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Jails spill over, with no money for more

With inmate populations averaging nearly 35 percent above capacity, Pasco corrections deputies "are having to get creative," Sheriff Bob White says.

Many inmates are housed in a nylon and aluminum structure that resembles an enormous tent. Others sleep on foam mattresses as third roommates in 2-person cells.

White plans to build a 512-bed medium-security facility behind the Land O'Lakes Detention Center to alleviate the problem. He also plans district offices for his agency in Seven Springs, Wesley Chapel and Hudson.

"The jail has got to be a priority for us," White said. "We have to have someplace to put these folks because we're getting better at catching them and they're getting worse at getting out."

In August, about 1,200 inmates filled the county's two detention centers in Land O'Lakes and New Port Richey. Together, the two facilities were built to hold 889 people.

The new dormitory-style facility is expected to cost in excess of $5-million. In the county's fiscal year 2005 budget, the County Commission has set aside $4-million for the project.

But that doesn't mean construction can begin. "We have to have all the funds available before we sign the construction contract," said Mike Nurrenbrock, the county's budget director.

It is too early to know whether the rest of the money can be set aside in 2006's budget, Nurrenbrock said. "I cannot predict what we're going to do a year from now. We may be able to resolve it before then."

It cannot happen too soon, from the sheriff's point of view. "This is first and foremost on my mind," he said. White said he and county officials are working together to make it happen as soon as possible.

Next on the priority list are the new district offices, White said. The ones in Wesley Chapel and Seven Springs are first in line.

"By putting offices in these locations in well-traveled areas, it identifies that there's law enforcement in the community . . ." he said. "It shows that there's a presence, and I think that's what people are looking for."

It would also shorten the driving distance through congested traffic for those who need to get to the Sheriff's Office, White said.

He said he has discussed his hopes with Nurrenbrock as well as County Administrator John Gallagher. One idea is persuade retail developers to donate space within sites already being constructed. But that is not White's preference.

"I'd really rather have it freestanding," he said. He would build them each at about 4,000 square feet.

Money for such a project is not yet in any budget, Nurrenbrock said, and he declined to guess when it might be.

"It's way too early to tell," he said.