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Hernando County gets federal grant to upgrade water lines, make other improvements

BROOKSVILLE — After more than two years of work to make long-overdue improvements in the south Brooksville area, the county's Community Initiatives Team has learned that it will receive a federal grant for the first round of improvements.

A grant application submitted by the city of Brooksville, however, did not fare as well.

The county's good news came just in time for Jean Rags, health and human services director, to take it with her to Thursday night's meeting of the initiatives team.

The county was told that its Community Development Block Grant application was ranked within the top 10 in Florida, which means it will be fully funded at $750,000.

The grant money will be used to upgrade water lines, rehabilitate and add fire hydrants, and hook low- to moderate-income families whose homes are on septic systems into the sewer system. The focus area is St. Francis Street, Easy Street, Newgate Street and Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard from Easy to St. Francis. The area of south Brooksville that lies south of Dr. M.L. King is mostly in the county; the area north lies within the city.

"We're making progress,'' Rags said Friday.

And that made team members feel good, especially after spending so much time talking about how to provide the community with much-needed upgrades in its infrastructure.

"It's something tangible,'' Rags said. "It's one thing to sit and talk about this, but when actual hands-on work gets done, that's when it means so much.''

While fire hydrants and water lines are just the start of an estimated $6 million in improvements ultimately planned, team members understand that in order to reach their final vision, which includes new jobs and businesses in the area, they need a good foundation, Rags said.

"We're taking this piece by piece as funding opportunities become available,'' she said.

The county is already prepared to seek proposals for a grant administrator and is also preparing the construction bid. That means that by Christmas, work should be well under way, Rags said.

The city of Brooksville also filed an application seeking funds but did not earn a high enough ranking to get a grant. However, Bill Geiger, Brooksville's community development director, said the city will apply again in November.

At that time, the city hopes to have a project design in hand, bumping up its chances of scoring dollars to upgrade and up-size water lines to increase flow to help fight fires and upgrade hydrants, and possibly add sidewalks if the bid on the water line work comes in low enough, Geiger said.

The project is proposed for the area north of Dr. M.L. King.

Originally, the initiatives team decided that just the county would seek $750,000 and that it would be counterproductive to have both entities competing for dollars. But then officials connected with the grant program announced there would be more money available this year and encouraged the city to apply on its own.

That gave city officials just two months to scramble through the complex process of writing the grant application, running it by the citizens committee and having public hearings before the City Council. There wasn't time to do a design, Geiger said.

Once that is done for the next application, he said, he believes the city's ranking will rise high enough that the city will receive funding. That means the city will have to spend some money up front, but Geiger said it would be worth it.

"You spend money to do the design in the front end," he said, "but you get more later.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County gets federal grant to upgrade water lines, make other improvements 09/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 3, 2010 8:19pm]
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