Baker Act remedies remain elusive
Before I get into what I really want to discuss, two quick items from Tuesday’s county commission meeting:
1. The Betz Farm buyer gets another 90 days to secure a conditional Swiftmud permit before closing on the property. We’re crossing our $6.6 million fingers he gets that permit.
2. Commissioner Diana Finegan’s application to vacate a portion of her street was delayed at the Finegans’ request so they can provide a letter from the neighbor that he’s OK with the plan.
Now, let’s talk about the Baker Act.
A Baker Act facility has been in the county’s sights for six years, ever since LifeStream Behavioral Services took over as the provider of mental health and addiction services in Citrus.
The original plan was to build this Baker Act center in Lecanto on the county jail property with the new animal shelter. Along the way, LifeStream bought the former Centers property just down County Road 491 and said that’s where the Baker Act facility would be built. LifeStream is the property owner, not the county.
Hernando County is willing to put up $2 million for services. Citrus County has also talked about $2 million. Lifestream is in the process of designing the building, which it is paying for.
The Citrus County Hospital Board was planning to help with all that but won’t unless the county owns the property, not Lifestream.
That led us to Tuesday, where Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was looking for board support to officially commit $2 million.
— Kinnard’s point: We’ve been talking about this Baker Act facility for six years. LifeStream is ready to start building but wants to see that Citrus is truly all in.
“This has been talked about and talked about and talked about to death,” he said.
— Hospital board attorney Bill Grant provided his client’s take on the situation. He wouldn’t say how much the hospital board was willing to give but said it was “seven figures” and at least what Citrus and Hernando counties were giving. In other words, $2 million to $9 million. (Again, keep in mind the hospital board only participates if this is a county project, not LifeStream.)
Commissioners Holly Davis and Rebecca Bays said the county should give that idea more thought.
— Bays was, actually, much more adamant about the whole thing. She believes the county should own the facility, that it should be a campus to provide post-Baker Act services and that Citrus County in general needs a community discussion on what this facility should look like.
She was also somewhat down on LifeStream’s motives.
“There’s a lot of money to be made, let’s be clear,” she said. “Follow the money!”
— Commissioner Diana Finegan was with Kinnard that it was time to move forward. I’m noticing something about Finegan: Just as she promised on the campaign trail, Finegan is tenacious about contracts.
— Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach was a “no” and for good reason: What’s the sudden hurry? Always a red flag. ALWAYS. She’s been trying to get info about contract performance from LifeStream and is getting stonewalled.
— Of course, during all this I’m sitting in the back of the room with my brain screaming, “Why don’t you get LifeStream here to answer these questions?!”
That’s when the county attorney mentions that, hey, LifeStream will be here March 14 to answer questions. Turns out that was already set up. Wish someone would have mentioned it at the start of the debate.
— It was 3-2 to bring a $2 million contract back for a final vote in March. Kinnard, Finegan and Davis were on the winning side, though I’d say it’s far from certain this is a done deal.
I understand Kinnard’s frustration. This has dragged for years. But is it fair to force a vote on commissioners who have realistic concerns?
There is a lot at stake. It’s a significant move for Citrus County. Another month to make sure it makes sense won’t hurt.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.