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Hernando County, jail contractor reach settlement over withheld payment

Published Jan. 25, 2012

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County has reached a tentative settlement with Corrections Corporation of America over $1.86 million the county withheld in payments to the former operator of the Hernando County Detention Center.

In mediation on Monday, the parties agreed to end a federal lawsuit filed by CCA in September 2010. The company would give the county $100,000 and retain the rest of the money, which has been held by the court since shortly after the suit was filed.

The County Commission will vote Feb. 14 on whether to approve the settlement.

"It was the best outcome we could hope for under the circumstances,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell, who attended Monday's mediation session.

The county was looking at a full-blown trial in federal court, depositions, expert witnesses, and "it could have taken literally hundreds of hours of county time as it stretched on,'' Russell said. "In the long run, it would have likely cost us more money to come up with less money.''

In 2010, the county was grappling with how to make needed repairs to the jail as CCA was pulling out of the facility and the sheriff was taking over. There were several outstanding issues between the county and CCA, including how much the company owed for failing to properly maintain the facility and disputes about the inventory inside the jail.

The County Commission withheld its final payment to the company.

The county paid for an engineering report to detail what was needed to bring the facility back up to acceptable standards. The report detailed nearly $15 million in repairs and remodeling and determined that CCA was responsible for about $1 million of deferred maintenance. Officials have since questioned the total figure.

County officials had hoped that by withholding the final payment to CCA, they could have a dialogue about what was actually owed to the county. But the filing of the lawsuit stopped those discussions.

"The actual amount of the dispute was considerably smaller'' than the $1.86 million withheld, said assistant county attorney Jon Jouben.

He said he was pleased with the outcome of Monday's mediation.

"In any successful mediation, neither side gets exactly what they're looking for. But I can comfortably recommend this settlement as fair and equitable under the circumstances to the board on Feb. 14,'' Jouben said.

"I can confirm for you that there is a tentative settlement," CCA spokesman Steve Owen said, "but because it is not finalized, there is really nothing more I can add at this point.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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