New EOC must withstand weather, financial scrutiny

Published March 26, 2007

Earlier this year, when county commissioners balked at construction estimates of $19.8-million to build and case-harden the Sheriff's Office new 39,000-square-foot Emergency Operations Center in Lecanto, my administrators and I were equally shocked at the numbers being quoted. We knew we'd have to continue scrutinizing every element and sharpening our pencils to get building costs more in line with what commissioners had already earmarked for the project.

While adhering to the most conservative building approach, the Sheriff's Office is committed to taking the lead not only in ensuring the public's safety, but in earning the public's trust as well.

By way of proof, Sheriff's Office officials will be presenting firm figures on the cost of the new structure at the commission's April 10 meeting. What's more, with the influx of significant state dollars allocated to the EOC's construction, I truly believe these revised cost figures will come very close to what commissioners originally projected.

County officials recently learned that Citrus is slated to receive a $1.8-million hazard mitigation grant from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which will help offset the building's construction costs. Kudos go to Assistant County Administrator Tom Dick and flood management coordinator Nancy Witty, along with Sheriff's Office emergency management director Joe Eckstein, for their concerted efforts in crafting the grant application and seeing it through.

A previous state allocation of $2.5-million, spearheaded by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, with assistance from Commissioner Gary Bartell and the Sheriff's Office administration, brings the total in state dollars for construction of the new EOC to $4.3-million.

On a related note, Commissioner Bartell continues to explore federal funding resources with U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, with the hopes of infusing federal dollars to further offset the building costs of the EOC.

County Commission Chairman Dennis Damato, who brings to the table a strong building background, and with support from Commissioner John Thrumston, has been invaluable with his suggestions for trimming cost estimates and, more importantly, seeing the big picture.

Cost-cutting measures also have been the focal point for my staff and me. We wholeheartedly agree with the Board of County Commissioners to do what's fiscally sound for Citrus County and the citizens it serves.

As directed by county staff, Sheriff's Office officials have made every effort to project the agency's operational space needs out as far as 20 years down the road. By way of careful planning and forethought, all of us have been mindful of avoiding the kind of space crunch that currently faces the county's judicial center, property appraiser and supervisor of elections, to name just a few.

Other options, such as renting the second floor of the City of Inverness Government Center or finding available space in an area shopping center, have been investigated, but fail to be wise investments or feasible alternatives.

I find myself at a critical turning point where the best choice clearly is to proceed with building and case-hardening the entire 39,000-square-foot proposed EOC so it will withstand hurricane-force winds up to 165 mph as stipulated by state requirements. Beyond that, as the county's only case-hardened structure, it will serve the dual purpose of addressing future operational space needs of the Sheriff's Office and providing a safe haven for Citrus County government and constitutional officers to recover after a catastrophic event.

The key is to accomplish all of these goals in a way that is both fiscally and realistically acceptable. Rest assured, it can be done.

Jeff Dawsy has been sheriff of Citrus County since 1997.