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County to begin talks on buying Brown Schools

County commissioners on Tuesday authorized staff to begin negotiations to purchase the former Brown Schools building in Lecanto for use as a Veterans Affairs complex.

Two county appraisals listed the property as worth either $3.35-million or $3.5-million. County Administrator Richard Wesch said those estimates do not include $1.2-million needed in renovations.

Last year, the owners of the building asked the school district for $4.5-million, including $500,000 for renovations. The district decided not to buy it.

A public hearing to discuss the proposed purchase is scheduled for 3 p.m. March 9.

The chances of the building being chosen to house a new veterans health clinic are "excellent," U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite told a group of Korean War veterans earlier this month.

The county would purchase the building, which once housed Heritage Hospital, and then donate it for the clinic.

In other commission news Tuesday:

Commissioners awarded an almost $20-million contract to widen County Road 486 to DAB Constructors Inc. of Inglis. Another company had made a lower bid on the project, but the bid was thrown out after it was ruled illegal because of mistakes in calculations and changes to the bid made after sealed bids were opened.

Tuesday, the low bidder, Advance Construction Services Inc. of Alabama, sent the county a letter that disagreed with the county's legal opinion and asked commissioners to award it the contract or else redo the bidding process.

Otherwise, the company wrote in a letter, the county should reimburse Advance $30,000 in insurance it bought for the project at the direction of Citrus County.

Tax Collector Janice Warren presented changes she is spearheading within the occupational license ordinance. The changes would not cost business owners any more for licenses, but would reduce the number of license categories from 200 to five, making record-keeping and the application process easier, she said.

The proposed changes will not cost the county any money, she said.

Commissioners confirmed the creation of a special tax district, or municipal service benefit unit, for East River Road and East Stokes Ferry Road neighborhoods in Homosassa. Landowners there, including residents in Suburban Acres and High Ridge Estates, will pay almost $950,000, through fees or another method, for road paving in the area. Methods of repayment are still being discussed.

Commissioners scheduled a Feb. 10 meeting with the county attorneys to discuss a case and possible settlement with Edward and Sean Gerrits, a father and son who own an incinerator north of Crystal River that the county has opposed.

Commissioners established the Citrus Springs Task Force, which will attempt to find another way to pay for operating the $2-million Citrus Springs Community Center.

The center was paid for through a special fee levied against Citrus Springs property owners each year since 1994. But a recent court decision against a similar taxing method set up in Marion County has made the county reconsider that funding mechanism. Residents interested in finding a solution should write the county.

_ Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

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