Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

In election season, officials hope Gov. Rick Scott spares Pasco projects

NEW PORT RICHEY — A summer camp for disabled children. Transitional housing for the homeless. A performing arts and convention center.

Pasco officials are hoping for a different outcome than last year when Gov. Rick Scott's veto pen stripped away $5 million in local funding requests from the state budget.

This year's spending plan calls for $17.8 million for Pasco.

In addition to the proposed performing arts and convention center in Wesley Chapel — which would gobble up most of the request at $10 million — politicians and social agencies are seeking funds for a regional magnate school ($1.5 million), a summer camp for disabled children ($36,000) and new fire hydrants in Dade City ($520,000).

Officials are hoping the fact Scott is seeking re-election stops him pulling out the veto pen so hastily.

"Let's put it this way," said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, "I hope it makes a difference and I hope the governor does the right thing because these issues were all vetted by the Legislature very carefully and these are very important items, not only to my district but to the state of Florida . . . and we balanced the budget."

Officials bristle at the term "turkeys," which critics use to discredit local funding requests, noting that most of the funds are for public works projects.

Among this year's requests, Dade City is seeking $520,000 to replace aging fire hydrants and water valves in the historic downtown.

Dade City Manager Billy Poe said the city's hydrants and valves in the historic downtown are so antiquated, dating to the 1920s, that anytime workers repair a hydrant they must shut off water service to an entire city block.

"Having the pressures needed for fire suppression, protecting our citizens, these are very important to our community or we would not have had them put in there," Poe said.

The Lacoochee-Trilby area is grappling with aging infrastructure as well.

Pasco utilities director Bruce Kennedy said the county wants $500,000 for new water lines for the impoverished community. The county sought the money last year, but Scott vetoed the request.

"We'll see what happens this year," Kennedy said.

The county also wants $1.2 million to help avoid flooding near Trinity and areas west of the Suncoast Parkway on both sides of State Road 54.

Zephyrhills is seeking $1.2 million for a water line for the south part of town. The city plans to install the 5-mile pipeline itself, using city workers, to bring the water south, but says it can't afford the cost of materials — which is why it's turning to the state.

"This is very important to the people in that part of town," Zephyrhills utilities director John Bostic III said. "It's also important for fire protection."

If the funding isn't approved, the city will likely have to seek funding again next year. Many such requests are repeats from the year before.

The Pasco Association for Challenged Kids, a private group that has run a 3-week summer camp for disabled children since 1997, received state funding for years until the recession hit in 2008. The group got $36,000 last year and it's hoping for the same this time around.

"This is really important, not only to the kids but the parents. It gives them a break," said Barry Cohen, who helps run the program. "These kids have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy. They can't go to a regular camp."

Metropolitan Ministries is hoping Scott doesn't cut its request for $1 million this year, as he did last year.

The group wants the money for transitional housing for the homeless in Pasco, noting that many of them are families with children. According to School District numbers, hundreds of Pasco children live daily in shelters, motels and domestic violence centers.

"This is about giving people a place to stay while they look for jobs and affordable housing," Metropolitan Ministries CEO Tim Marks said. "This is important to families."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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