Prisons, property costs are top issues for 2003

Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 10:15 p.m.
The rural counties of North Central Florida each have their unique concerns, conflicts and to-do lists for 2003. What several will have in common in the year ahead are state prisons, waterfront property values and a blow to another segment of Florida agriculture.
Florida's prison belt cinches together several rural, North Florida counties with common concerns and problems. The one topic getting a lot of attention as 2002 ended was who would head the Department of Corrections.
Outgoing Secretary Michael Moore raised the ire of correctional officers frequently during his four years on the job. Cutbacks, layoffs and other money-saving measures left many concerned about their safety while working inside the prisons.
The front-runners to replace Moore include Jimmy Crosby and Richard Dugger, two career prison workers who rank-and-file employees said were likely to fight hard to restore funding and staffing levels inside prisons.
Coastal property values began climbing so fast along the coastlines of Dixie and Taylor counties in 2002 that the increases had to be charted monthly instead of annually. Lots on canals that sold for $20,000 just two years ago were going for $80,000 to $90,000 by Halloween this year, $85,000 to $100,000 by Thanksgiving, and some were topping $100,000 by Christmas.
County property appraisers along the Big Bend expect the rapid, upward trend will continue in 2003 based on what has happened in Levy County between 1991 and 2002. Estimated market values there increased by 221.6 percent countywide, with the bulk of the increase coming from coastal areas.
Officials in Dixie and Taylor counties said people looking for upscale vacation and retirement homes have discovered the natural beauty and availability of property in their counties and are willing to buy land, often at higher prices they would have expected to pay for waterfront properties on the Atlantic Coast or in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
The value of poultry farms in northeastern Florida will likely be heading in the opposite direction. In early December, Tyson Foods announced it was shutting down its Jacksonville operations, leaving poultry producers with no place to have their chickens processed.
The move leaves 76 farms to the north and east of Alachua County with thousands of square feet of empty chicken barns.
The ripple effect on suppliers, such as local gas companies, and on local tax revenues, is still being calculated. Producers met with local, state and federal officials in mid-December to try to come up with some alternatives, but no solution was immediately apparent.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or

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