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  1. Hernando

Hernando County commissioners make way for judges while still trying to solve their space and money problems

Hernando County Government Center
Published May 6

BROOKSVILLE — After years of complaining that they don't have enough space, Hernando County judges have asked County Commissioners to move out of their chambers for one day a week, so they can use it as a courtroom.

In response, the county has committed the space every Wednesday starting May 22 for the county's newest circuit court judge, Don Barbee, to conduct family law cases, according to acting County Administrator Jeff Rogers.

"They do need more space,'' Rogers said.

The move ousts other public hearing and meeting uses of the room. It is the only room in the Hernando County Government Center that allows for the videotaping of meetings by Government Broadcasting. Wednesday meetings in the Commission chambers have included the Hernando County Housing Authority and special master hearings on animal services and code violations. Those sessions will move to different days or different venues.

The County Commission meets on Tuesdays.

Court functions have taken place before in the Commission chambers, but no judge was assigned to the space. Barbee, previously the Hernando County Clerk of the Circuit Court, took over the Fifth Judicial Circuit judgeship from a judge who had worked in Citrus County. He becomes the eighth judge in the circuit working in Hernando County.

The move is the latest to arise as the County Commission grapples with a need for more county office space and a huge deficit in its general fund budget.

Previous coverage: Judge says county judiciary needs more space

Rogers said he hopes to suggest solutions to the County Commission in the coming weeks. Budget preparation is underway for the fiscal year that starts October 1, so commissioners must decide soon what to do and how to pay for it, Rogers said.

Off the table is an option that stirred controversy last year — moving county offices into the Pinebrook Medical Center on Cortez Boulevard west of the Suncoast Parkway. The county owns that building.

Commissioners voted last year to move their operations into space at Pinebrook occupied by the Veterans Administration and private doctors, and to build another building behind it to house constitutional officers.

Veterans Administration officials had planned to build a new facility for area veterans and had said they were looking for a new location. Now the federal agency is in talks with the county to potentially buy Pinebrook for that purpose, Rogers said.

Veterans Administration officials said they are considering their options.

"At this point, we are pursuing avenues to ensure we meet our veterans' health care needs,'' said Shayna Rodriguez, public affairs specialist for the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. "What we can confirm is that the clinic will be expanded and will include primary care, mental health, specialty care and support services.

"We look forward to continuing to provide high-quality and convenient health care to our veterans in Hernando County,'' she said.

Previous coverage: With changes coming at Pinebrook, veterans' clinic looks for a new home

Rogers said the Pinebrook site was not the best answer for the county. In addition to traffic problems at the location, there were concerns about how much it would cost to renovate the building as compared to building offices designed specifically for county offices.

One option has been to build new facilities on county-owned land near the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

"The county is continuing to look at options for a location for additional space for the board and for the constitutional officers,'' Rogers said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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