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County purchase of Times building ends long effort to consolidate utilities functions

BROOKSVILLE — Years of talk about consolidating Hernando County's utilities services came to fruition this week when the County Commission voted 4-1 to spend $4.15 million to purchase the Hernando office of the Tampa Bay Times.

The deal for the 29,000-square-foot, two-story office building west of Brooksville came with furniture and fixtures. Closing will be within 90 days, and the Times will pay rent if the newspaper stays longer than that while new office space is found, according to county officials.

Jeff Holcomb was the lone commissioner opposed to the purchase. He said he knew that the newspaper industry was in trouble financially, and with so few businesses in the market for such a large building, he sought a delay.

"It seems to me that the amount of money negotiated here, seems that we could get a better deal,'' Holcomb said.

Commission Chairman Nick Nicholson cut Holcomb short.

"It's going to be a steal to buy this building,'' Nicholson said.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes reminded the board that the Utilities Department has been under direction to consolidate for years. The logical place was the utilities field office on Wiscon Road, west of Brooksville. But that site is small. Still, Susan Goebel-Canning, director of environmental services, moved forward with designing and bidding a building for the site.

The price tag for the 10,000-square-foot building, improvements on Wiscon Road and changes in the fueling station was $3.4 million, and the contract for that deal was also on Tuesday's agenda as an alternative.

But Dukes pitched the Times site instead. He noted that the negotiated price was below the two appraisals sought by the county — $4.25 million and $4.65 million. In addition, the consolidation would save the Utilities Department $80,000 a year in rent at the West Hernando Government Center by moving customer service functions to the new building and allow the county to sell the current administration and engineering building, on Cortez Boulevard in Brooksville.

Dukes noted that at the Times site, "the 4 1/2 acres is commercial on a very prime corner at a red light. … Everybody knows where the Times building is at, and it's got a huge parking lot.''

He also said it would put all utilities employees in one place near the field operations site and would leave room for other county functions.

"Quite truthfully, I have no problem with this purchase, and I think it's a move in the right direction," Dukes said. "We are going to grow.''

Commissioner Diane Rowden said other positive features of the building include a security system, up-to-date wiring and technology, since the newspaper just built and opened it in 2003, and a secure community meeting room.

In addition, the west end of the building is hardened to withstand hurricane-force winds, making it a good area for the county to use in case of a storm.

"That is certainly a benefit,'' Rowden said.

Holcomb said he didn't think there was an urgent need to make the purchase and wanted to seek a better price.

Nicholson argued that the land alone is worth about $1 million, and the site work, including the parking area was worth another $1 million.

"We can go ahead and spend $2 million on a 30,000-square-foot building, or we can spend $2 million on a 10,000-square-foot building,'' he said. "I don't think that takes that much to think that through.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at or (352) 848-1434.