Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Pasco's haul is substantial in state budget

Florida will earmark $15 million toward a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Overpass Road in Pasco County under the proposed state budget plan.

That funding highlights the Pasco-specific appropriations in the $82.4 billion budget plan agreed to by legislative leaders and approved Monday by the House and Senate. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who could veto all or portions of it.

"I can't see why anyone would not want to see this go through," said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore. ''The interchange is a regional project. It's definitely an economic driver, and it will alleviate traffic backups and congestion for our residents."

Pasco County already has set aside $15 million toward the project from Penny for Pasco funds. The interchange would be halfway between the existing exits at State Roads 54 and 52, and the long-term plan calls for widening Overpass Road and extending it 9 miles east to connect to U.S. 301. The interchange and an improved Overpass Road also are central transportation elements to the connected city corridor, a 50-year planning district in Wesley Chapel that could become home to 96,000 residents if it develops as envisioned.

Other local projects in the budget include:

• $500,000 to study realigning the intersection of Clinton Avenue, U.S. 98 and U.S. 301 on the south side of Dade City.

• $562,000 to recondition stormwater drainage culverts. The county had requested $2.5 million.

• $400,000 to expand a culvert serving the Salt Springs area in west Pasco near Gulf View Square mall on U.S. 19.

• $4.3 million for a forensics training center, a joint project of the University of South Florida and the Pasco Sheriff's Office, to be constructed adjacent to the county detention center in Land O'Lakes.

• $860,000 to remodel the Pasco County fairgrounds building.

• $1.4 million to retrofit the stormwater drainage system in Dade City.

• $350,000 for planning and engineering a streetscaping project referred to as the "reimagining'' of Gall Boulevard in Zephyrhills.

• $2.5 million to remodel buildings on the West Campus of Pasco-Hernando State College.

• $4 million for a joint Saint Leo University-Florida Hospital wellness center on the college campus. The state money is a one-third match toward the $12 million project. An earlier version of the budget listed the amount at $2 million, but the final appropriation came in at the amount requested.

• $1.5 million for the Pasco/Hernando County Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired for a new facility in west Pasco.

• $150,000 for a Pasco Sheriff's Office pilot program for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder among first responders.

• $750,000 for the Pasco School District's STEM and aeronautics program.

• $1.2 million for safe homes for children traumatized by sex trafficking.

• A combined $2,336,000 in six separate appropriations for social services to Premiere Community Health Care, the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco and Pinellas Inc., the Pasco Association of Challenged Kids, Youth and Family Alternatives, the Pasco Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, and the prodigy youth arts program at the Boys and Girls Club in Lacoochee.

"It was a very good budget for Pasco," House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said via text message.

Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zeph­yrhills, released a statement lauding what he called a record $26 million in local appropriations for Pasco County.

The individual projects, he said, "will improve the lives of everyday residents in our state and area. I am proud to support this sound and balanced budget and look forward to seeing it signed into law."

But not everything on the wish list was granted.

Pasco County had sought $1 million for a planned navigation center to turn the former Boys and Girls Club headquarters in west Pasco into a one-stop service center for the homeless.

And the $962,000 toward the two drainage projects was just a fraction of the money the county had pursued. In all, the county requested more than $19 million for 10 separate projects.

"You shoot for the stars every time, but not everything is going to come in," Moore said. "But I think our legislators did very well for us. A lot of these (appropriations) are going to help out the entire community."

Commissioners already have given preliminary approval to a stormwater assessment increase countywide and plan separate, individual assessments in areas that will benefit from the completed drainage projects.

Not included in this year's budget, after being vetoed by Scott last year, was money to offset the purchase of land in the vicinity of Riverside Villas and Heritage Lake Estates. Residents there also face the prospect of an assessment after the county bought land that had been earmarked for a new housing development.

"The county needs to stop the assessment," Corcoran said, "and I'm very hopeful they will."

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