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Alachua County Commissioners Put Off Decision About Renewing Jail Contract With Sheriff’s Office

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With the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office contract for control of the Alachua County Jail expiring on Sept. 30, it looks like a renewal isn’t automatic.

The Alachua County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday to put off a decision on whether they will renew the Sheriff’s Office’s contract to run the jail.

If the commissioners elect not to allow the Sheriff’s Office to control the jail, the job would return to the county government and would be managed by the Alachua County manager.

However, Michelle Lieberman, the interim county manager, said county staff, which supports the Sheriff’s Office’s continued operation of the jail, recommended a 10-year extension be agreed upon in order to maintain stability.

Some county commissioners agreed.

“I want the sheriff to continue doing it,” commissioner Ken Cornell said. “I’m ready to support the direction the manager has laid out.”

While both sides want the Sheriff’s Office to continue running the jail – which was reaccredited six consecutive times – there are certain terms both want to be met through the contract.

Lieberman said the county recommended that any transfer of funds exceeding $100,000 should be approved by the board. She noted that the Sheriff’s Office won’t agree to that unless the county provides adequate funding to increase the base pay of all agency pay grades by 3 percent as well as funding for step increases for eligible employees.

Lieberman, though, said the county staff believes the funding can be provided just for those who work within the jail, not for the entire agency.

Both sides agreed to a handful of terms that would improve the current state of the jail, like facilities maintenance, a touchscreen security control system, and staffing 261 certified and 93 civilian personnel.

But even with most of the terms being agreed upon, Sheriff Sadie Darnell said the ACSO doesn’t want to enter into a contract for jail operations until the county adopts the budget in September.

“I’ll sign the contract on Sept. 30 if the conditions are met,” Darnell said. “If you are wanting to take the jail back, and not meet all the conditions, I’m not going to harm the jail or the operations of the jail.”

The ACSO has been running the Alachua County Jail since Jan. 18, 1998, when commissioners transferred the responsibilities of the jail to the Sheriff’s Office through an Interlocal Agreement.

The agreement has been renewed twice since the ACSO took over, once in 2002 and again in 2012. If it should be renewed for a third time, the plan is for the new contract to last 10 years.

Until then, it seems like no new decision will be made until at least the Sept. 30 deadline. If the county wishes to regain control of the jail, Darnell said she would grant an extended period to allow for an easier transition.

“I’ll go on record to say should we not reach an agreement by Sept. 30,” Darnell said, “I will grant an extension of six months.”

The commissioners agreed to hold off on deciding until the deadline approaches and they are more informed on what the budget looks like.

“My concern is not knowing the numbers,” commissioner Charles Chestnut IV said. “The effect of a decision I make might come back to haunt us. I don’t make decisions without knowing numbers.”

About Jake Dreilinger

Jake is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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