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New Baker Act Facility Revisited from a Utilitarian Perspective

Tuesday’s first podcast topic took a firm opinion: the county commission must direct staff to insist that a Baker Act facility built in Citrus County is owned by the taxpayers and not our mental health services provider LifeStream.

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard raised the issue of relinquishing taxpayer ownership of the building with the board and got a 5-0 vote to move to the next step, though the unanimous outcome is not reflective of the conflicted opinions and unanswered questions that still remain before final approval can be expected.

As I do with all of my strong opinions, I have gone through the process of taking in the new information presented in the meeting and talked to a few people close to the project to reassess if my conviction withstands counterpoints. My final conclusion is this: I’m happy I’m not a commissioner.

Kidding aside, the best way I can describe it is that the competing arguments have shifted my perspective without changing my opinion. I love the idea of the project and hate the execution of this plan. I admire the people pushing it and disdain the way they are doing it.

Past columns have referenced the grand philosophical theory of utilitarianism, which has yet to find a concrete example, until this project. Utilitarianism essentially says that the ends justify the means, whereas an outcome that maximizes the utility (generally defined as happiness) for the greatest number of people is the right choice no matter the cost to get there.

The proponents of this project are acting as utilitarians. Meetings between key stakeholders are currently being held, but including only people who they know will be on board with the agreement. This was evident when Commissioner Scott Carnahan called it BS that County Administrator Randy Oliver has so far been excluded from the discussions.

A Baker Act facility in Citrus will cost $12 million. LifeStream will pay for half not including the $1.4-ish million they already paid for the land it will be on. LifeStream is funded primarily through the taxpayers in exchange for mental health services with 25% coming from the county budget and 75% from the state, for amounts that total in excess of $10 million per year.

The other $6 million will come from several different sources. Part will be a state grant, part will be Hernando County and LifeStream is asking for $2 million from Citrus County. This would be paid from stimulus funds…sort of. More on that at the end. LifeStream also plans to ask for funds from the Citrus County Charitable Foundation.

LifeStream would be on the hook to pay back a prorated portion of the $2 million from Citrus if the nonprofit loses the mental health services provider contract within the next 15 years, something that happened to the previous provider called the Centers. Terms haven’t been fully drawn up yet but let’s say, for example, the county gives LifeStream the boot after 7.5 years then LifeStream would pay the county back $1 million for being halfway through the contract but still own the building. On year 16, though, nothing is paid back and LifeStream still keeps the $12 million building.

Commission Kinnard had two arguments in favor of this - one with merit and the other utter nonsense. The good point was that governments should not be in the asset owning business, which is something the Concurrent has agreed with throughout the years from our opposition to the county buying Rock Crusher to taking a stance against the county buying Pirate’s Cove (which Dr. Kinnard favored despite it being contrary to his argument here).

But governments do need to own some buildings. City licensing fees shouldn’t be paid at the Panera Bread Inverness Government Center.

The nonsensical point was calling the expenditure “services rendered” rather than “capital expenses” because it will move the location the services can be performed closer. Dr. Kinnard also insisted to pay the $2 million out of the general fund to avoid restrictions placed on stimulus money, but sell it to the public as using American Rescue Plan Act funds because $2 million designated for mental health will go to the county.

From the exclusive closed door meetings to the legal language tap dancing, the whole thing feels wrong. The project would be an incredible asset to both the people of the county and local law enforcement though.

The question remains: is it worth taking a bad deal to produce a great result? Even with the new information, we’re not there yet.


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