Pasco County's government and school district won't be able to rely on Tallahassee to pay for road improvements around schools anymore. Instead, the two entities should invest their own resources with future Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds suitable for both transportation and school construction requirements.
The dollar search begins because a state program is likely to end. Over the past three years, the state sent $12.3 million to Pasco and nearly $16 million elsewhere to pay for ancillary infrastructure needed at new school sites. The Department of Transportation effort came courtesy of a push from Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, after high-profile disputes between the county and school district.
The problem arose from conflicting state concurrency laws, escalating construction costs and a change in demographics requiring new schools in former retirement havens of west Pasco. Building in already developed areas meant fewer school impact fee dollars to offset construction costs. Relatively minor disagreements over sidewalks or a traffic signal escalated in 2007 over responsibility for more than $4 million worth of road projects tied to Fivay High near State Road 52 and Chicago Avenue in Hudson.
The influx of state money ended that disagreement. But with the state trying to close a $3.5 billion budget deficit, Fasano no longer chair of the committee overseeing transportation funding, and new school construction on a temporary hiatus because of slowed growth, the senator warned that the program is expected to end.
Tuesday, Pasco commissioners considered a list of priorities for the 2011 state Legislature, including a call for the DOT school dollars to continue. More realistically, the commission and School Board need to find an alternative. (County Administrator John Gallagher and superintendent Heather Fiorentino are scheduled to discuss the issue next month. The district, for instance, still seeks money for better roads at recently built Odessa Elementary and Anclote High schools, and at Mary Giella and Shady Hills elementary schools because of changed traffic patterns on Shady Hills Road.)
The joint Penny for Pasco should be a top consideration. On separate occasions, Penny for Pasco dollars were available for reallocation because of diminished law enforcement capital costs and a windfall for road building due to favorable construction pricing and federal stimulus money. If that happens again, the shared expense of road building near schools would be an appropriate expenditure.
More importantly, as public officials consider when to ask voters to renew the penny on the dollar sales tax that expires in 2014, the list of quality of life improvements should include a new item: Safer roads around Pasco's schools.