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School Board, Hillsborough County prefer legal bills to road costs

TAMPA — A legal dispute over which governmental body should pay for street improvements near schools won't get cheaper for taxpayers.

The School Board has already spent about $30,000 in an effort to shed millions in transportation costs that it says Hillsborough County is unfairly demanding for new schools, said board attorney Tom Gonzalez.

The county has spent nearly $10,000, said assistant county attorney Robert Brazel, as it vies to get schools to pay a greater share of those costs.

After a Monday hearing, Circuit Court Judge Ralph Stoddard gave both governments a month to file closing arguments in what he said would be a "tuneup" to a likely appeal by the loser. Brazel said he also expects the fight to drag on.

"It's hard to imagine it stopping here," he said.

School Board officials say the legal costs are a good investment.

"When you think of a traffic signal being more than a half a million dollars, it puts (the legal bills) into perspective," said Cathy Valdes, the district's chief facilities officer.

One court expense was the testimony of Ethel Hammer, one of four expert witnesses the School Board paid.

Hammer, a former planner for Hillsborough County, is now a partner in a private firm. She was paid $180 an hour for about 10 hours of her time. She told the court Monday that the county doesn't have the authority to block new schools by ordering the district to pick up road costs.

"Some of this money is supposed to be spent to educate our children," Hammer said. "Should it go to the county instead? It's about the money."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

School Board, Hillsborough County prefer legal bills to road costs 06/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 4:42pm]
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