company with age discrimination, said his clients are telling him a rigorous audit-inventory has been under way at the Crystal River facility. That could indicate an outside party wants in-depth details about all of the company's assets, he said.

"We had been advised by sources at Florida Power that they are undergoing an audit-inventory process not only of the assets but also the work in progress to a greater extent than they have ever done before," he said.

Like Batchelor, Commissioner Gary Bartell is anxious about losing the county's biggest employer.

"I'm totally surprised because I hadn't heard any of that rumor," Bartell said. "All I can say is Florida Power has been a fantastic corporate neighbor and I would hate to lose that."

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