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Sen. Fasano proposes $10M for roads near schools

If it survives the governor's budget veto in a lean budget year, Pasco County will be the first in Florida to try a proposed program that sets aside $10-million in state funds for road improvements near school sites.

Under state law, the school district must pay for roads that are part of school sites. But the Pasco School District and county cannot agree on which agency should pay for offsite road improvements, which in some cases can run up to $4-million a project. Their only point of agreement is to tackle these quarrels on a case-by-case basis.

Part of about $28-million earmarked in the state budget for a variety of Pasco County projects, the $10-million proposal by state Sen. Mike Fasano would defray the cost of these contentious offsite improvements. The state Department of Transportation would hold the funds, to be given out when the county and district agree on how much they need.

Pasco officials welcomed the proposal, but there's some uncertainty if it will become reality.

"That I don't know," said chief assistant county administrator Michele Baker, even as she praised the idea. "It's a tough time at the county and state level. But you still have to have an eye toward the future. This is very beneficial if it is ultimately approved. We're hopeful."

Fasano acknowledged the proposal doesn't solve the underlying problem of whether the county or the district should pay for the improvements, but he said he's just trying to help ease tight local budgets.

"My hope is that it will offset the costs and the disagreements," Fasano said Wednesday. "The county and School Board will work with DOT. At a minimum, I'm hoping they can agree on the amount. I'm sure they'll agree on an amount, if they know dollars will be available"

The money for the one-year pilot program would come out of the state's transportation trust funds, not general revenue, Fasano said.

School superintendent Heather Fiorentino released a statement Wednesday welcoming the earmark and praising Fasano. She didn't respond to a follow-up call for comment.

The earmarked funds for Pasco projects were approved Wednesday by a joint committee of House and Senate members, making it likely for the Legislature to send it to Gov. Charlie Crist for approval.

But final negotiations are still going on, and Crist can later kill any of the spending requests using the line-item veto, Fasano said.

Other items Fasano earmarked include:

• $2-million to cover the cost of building a regional hurricane shelter to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, which would withstand wind speeds up to 200 mph, usually experienced only in tornadoes. If Pasco is eventually allowed to build to a lower standard for hurricane wind speeds, Fasano may ask the state for $1.1-million instead.

• $678,209 for PAR of Pasco, a drug treatment program for teenagers.

• $100,000 for the Connections Job Development Program, which aids homeless families.

• Part of $750,000 for the Non-custodial Parent Employment Program, aimed at enrolling deadbeat parents in job training.

• Part of $10-million to protect 861 affordable housing units in 20 apartment complexes across Pasco. These apartments depend on federal funds that are running out, and the state money would prevent the complex owners from pulling out of the affordable housing programs in favor of condominium conversions.

• Up to $5-million to match whatever Pasco incentive funds to encourage industries with high-paying jobs to relocate to the county. The governor vetoed a similar request last year, but Fasano said that's because it was then listed as a general revenue line item. This year, he's asking that the money be set aside within a fund under the state Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.

"I've talked to their staff and I felt this has a good chance of not getting vetoed by the governor this year," Fasano said.

Staff writer David DeCamp contributed to this story. Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at [email protected] or (813)909-4613.

Sen. Fasano proposes $10M for roads near schools 04/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 5:43pm]
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