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Commissioners push Pasco sheriff's helicopter hangar project forward

DADE CITY — Pasco Sheriff Bob White's plan to build a new helicopter hangar at the Land O'Lakes Jail has gotten complicated and led him to bump heads with county administrators over aspects of it.

The proposed site near the inmates' farming operation would require a new, short road, driving up the price from the $145,000 mentioned in the summer to around $340,000.

So even though he has already begun seeking permits on the project, White laid out a new idea Tuesday for Pasco County commissioners: Put the hangar closer to U.S. 41.

No new road required. And he said it would be a signal to would-be criminals.

"It's a deterrent," he said. "We have an air unit and we'll use it against you."

But County Administrator John Gallagher had objections. The county envisions other uses for that area in its long-term master plan, including a court facility and a utilities building.

"You ought to weigh those before you put a hangar there," he told commissioners.

So White appealed to commissioners Tuesday: He wanted the go-ahead to move ahead with a new location at the jail.

And he wanted the county to release the money. By Friday.

In the end, commissioners agreed to give him the money, but directed him to continue with the original site near the farming operation.

Inmates will build the hangar. The sheriff has been leasing hangar space for years.

Commissioners, who had met individually with White before Tuesday's meeting, expressed frustration that the hangar project had stalled. They approved the money for the project last year.

"We said, 'Give him the money,' " said Chairwoman Pat Mulieri. "Give him the money."

Though he voted with his colleagues, Commissioner Jack Mariano said he was troubled that White had not provided any documentation with his request, including a map showing the precise location of the proposed hangar.

County officials said they would look into building the road themselves.

White maintained that he shouldn't have to build the road. He said he viewed it as two separate projects. The hangar was his and the road was Pasco County's.

County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder disagreed, saying that the project could not be divided up that way under the law. "If you read the statute, that's all part of the project," he said.

The significance? Under state law, any project over $300,000 must go out to bid. Inmate labor doesn't count as part of that calculation, Steinsnyder said.

The Sheriff's Office is still in the process of getting a heliport license for the project, spokesman Kevin Doll said.

The sheriff "wanted to get started on this," Doll said. He said the Sheriff's Office is wasting money on storage fees and White wants to get going on the hangar as soon as possible.

"We're ready to go," Doll said. "We've been ready to go."

Staff writer Erin Sullivan contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Commissioners push Pasco sheriff's helicopter hangar project forward 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:11pm]
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