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Jail expansion could get larger
The county wants a third floor. But that depends on how much property taxes are cut.
By DAVID DECAMP
Published June 6, 2007
DADE CITY - Pasco County's budget-busting jail expansion could get $5.7-million bigger to add a third floor onto the Land O'Lakes project.
To cope with overcrowding, county officials want to add 250 beds to 500 already planned. It would raise the total construction estimate from $12-million to nearly $17.8-million.
But there's a hitch.
The extra costs would be covered by property taxes, which state lawmakers will consider forcing counties to cut this month.
"We don't know what the Legislature is going to do, " Commissioner Ted Schrader said during Tuesday's County Commission meeting.
The commission agreed to move ahead with the expansion by seeking a private construction manager for the project, due in fall 2008.
Hiring a private construction manager could help stem a longer standing issue for the jail expansion: ballooning costs and designs.
The budget for the project nearly doubled to $12-million last year to correct plans that didn't meet Florida jail design standards and account for soaring construction costs.
However, a private company managing construction would be required to agree to a guaranteed maximum price. The guarantee would eliminate any more pricey surprises, assistant county administrator Dan Johnson said.
But the guarantee won't pay for the added third floor. Given the uncertainty of the Legislature's plans, the county has drawn up three options:
If cuts are deep, there's no third floor.
If cuts are not so deep, there will be a shell of a third floor to be fully outfitted later. The shell would cost an extra $2.3-million, not $5.7-million.
And if the cuts are not too bad, there will be a full third floor.
Officials say going without the third floor now makes future expansion more difficult. Federal safety regulations generally require lower floors to be evacuated in buildings when a floor is added above them. But this is a jail, meaning inmates would be pushed out.
Sheriff Bob White believes a three-story jail would best serve the growing county, spokesman Kevin Doll said in an interview.
Despite lawmakers' threats to cut county spending, White has asked for a 13.4 percent spending increase and 109 new positions for the upcoming year - largely paid with property taxes.
But that does not include money to staff and operate the expansion, which White estimated to cost $1.6-million, Doll said. Although the jail expansion is not part of his budget, the Sheriff's Office must train and equip workers for the jail. That means he would need even more employees to start training six to nine months before the jail expansion's opening day, making a budget amendment necessary, Doll said.
Doll refused to say which was the sheriff's higher priority: to expand the jail, or hire all 109 employees he just requested. Doll called them "separate issues" because the jail construction is the county's responsibility by law.
The jails were 28 percent over capacity in May - after temporary cells were built. With 1, 007 beds in Land O'Lakes and New Port Richey, the average jail population was 1, 293 inmates. Without temporary quarters, the capacity is 889.
The average daily occupancy for 2007 is 1, 262 inmates.
"I think the sheriff's opinion is, no matter what the legislators do, the detention levels of Pasco County are going to go up, " Doll said.
The commission began the process to charge homeowners a projected $47 a year for drainage upgrades and maintenance. Businesses, apartment owners and other agencies would pay based on their square footage. Upgrades are estimated to cost $360-million to relieve flooding and stormwater pollution. Final approval could come in October.
Chief assistant county attorney Barbara Wilhite almost became a finalist to be county attorney before there was a search. Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand, irked by a newspaper column suggesting she was too cozy with Wilhite's family, asked whether she should step away from selecting the retiring Robert Sumner's successor. Commissioner Ted Schrader suggested making Wilhite a finalist in addition to five more to be selected in a national search. But Commissioner Michael Cox balked over appearances of favoritism, and Schrader dropped his motion.